Xbox announced the first batch of original Xbox games late last month. As an owner and all around fan of the original Xbox, I would say that the list of games announced brought back some fond memories. Of all the games that are a part of this nostalgic selection, one stuck out to me the most. It’s a game that truly tested my patience and introduced this type of difficult challenge to my stubborn soul. It’s a game I credit for preparing me for games like Nioh and other titles in the Souls-like genre. Of course, I am talking about Koei-Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden.
Let’s be clear, Ninja Gaiden has always been about challenges, prioritizing skill and patience over the appeal of being a casual game.
Thinking back to the days of Tecmo and the debut of Ninja Gaiden in 1988, the series has never been afraid of being too difficult or demanding. Though the title has seen changes through the years, at its core, we still find the elements that make up the Ninja Gaiden essentials—platforming, slashing, precise evasion, hordes of enemies, and an overall challenging atmosphere. Let’s be clear, Ninja Gaiden has always been about challenges and prioritizing skill and patience over the appeal of being a casual game.
Ninja Gaiden as a series is full of history, rich in tales of frustration, and controller breaking that dates back to the days of the NES. My love for the series doesn’t start here though. It actually begins circa 2004 when Team Ninja developed a Ninja Gaiden reboot that was released for the original Xbox. My attraction to the title then wasn’t a chase for a challenge but more along the lines of wanting to walk the path of a ninja, more specifically, the path of Ryu Hayabusa.
I quickly learned that Ninja Gaiden was more than about looking or feeling like a cool ass ninja. It actually showed you how hard it is to be one. Granted, some of Ninja Gaiden‘s difficulty could be attributed to unfavorable camera angles and relentless hordes of respawning enemies that seem to pop up at the most inopportune moments, but I’m not willing to say that these factors were always the cause of my death. Ninja Gaiden does something that all challenging games should aim for… It makes you take full responsibility for your actions.
See, Ninja Gaiden never pretended to be anything other than skillfully demanding of whichever player decided to pick up the controller.
Every time I died, no matter the fashion, I felt like it was all on me. If I died because I didn’t have an elixir to regain health, I blamed my lack of inventory management. If I died because I got killed by an enemy behind me, I questioned why I didn’t take in my surroundings. Oh, I died facing a mission boss the same way I died before? Well, I should have been quicker. See, Ninja Gaiden never pretended to be anything other than skillfully demanding of whichever player decided to pick up the controller. It made sure the tone was set from the very first mission.
That isn’t an exaggeration, Ninja Gaiden‘s introduction was hard and in moments, downright onerous. But it was honest to the game’s formula. You were immediately thrown into the fire and you had to learn as you go. Yes, you were taught how to execute actions like evading, counters, and platforming maneuverability but it never held your hand in any stretch. These were the building blocks of the Ninja Gaiden reboot and I absolutely loved it.I spent hours upon hours playing Ninja Gaiden and not once did I ever think that what I learned in skill—both technical and tactical—would ever directly transfer to any other game. Then along came Bloodborne.
This was the first game I loved that belongs to what is now known as the Souls-like genre. It stems from the developers of the Dark Souls series which I was not originally a fan of. I hated the slow pace of the Dark Souls games, along with the rogue nature of the enemies and bosses. I found too much of my control had been taken away as a player. Eventually, I ended up liking the Dark Souls series and it paved the way for one of my favorite games in the genre, Bloodborne.
This is where I first felt my core Ninja Gaiden teachings such as evading, precise attacks, and inventory management applied to a Souls-like game. Unlike the Dark Souls game that created the genre, Bloodborne played at a faster pace. Though rogue enemies were still present in some fashion, player control was more prominent in comparison to the Dark Souls games before it. Bloodborne‘s fluid controls, challenge, and feeling of responsibility were so very reminiscent of my time with Ninja Gaiden.
I was able to play through Bloodborne‘s excruciatingly difficult enemies and bosses mainly thanks to the experiences I had while playing Ninja Gaiden. I was smarter with my inventory, ensuring to keep health pots handy. I was patient with my attacks, keeping precision and timing in mind. I felt like I was in my element and it felt so damn good! At that moment, I thought I would never find a Souls-like game that would resonate more closely to Ninja Gaiden and of course, again I was wrong.All of my frustration, the techniques I had learned, the patience, and my journey as a ninja; I thought all of it was preparation for the Souls-like genre and it all came full circle when Koei-Tecmo and Team Ninja released Nioh. In my opinion, Nioh is one of the greatest Souls-like games to ever grace the genre.
Firstly, Nioh is difficult, as expected, but not in the way Dark Souls or even Bloodborne was. The controls felt more refined, the pace of gameplay increased substantially, and the enemies were relentless but with enough persistence they were beatable.
The gameplay in Nioh had this familiarity with it that made me feel right at home. It emanates Ninja Gaiden vibes, obviously since both titles share the same publisher and development team. From the loading screen to the use of ninjitsu, Nioh captures the very essence that I once felt when playing Ninja Gaiden.
There’s always enough room for enjoyment and difficulty letting you experience both without being exhausted by either feeling.
The more I progressed and fought enemies using different combinations or an awesome parry, the more I thought about my time spent with Ninja Gaiden. I felt ready, almost like I trained specifically for this game and its difficulty didn’t phase me. Instead, I found it nostalgic and fun. Yes, Nioh did frustrate me and test my patience, but it was this feeling that made it so similar to the Ninja Gaiden reboot. It didn’t try to push you over the edge, instead, it makes sure to give you everything you need to succeed. Nioh’s difficulty—much like Ninja Gaiden— leaves enough room for enjoyment and frustration, allowing you to experience both without being exhausted by either feeling.
Although Nioh and Ninja Gaiden share similarities in style and gameplay, I can acknowledge that other Souls-like games are a far cry from this aesthetic. Even with this, I still feel like Ninja Gaiden prepared me for the Souls-like genre, especially Nioh. Thanks to Ryu Hayabusa, difficulty isn’t insurmountable but another obstacle in my virtual journey that I was taught to overcome.