Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom
released on Aug 15, 1991
,Koei Tecmo Games
A port of Ninja Ryuukenden III: Yomi no Hakobune
Thrilling new cinema screen! Follow the story of Ryu's epic adventure through Tecmo's movie-like Cinema Screen Animation. As you complete each level, a new part of the story unfolds. Exciting new powers and weapons! Over the years Ninja Ryu's fighting skills have improved to include fantastic new powers and weapons. Action-packed Ninja adventure! Can you get Ryu through his most challenging adventure as he battles the hideous ancient forces of darkness to save mankind? The Ultimate Ninja Challenge!
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Of course, Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos was a success, so Tecmo needed to cap off this success with a third installment. Because every successful NES game needed an NES trilogy, such as with Ninja Gaiden, Mario, Mega Man, Castlevania, Zel- uh… ok, ignore that last one, but anyway, you get the point. However, this time around, things would be a little different. Not only would there be a new producer at the helm of this title, but the game would also pull a Castlevania and be a prequel, taking place in between the first and second game, which actually means something in this instance since these games have more complex stories. Not too complex, but moreso then just “kill Dracula”. Either way, after a year of development, we would then be given Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom.
So, if I’m gonna be honest, I originally had really conflicted feelings about this game after replaying it, but I would still consider it a pretty good game at the end of the day. On one hand, it is still all of the great action and gameplay we have come to expect from this series for one final NES installment. On the other hand, it is without a doubt the most frustrating and hardest game in the original trilogy , making it my least favorite of the bunch without a doubt, for several reasons. Yes, the game is still really good, but I experienced plenty of hardships on my replay of the game that made me do a lot of thinking on what I should rate this game, and not in a good way.
The story is, once again, pretty complex and developed, helped again by the use of plenty of cutscenes, although some plot elements are cliche for this kind of game, such as the fake out death and the evil twin, the graphics are still really good, the music is once again very energetic and a great listen, the control is about as tight as before, although this time your jump is a little more floaty, which could be a problem for some, and the gameplay is still just as fast, frantic, and fun as before, although now with some really unneeded hindrances that bring it down for me.
The gameplay is exactly the same as the previous two games, where you proceed through many 2D side-scrolling stages, defeating enemies, getting weapons to aid you along the way, and defeating bosses that will test you in numerous ways. The foundation is still just as strong as it was for the first two games, and Tecmo knew this, so they only added little things to change up the gameplay. For one thing, now you can hang onto platforms from the bottom, adding a new level of versatility to the platforming, which is appreciated, and there are of course new weapons and upgrades to use, such as one that increases the range of your sword, which was without a doubt the most effective and useful of the upgrades. In addition, now you can gather these scrolls throughout the levels to increase the amount of ammunition you can carry for special weapons. Not sure why this was needed at all, considering it doesn’t change the gameplay that much, but hey, I guess it adds a way for the player to prove their skill, so I can’t be too mad at it.
What I can be mad about, however, is the difficulty. Now, this is no new thing, the Ninja Gaiden games have always been hard, but in this game… OH MY GOD. It is the most ruthless that they have ever been, with level designs, enemy placement, and obstacles being some of the most difficult on the entire NES, and honestly, after all this time, I completely forgot how hard it was. Now that I replayed it for this review, it makes the last two games look like the easiest games ever. That being said, however, with the power-ups and upgrades present, it isn’t unbeatable. It just takes a lot, and I mean A LOT, of skill, precision, and practice, and with enough time, you can make this game your bitch like it made you its.
Although, those aren’t the only reasons why this is the hardest game in the trilogy. Anyone familiar with the series already know this, but originally, when the game was made in Japan, it was actually made pretty easy in comparison to the previous two games. However, when it was brought over to be released in America, it was made much more difficult, by making the player take double the damage from enemies, and the worst change of the bunch: giving you limited continues. I mean, seriously, why the fuck was this changed for this game? The other two games were already hard enough with unlimited continues, and taking away that privilege makes things that much more painful. It doesn’t even make the game harder, it just makes things much more stressful, and I can definitely see it making new players apprehensive at wanting to try it out, so it really shouldn’t have been changed in the first place.
Now, with all that being said, I can’t rate this game any lower than I have it here. Trust me, I wanted to, given how much more difficult this game compared to the previous two, but honestly, that wouldn’t be fair, given how, again, it is still a pretty good game with the same great gameplay as previously, just now with the stakes raised so much higher than before. That didn’t stop me from beating the game twice in my lifetime, and it shouldn’t stop you either if you consider trying it for yourself. You just gotta get good, and I got good alright.
Overall, despite the ball-busting difficulty, the game is still a pretty good continuation to the series, and a more than serviceable way to end off the original trilogy on the NES. I just, you know, have to go to the hospital for my broken hands after being such a fucking master at this game, you know how it is.
For years, I have called Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom my "white whale." Like Ahab, I have pursued my Moby Dick for a decade, unable to complete the game without save states and always burning through all five (5) continues. Since high school, I have pursued the challenges of difficult games, notably the NES Ninja Gaiden trilogy, and while I have been able to complete I and II without save states, III has eluded me. I considered this game to be the most difficult game I have played, ever. This is primarily due to the five (5) continues the game offers you, as opposed to unlimited in the previous games, but also due to the multitude of changes made to the North American version to make it more difficult than its Japanese original. Yet, within the past week, I have completed this game nine times, all of which I did not use a single save state or continue, four of which I defeated all three forms of the final boss on a single life. I now question whether I think this game is truly the most difficult of the NES trilogy. While the limited continues prove a significant challenge initially, I feel that since the game asks for you to truly master it, that it might be possible that the unlimited continues of the previous games act as a "crutch" with which one can throw oneself at the challenge repeatedly with some (but not disastrous) consequences, and eventually complete it. In this sense I feel like I have truly mastered Ninja Gaiden III, as opposed to the first two, where I feel as if I have a lesser degree of mastery.
Despite having played it so many times, more than the times I have played the other two entries combined, I feel that this isn't even the best of the trilogy. The story is easily the worst of the trilogy, as Clancy is not a compelling villain at all, the plot is quite played out by this point, and the story lacks the emotional core the first game had. While having many quality of life changes like being able to fully scale and vault over walls, not having respawning enemies, as well as having less knockback and being able to see which items are in the orbs, the gameplay suffers from the changes made to the North American version, namely: the sword extension power-up for Ryu (the range he gets with the extension power-up is the default range of his sword in the original version), taking more damage from enemies and hazards, and more difficult enemy placement. If this game is such a mixed bag, then, why have I replayed it so many times within the past week?
I am currently at a crossroads in my life. The start of a new chapter. Within a month, I will be leaving my parent's home and going to graduate school to become a physical therapist and fully embark on my career. Yet, part of me still wants to remain where I currently am, since it is comfortable, even though I will not grow as a person should I fail to cross this threshold. Game designer Goichi Suda describes the ethos of his overarching series of games, known as 'Kill the Past,' with these words:
"I have seen a lot of people who only remain themselves by repeating the same things they've done in the past and I really don't want to be like them. Killing the past is also synonymous with fighting with the future, and what makes the future alive is facing the past and settling things."
I have long told myself that I am not worthy, I will not amount to anything in life, no one will ever love me, etc. This self-hatred has long kept me from achieving my dreams, seizing my inner power, and becoming my best self. In order to cross this threshold, I will need to "kill the past," as Suda says, and perhaps this is why I continue to replay Ninja Gaiden III after I have finished it once. Perhaps subconsciously, every time I beat this game, I envision myself killing my past self over and over again, destroying the weak one who hated himself, the one who could not defeat Ninja Gaiden III. Maybe finishing Ninja Gaiden III is the beginning of me killing the past, in order to make my great future alive.
the curse that has plagued me since high school has lifted...
i am finally free...
i am finally free...
(This is the 41st game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
I think this is the first time in this challenge that I'm playing an actual sequel, though Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom chronologically actually plays between Ninja Gaiden I and II. The game came out on June 21, 1991 for the NES. I've actually played this back in December, so my memory of the game isn't so fresh, which means this review will be a bit shorter.
STORYTELLING/CHARACTERS | 7/10
This series is known for an unusually big focus on its story at the time, giving players cutscenes that could last for minutes at a time after each level. Add a recognizable main character in Ryu Hayabusa, and I can't really not give this series a solid grade here. What has it stay a couple levels behind other story-heavy games of this time like Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and graphical adventures, is that the story is missing that one ingredient which makes it memorable. Sure, there is the conspiracy with Irene, Ryu's love interest, being killed by a Ryu Hayabusa lookalike, and sure, there are a few twists present here, but it never really goes deeper than that. You don't gain deeper insight into the mind of Ryu, the antagonist simply has a "take over the world" motive that you see everywhere and the conclusion is pretty much what you would expect. That is not a bad story overall, it's just pretty basic with a few cool little moments and revelations. For video games at the time, again, it's great to see that a game spends so much time to tell a story, but it's not going to make you think about the game after playing it, or beyond the game whilst playing it like Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake for example.
GAMEPLAY | 12/20
The Ninja Gaiden series has hack & slash and platforming gameplay, and that's the same here. This is on the NES just like Ninja Gaiden II was, so there are no improvements here that an SNES release would have given. It did get released for the SNES as part of the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy years later however.
Ninja Gaiden to me felt a bit worse in terms of its gameplay than what I played of the second title. The enemy design felt worse for some, it felt like some features were missing like the ability for Ryu to clone himself, which added a different layer to everything in Ninja Gaiden 2, and so overall, this felt like a worse version of an older game, which is never great for a sequel.
In general though, the hack & slash gameplay in this series is not too bad, it just felt disappointing that this game was made for the NES again and didn't improve, which an SNES release surely would have accomplished.
MUSIC/SOUND/VOICE | 8/10
There is no voice acting. The soundtrack is really good. I really like the fast pace to all the beats and it definitely supplemented the game well.
GRAPHICS/ART DESIGN | 8/10
The game looks good for an NES game. The graphical presentation, both overall and in cutscenes, is absolutely a plus here.
ATMOSPHERE | 8/10
Varied environments throughout. The urgency put forward by the story along with the great soundtrack make for an exciting affair throughout.
CONTENT | 6/10
The game is just about as long as the previous one I believe, and while the game has a high difficulty overall, what's on offer here is plentiful and challenging. The gameplay is pretty much the same throughout and there isn't much else to this game though, but that's not an issue here.
LEVEL/MISSION DESIGN | 5/10
Platforming / Hack & slash sections followed by a cut scene. You do this throughout and then the game ends. Unlike many other platformers, there aren't any levels that try to mix things up a little bit, and the game's difficulty is too high in my opinion.
CONCEPT/INNOVATION | 6/10
I can write pretty much the same thing here as for the 2nd game in this trilogy. Its focus on storytelling makes this be a pretty original game, the core gameplay is fun, but this is a small step back overall in my opinion.
REPLAYABILITY | 2/5
Apart from trying to beat your high score, there isn't any other motivation given to play this game again.
PLAYABILITY | 5/5
The game worked well at all times.
OVERALL | 67/100
Great soundtrack, big focus on storytelling, which is always a plus in my book for this time period, and pretty fun gameplay makes this a recommendation. However, I'd rather recommend the second game for newcomers to the series, which actually is an improvement over the first and probably the best game in this NES trilogy.
The absolute madmen did it: a NES Ninja Gaiden game that you can actually beat without save states and rewind. It still has the occasional cheap enemy placement, but those are few and far between. Well, at least the Japanese version, they made this the hardest game in the trilogy for the western release.
It also features an incredible QoL: you can see what the candles/lamps hold. hat sword upgrade is also immensely satisfying.
Now, just because you can, doesn't mean I actually did beat it without save states/rewinds. I mostly used them to save time, as running out of lives puts you back at the beginning of the act.
And after two games of 3-phase-boss-in-one-life-bar nonsense, this one actually remembers the damn phase you were in, even if you get a game over. Cathartic.
The story is some nonsense rambling that gets closer to the 3D games. Lower quality cutscenes too, they're also much less cooler. Still better storytelling than the 3D trilogy.