Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: July 3, 2007
Fact: Ninjas are mammals. Fact: Ninjas fight all the time. Fact: The purpose of a ninja is to flip out and kill people. Ninja Gaiden Sigma is the PS3 remake of the intense Xbox game Ninja Gaiden, which was one of the most definitive action titles of the modern century.
Sigma isn't just a port, though — the developers took the time to add in plenty of content and additions to make it well worth the money. In addition to the graphics overhaul, Team Ninja has tweaked many things to make for a better experience. Some of the tweaks are minor, like adding in a save point or shop here and there, and adjusting the location and contents of chests. Major additions include entire new levels, bosses, weapons, a new playable character, online leader boards, and more. Special mission modes have also been included, which is a nice bonus after you complete the story mode. To top it all off, Sigma gives you about 25 hours of gameplay for the main story mode, which is impressive for an action title. On successive play-throughs, you can go to an arcade machine in Tairon City and play the original Nintendo Ninja Gaiden games.
In Sigma, you play as Ryu Hayabusa as you take him on a quest for vengeance against the forces of the Vigoor Empire. Unlike some other ninja-themed games, like Tenchu, there is no stealth at all here. There is a light amount of plot and a bit of written backstory, which can be read during load sequences, and for players who are interested, more depth can be found by reading books you find along the way. In other words, the game is set up so that nothing gets in the way of the real focus: the action. This is one of the most intense, fast-paced action games ever created, with the only real contender perhaps being Devil May Cry 3. Combat is fluid and dynamic, and it manages to capture both style and solid mechanics. The controls are responsive and intuitive, the myriad of weapons and abilities are balanced and useful, and the animations are incredibly satisfying to watch. Your weapons, abilities, and stats all improve as you progress, and the carnage and destruction you can unleash is unparalleled.
The game also mixes up the enemies constantly so you'll never become bored of fighting the same encounters. Many enemies have multiple attacks and will actively respond to your actions, which makes for very challenging and satisfying fights. The AI is smart and aggressive, so if you block too much, enemies will grab you or hit you with a guard-breaking move, and if you back off, they'll use projectiles. Enemies will often see attacks coming and dodge or block, so you must be fast and precise. The enemy animations are also highly fluid, which makes it harder to predict their movements, though many bosses have some telltale signs, which allow you to know which move they're going to use.
In Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Black, you played solely as Ryu Hayabusa, but in Sigma, the developers added Rachel as a playable character. You still play all the normal missions from the original version as Ryu, but three missions have been added where you'll control Rachel, which adds a nice boost to the overall length of the single-player game. Although most of Rachel's missions are rather short, she does get some unique boss fights of her own, and she has some unique abilities which make it an entertaining change of pace. The developers did go overboard with her chest animations, which seems like a juvenile and unnecessary addition.
A new weapon has been added in this version of the game: Dragon's Claw and Tiger's Fang, a pair of nodachis which Ryu wields simultaneously. They're a completely separate weapon from the Dragon Sword, which is still your starting weapon, attacking with more broad, sweeping strokes. They have some of the same moves as the Dragon Sword, like Flying Swallow, but they maintain a distinctly unique feel.
Another point worth noting about Sigma is the difficulty level — this game is not easy. Even on normal difficulty, you should expect to die many times until you figure out the patterns for certain fights. Many people may have heard of the punishing difficulty involved in the Xbox Ninja Gaiden, and that is still present in the PS3 iteration. However, an easier difficulty mode was added, which can be accessed after you die three or more times. On the harder difficulties, bosses can kill you in a few hits, and enemies won't hesitate for a second to gang up on you or hit you while you're stunned or on the ground. The game doesn't baby you or give you a tutorial, which is seen as a strong point by action enthusiasts and as a negative by newcomers. This level of difficulty makes it rather rewarding when you finally overcome the challenges.
The only real downside to the remake is the tacked-on SixAxis controls. You can shake the controller to increase power during your ninpo attacks, but it's difficult to tell how much power you're adding, since there seems to be no visual or audible response to shaking the controller. It seems like a trivial addition that wasn't necessary. Additionally, when you're grabbed by certain enemies, you must shake your controller to escape, whereas this was previously accomplished by rapidly hitting buttons. This is unfortunate, since I prefer to refrain from flailing my arms wildly while I play games.
Visually, Sigma looks superb, with the biggest change to the graphics being the incorporation of HD resolution. With an HDTV running the game in 1080p, it looks extremely sharp and flows at an excellent frame rate, even during large action scenes. The developers took the time to add in a number of new visual effects and high-resolution textures, but some of the graphical changes appear to be superficial. The lighting and textures have been enhanced, but by and large, the models look the same as they did in the Xbox version. Even with some slightly dated models, the animations are so fluid that the game is beautiful to watch.
By and large, the sound effects and music remain untouched, but people with sharp ears will notice subtle differences in some of the songs. The military supply base music has changed, along with a few other songs; the changes are minor for the most part, but it's nice that the developers took the time to care about details like that. (I actually have the Ninja Gaiden soundtrack, which allowed me to verify this.) If you haven't heard the music before, it's mostly synthesized music with a mix of instrumental, which perfectly sets the scene for the extreme action. Another change worth noting is the newly added option to use Japanese dialogue instead of English. Some complaints have been made about the poor English voice acting, which can now be adjusted.
If you have a PS3 and never got a chance to play the Xbox Ninja Gaiden, you should go out and buy Ninja Gaiden Sigma right now. It has nearly everything you could want from an action game: highly accurate controls, a plethora of well-designed enemies, smart AI, sharp visuals, a wide assortment of useful and unique weapons, brutally visceral combat, and, of course, ninjas. Veteran players will find there is enough added content to warrant another play-through. Sigma stands as one of the finest action games of all time and is a major reason to own a PS3.
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