Genre : Action
Release Date: March 29, 2005
Potential is the most painful thing to witness when the amount of which doesn't equal what reality brings.
The genre has seen its fair share of ninja titles recently, the high points Ninja Gaiden and Tenchu: Fatal Shadows. Red Ninja strikes a middle ground between those two titles, as Tenchu is more geared towards stealth and Ninja Gaiden being that of all-out action. However, much like other titles that try to be two things at once, Red Ninja suffers from quite a few rough edges. While the title is balanced between the two giants of the genre in terms of its style of gameplay, Red Ninja merely stands in their shadow when it comes to actual execution.
In Red Ninja you play as Kurenai, the young daughter of a brilliant engineer. Kurenai's father has just completed construction on a fearsome weapon (a sort of machine gun) that the civilized military leaders find inhumane. Of course, inhumane weapons that the civilized world shuns is just the sort of thing that evil forces want, so before the opening cut scene ends, Kurenai ends up watching her father get beheaded, the plans stolen, her home burned, and then herself getting strung up in a tree miles away with a blade stuck in her body. Barely alive, Kurenai is rescued by a local clanswoman who, for no discernable reason, teaches Kurenai the ways of the ninja so that she may get back at her father's killers and retrieve the plans.
From that exact point, Red Ninja's plotline has a coherency similar to that of the babblings of a geriatric meth addict. Out of the blue, new characters will be thrown into the mix for no apparent reason other than to simply add a new character into the mix, made even more confusing by how the characters interact as if they have known each other for years prior. It almost seems that the plotline involves about a half-game or graphic novel's worth of missing storyline as Kurenai is training to even make sense of things. When the storyline does make sense, it is usually due to its predictability and unabashed use of clichés.
Red Ninja's style, however, is an excellent break from the genre. Kurenai as a character is fairly believable and, let's face it, how many ninjas wear blood-red kimonos? While other ninja titles have had female characters, few have actually seemed feminine, and it is that sort of gentle innocence that contrasts against Kurenai's new line of work. The setting definitely feels like a ninja game should, a sort of slightly mystical realism set in ancient Japan.
It is the unfulfilling execution of this style, though, that is Red Ninja's biggest downfall. Kurenai's main weapon is the tetsugen, or blade-on-a-string for those who like hyphenated explanations, and though stylish, the tetsugen also cheapens the gameplay somewhat. A good portion of enemies in the game can be easily outranged by your attacks, making direct combat ridiculously easy when coupled with the unflattering AI. In true ninja style, you can sneak around and kill enemies with a single hit, although the mechanics of which are largely too easy and only made difficult when flaws elsewhere in the game make it so.
As far as a ninja goes, controlling Kurenai is a largely ambling and detached affair; Russia made tanks that handle more nimbly than Red Ninja's star. The moves are all in, for the most part, such as wall running, clambering across poles, and using the tetsugen to swing over gaps, but actually controlling Kurenai well enough to do any of them is another matter entirely. Wall running can only be accomplished when running at full speed, which in turn can only be accomplished by running perfectly straight; make even the slightest turn to correct your direction, and you have to turn around and retry. Even once you get on the wall, you can often get sent flying back off of it for no real reason. Merely controlling Kurenai as she dashes around is a needlessly sloppy affair, from the unresponsive way she starts and stops moving to quirks such as how you must let go of the stick, stop moving completely, and then you can press B to crouch and move. Why not just go straight from running and go into the crouch walk?
Red Ninja does stand on its own in terms of its graphics engine, which does manage to breathe a lot of life into the title's world. The ancient Japan setting is really represented well, down to some of the smaller and yet equally important details. Kurenai's kimono will realistically flop around her as she moves, much like the hair of characters does in other titles. Combat looks visceral, thanks to the tetsugen tendency to amputate things with biblical precision, complete with blood spray. It is not an uncommon sight to cut the head off of one enemy and the torso in two of another in rapid succession. The menu system is a slightly fresher take for the ninja game genre, though still slightly unpolished in itself.
The audio, though, is hit and miss. The voice acting overall is done fairly well, although hindered by how little backstory the characters receive, even Kurenai herself. The music in game is all appropriate to the setting and era, with woodwinds and traditional Asian instruments making up much of the score. The sound effects could be a little bit higher quality, especially during combat, but after hearing Tenchu: Fatal Shadows use some of the same sounds used in the PS1 version of Tenchu, some credit must be given to Red Ninja to be among the ninja titles that don't botch that part of the aural aspect entirely.
All points considered, Red Ninja hurts. The title really had a lot of potential, as it was being developed to be a standout title in the ninja field, which has pretty much been dominated by two names. However, due to the abundance of flaws, rough edges, and quirks that nag almost all aspects of the title, that potential will remain unrealized. Maybe there will be a Red Ninja 2 that will finally allow for the game direction to be fully realized, but as it stands now, Red Ninja just isn't a very fun title to play. There are better representations of what ninja titles can really pull off, and while Red Ninja had the potential to really shake up the genre, it just doesn't have enough draw to even give it a gentle nudge.
Score: 5.6 / 10
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