A Ninja’s Master Sword
Do you need a good ninja fix while waiting for the release of Ninja Gaiden II? Do you want to play a great and very innovative action game on the Nintendo DS? Would you like to see what Tecmo has been doing all this time? If your answer is yes to any or all of those questions, it’s time for you to get your hands on Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. It’s what we all expected and more.
Nintendo DS is not known for its action-packed games; most attempts to create a game of that genre for the little handheld turned out less than successful. Probably because of that, we’re all kind of hesitant to drop our hard-earned dollars on titles that might just disappoint. Instead, we buy RPGs, puzzles, and brain games for the DS, or anything that contains Mario, Link, or Pokémon. Who knew the DS had the potential to offer a great action experience, almost comparable to what you’d get on a video game console?
The story of Dragon Sword is interesting for those of us who enjoy fantasy tales. It’s not a deep and fully-fledged story like the ones found in Final Fantasy, but it’s actually more engaging than expected. The game has some great characters other than Ryu Hayabusa, the hero of the story. He’ll set out to save the kidnapped Momiji, a brave and charming gal who’s learning the ways of the ninja from him. Along the way he’ll interact with numerous townsfolk who are always happy to help with valuable advice, as long as they don’t have to brandish a sword in their hands.
It so happens that the once peaceful town of Hayabusa was destroyed by the dark forces of an ancient, evil dark dragon. That dragon is not alive anymore, but it left a dark legacy within the Dark Dragon Blade that only someone with the power of the Dragon Sword could eradicate. Evil beings stole the Dark Dragon Blade, attracted by its immense power.
Ryu is a descendant of the Dragon Lineage (protectors of the Dark Dragon Blade) and carries the Dragon Sword, which holds the power and spirit of ancient good dragons. Six months ago he shattered the Dark Dragon Blade after an intense battle against the evil beings who stole it. Now the evil forces are back for revenge, and Ryu has no option but to go save Momiji and defeat them before they come and destroy the town.
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is innovative in many ways, starting with the unique action controls, completely delegated to the stylus. If you thought this game would be a button-masher, you were wrong. It might be a “hack-n-slasher” but in a whole new way. Team Ninja went for something totally different this time; the player will control Ryu and his sword with the stylus almost exclusively. The only complaint I have is holding the DS like an open book and fighting with the stylus isn’t very ergonomic. In fact, it might be the first cause of “DS-elbow” syndrome. As you know, this is widely popular on Nintendo Wii, but not on the DS…yet.
By drawing quick lines on the screen you’ll obtain different moves and attacks, and by tapping a certain spot and holding the stylus, you’ll guide the character towards it, like in Animal Crossing: Wild World or Super Mario 64 DS. In Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, when you draw lines from left to right or vice versa over an enemy, you’ll slash it. That’s a regular attack. Soon you’ll learn you can do other things like sliding the stylus down and then up, which causes a double attack called Izuna Drop. You can also draw an upwards line to make your character jump. You can do double jumps, triple jumps, and sometimes you can even climb certain walls by simply doing the upward motion, which is reminiscent of the Prince of Persia’s acrobatic abilities. If you jump and then draw a quick line towards the bottom of the screen, Ryu will perform a powerful smash attack that comes in handy especially when there is a group of enemies waiting at ground level. You can also jump and slash enemies, throw shuriken or launch arrows by tapping objects and enemies, etc. You can use any button to guard or push a button and draw a line to evade.
Similar to God of War and Devil May Cry games, there’s a combo indicator that shows how many hits and combos you’ve done consecutively. The better you do it, the more “essence” will come out of the enemies. They usually pump out a lot of Yellow Essence, which is currency you use to purchase items and new combat techniques. There’s also Blue and Red Essence (health and magic), but these are much more scarce.
Ninpo, the Ninja Gaiden magic, is also available in Dragon Sword. You’ll learn different spells from Ninpo Scrolls, but you can only use them when you’ve collected Ki power (usually after a save point).
Most of the Ninpo Scrolls are purchased from the old, wise merchant called Muramasa. The Art of Inazuma lets you attack with lightning bolts; The Art of Inferno creates a ball of fire you can direct towards the enemies; And The Art of the Fire Wheel burns the enemies’ heart and soul. There are others you’ll obtain with time, including The Art of Divine Life, which refills your health gauge when things get sticky. Using magic is always fun and very rewarding. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel I got to use it enough; most of the time you can only use Ninpo once between save points. Sometimes you’ll be able to collect more Red Essence from the enemies you defeat, but standard enemies aren’t very generous that way.
It takes about six to nine hours to complete the game in normal mode, depending on your skills. You can connect to the servers through the Wi-Fi connection and submit your score. That way you’ll be able to compare your dexterity with other people around the world; you’ll be amazed to see how good some people are! Players on the top of the list have finished the game in three hours and a half without dying a single time.
The game hides a few prizes throughout. When you hear a bird sound, you need to shout or blow at the microphone. That will make a magical blue bird show up and fly all over the screen. Without letting it hit you, you have to slash it, and it will drop a numbered wooden talisman. These talismans contain new features and prizes. When you finish the game, you’ll unlock a new difficulty mode. This will be appreciated by many, as the normal difficulty is not much of a challenge.
It’s very easy to immerse yourself into Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. Not only is the control scheme unique, but the presentation is also very appealing, and the soundtrack puts you in the middle of a good action movie, except it’s actually a video game. You’d never expect that from the DS, but Tecmo went for the whole package with their first action / adventure title on Nintendo DS: splendid presentation, engaging storyline, innovative controls, and a superb soundtrack. The characters don’t speak much; they just say things like “…uhm,” “…hmm,” “ah?,” “…ha!” The player has to read the dialogue most of the time. Luckily, it’s not very long at all, so it never got annoying. Just a few times you’ll hear the characters talk…but in Japanese. I actually liked that a lot; it adds authenticity. After all, why would Ninjas and other clearly Japanese characters speak English?
Most cutscenes are composed by beautiful comic-style drawings, and the main gameplay happens in three dimensional-looking environments made of two-dimensional elements. It’s difficult to describe, but it looks great, particularly for the DS. The only problem is that sometimes there’s not a clear sense of depth and Ryu lands where you least expect it after a jump. Sometimes he and the enemies become really small when they’re further away, making the fighting a bit more arduous. Overall though, the game sports high-quality visuals with lots of neat details within the multiple environments shown in the game.
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is possibly the best action game ever made for Nintendo DS. Tecmo did an outstanding job with it, and most gamers should be more than happy if they decide to pick up the title. If you enjoy action on-the-go, pack up your DS and a copy of Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, and you’re good to go!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.6 Graphics
The game shines with really nice environments throughout. The comic-like screens are unique and very appealing. 3.8 Control
The controls are totally innovative for the DS. Everything is accurately controlled with the stylus. However, it can get tiring and give you “DS-elbow” syndrome. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great action music, entirely suitable for this kind of game. It’s very professional and has a nice movie feel. The characters barely talk and when they do it’s in Japanese; it makes it authentic. 4.5
Very few DS titles are as good and engaging as this one. If you’re looking for a console-level action game for the DS, this is what you were looking for!
4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.