Back in 2015 I reviewed the first Ninja Gaiden for the NES. See: [Ninja Gaiden (NES) is a festering puddle of vomit]
Tonight I'm writing about the third Ninja Gaiden for the NES and how it makes the first look like a shining beacon of mercy and generosity. I am both proud and ashamed to reveal that I put in the time and effort to trudge through this game and finally put this trilogy of utter terribleness behind me so I can focus my attention on games that don't make me want to drown myself.
Putting aside the difficulty for a moment, this is arguably the best of the three games. The controls feel wonderful, the visuals are stunning by 8-bit standards, the music is phenomenal, and the story is... well, it's amusing, I can say that much. I really dig the more techno themes and enemies here. The coding is much nicer too: the infinitely respawning enemy problem is gone, and I didn't notice any frustrating glitches. They also introduced some quality of life improvements. I'll go so far as to say the Japanese version of this game is the best of the trilogy for the reasons stated in this paragraph in addition to providing a fair but satisfying challenge. It's definitely easier than the first two games. But this only applies to the Japanese version.
Let's talk about how the North American version is Satan incarnate
The Japanese version is actually easier than the first two games, and I'm guessing it's for that reason that they decided to "rebalance" it when they localized it for North America. What they ended up doing is over-compensating and making it the most difficult of the bunch BY FAR. They significantly increased the number of enemies, and by "significantly increase" I mean more than double. They also deal more damage. There are times when you'll be swarmed by a blizzard of enemies, and in a matter of seconds your health is two-thirds gone. I can deal with all of that, but they didn't stop there.
The first two games, as tough as they are, are generous enough to give you unlimited continues. When they released the third game in Japan, not only did they give you unlimited continues but they also implemented a password system! Imagine that! In contrast, for the US version, on top of the ramped up difficulty, the continues are NOT unlimited.
As horrible as that sounds, I could still forgive all of that if not for what I consider to be the single biggest problem with the game. Without further ado...
The single biggest problem with the game
In the Japanese version, if you die, you restart whatever section of a level you're in. For example, die in 7-3D, you start 7-3D over. In the US version, you get sent back to the beginning of 7-3.
Furthermore, in the Japanese version, if you game-over, you restart the whole level. For example, game-over in 7-3D, you go back to the beginning of 7-3. In the US version, you get sent back to 7-1 and redo the entire goddamn Act.
Think about this for a moment. The levels were originally designed and balanced with certain checkpoints in mind. The US version throws that out the window, decides that the standard set by the first two games is for pussies, and forces you to play excruciatingly long stretches on a single health bar. I mean excruciating. It's like they took the sadistic penalty for dying at the final boss in the first Ninja Gaiden and decided to apply a version of that to the entire freakin game.
Imagine if Shiggy were a sick, disturbed man hellbent on making children hate video games and rebalanced the US version of Super Mario Bros. so that the penalty for game-overs was instead applied to single deaths. Imagine if every time you die in 8-4, you get sent back to 8-1. On top of that, the levels have more than double the enemies, some of them are replaced with hammer bros, and they all deal more damage.... ok, so that last analogy is a bit iffy since Mario only has one or two hit points at any given time anyway, but you get the idea.
I've been told that Ninja Gaiden III was localized in such a way so that kids would have to keep renting the game repeatedly if they wanted a chance at beating it. It doesn't sound implausible at all. I can't help but feel bad for any kid that was unfortunate enough to rent this game, get home with it, being all excited, put it into the NES and get subjected to an experience that no doubt would have a lasting impact on their mental and emotional health and probably turn them into an alcoholic.
It took a bit more perseverance than with the first two games but I finally conquered this one. For anyone interested in playing Ninja Gaiden III, honestly I would recommend playing the Japanese version over this, and then maybe give the US version a try if you want to play what is basically the "hard mode". As disgustingly frustrating and unfair as this game is, the Japanese version is the culmination of the developer honing their skills over the course of three games and making something that provides a truly wonderful experience. It's an action-platformer you don't want to pass up. (Unless you're prone to seizures... seriously this game has stupid amounts of rapid flashing.)
Now that I have the three NES Ninja Gaiden games under my belt, there's only one thing left for me to do.....
Jo, when can we expect a NG marathon of you playing 1-3 on the NES?
~ Aragni_Darkness, November 7, 2015