Ninja Gaiden is a re-imagining of the classic arcade and NES franchise of 2D action based platformers. Developed by Tecmo's Team Ninja exclusively for the Xbox, this action/adventure game was praised for its fluid animations, deep fighting system, and intense difficulty. Players guide protagonist Ryu Hayabusa through sixteen chapters of combat, environmental exploration, and puzzle solving. It was later expanded with two free "Hurricane Packs" released through Xbox Live which improved the problematic camera, added a new quarterstaff weapon, implemented a new combat technique called the "intercept" which allowed for advanced counteracts, and included a large number of progressively harder stand-alone battles to extend the post-story content.
Ninja Gaiden appears on the Xbox 360's backwards compatibility list. It originally suffered bouts of severe slowdown which interfered with the player's ability to properly time combos, but updates to the emulator eventually helped to reduce the problem.
Played from a third-person perspective, Ninja Gaiden specializes in fast, visceral 3D combat against multiple opponents including black ninjas wielding explosive throwing stars, armored soldiers with submachine guns and electrified blades, huge dinosaur-like demons which can breathe fire, and many more. These foes are highly aggressive -- unlike many similar games, they will not hesitate to coordinate their attacks to strike from multiple directions at once, executing continuous combos or devastating grapple moves to exploit any opening in the player's defenses. Every enemy in the game is fast, strong, and capable of dealing out lethal amounts of damage to send the player back to the previous save point.
Fortunately, the player-controlled Ryu Hayabusa has a variety of upgradeable weapons at his disposal, superhuman agility which allows him roll safely away from enemy attacks and run several steps straight up most vertical surfaces, and the ability to cast a few different "ninpo" spells which can inflict heavy damage on one or more nearby foes. Fallen enemies also give off yellow essence which can be exchanged at shops for healing items, blue essence to heal up Ryu's wounds, and red essence to recharge his ninpo, and in the thick of battle, nearby essence can be absorbed to unleash immensely powerful "Ultimate Techniques" capable of slaying multiple enemies at a time.
Combat can take place at virtually any point in the game, but between battles, players explore each level to find hidden items and solve puzzles to proceed to the next area. There are many variations on the theme of finding a key to pass through a particular locked door, as well as environmental puzzles where Ryu must use his wall-running ability or ledge-shimmying skills to avoid damage and gain access to a hard-to-reach place. In addition to free hidden healing items, most levels also include Golden Scarab jewels which can be exchanged at shops for unique items which cannot be obtained any other way.
Weapons in the game include the Dragon Sword, a single katana considered the most balanced weapon in the game, nunchucks which sacrifice range for a greater attack speed, and a couple super-heavy weapons like the Dabilahro great sword and the War Hammer which are ideal for dishing out heavy damage against some of the slower, more heavily armored opponents. Each weapon can be improved at shops in the game to unlock new and more powerful combos.
Some of the locales in the game include a traditional Japanese village, a futuristic airship, a modern military base, and ancient catacombs stretching deep beneath the evil Vigoor capital, evoking an anachronistic world similar to developer Team Ninja's Dead or Alive fighting game franchise. Enemy types vary in each level, and most chapters end with a particularly challenging boss encounter appropriate to the setting.
Ryu Hyabusa visits Murai, leader of the "Shadow Clan" of Ninjas and his uncle. This visit is cut short when Ayane brings news that the Hayabusa village has been attacked. Ryu rushes to save his village, and the Dark Dragon Blade kept within it, but is struck down by a mysterious and powerful figure, who steals the cursed Dark Dragon Blade. Murai informs Ryu that the samurai that attacked the village was Doku, a Greater fiend from the Holy Vigoor Empire, and Ryu sets out on a quest for vengeance.
To enter Tairon, the capital of Vigoor, Ryu stows away on an airship, and starts his search for Doku. In Tairon, Ryu travels to Hans Bar, to find out information, and meets Rachel. Rachel is a "fiend hunter" and the two converse.This is all being watched by Gamov and the Dark Disciple, whose identity is unknown, however as the story progresses, it is made clear that these two have been arranging events from behind the scenes.
Ryu reaches a monastery, and after an exploration into the hidden underground, fights with Alma, a Greater Fiend and Rachel's sister. Ryu is victorious in the battle but Rachel cannot bring herself to strike the final blow, as she sees a small spark of humanity in Alma. This weakness results in Doku capturing Rachel. The battle in the monastery results in the military being alerted to the situation, and Ryu diverts to disrupt the armies communications, by destroying their tower.
After destroying the communications tower, Ryu proceeds to the palace of Zarkahn, via the aqueduct, and eventually meets with Doku, who has Rachel as a prisoner. Ryu defeats Doku, and Rachel is freed, but no questions are answered and the Dark Dragon is with the Holy Vigoor Emperor. Doku vows he shall not be so easily defeated, and will bring about the Fiendish Awakening. Rachel seems to understand, and leaves before Ryu can stop her.
Muramasa asks to see Ryu, and explains to him that the Dragon Sword has not reached its full potential, and needs a jewel to reach it. As Ryu travels on through the caverns and back to the center of Tairon, he realizes he has collected 3 stones that open up a pathway of portals that are activated on stone circles. This allows Ryu to find this jewel, and continue his fight for vengeance.
The spirit of Doku has taken Rachel prisoner again, and uses her in a ritual to increase Almas power. Ryu defeats the Awakened Alma, and rescues Rachel, and leaves to deal with Doku, who has succeeded in bringing about the awakening. Ryu follows Doku to a labyrinth, and succeeds in killing his spirit, but as he dies, Doku passes on a blood curse to Ryu, turning him into a fiend. The sole way to relieve him of the curse and to retrieve the Dark Dragon is to kill the Emperor.
Ryu infiltrates the palace of Zarkahn, and kills Marbus, the third greater fiend, to gain entry to the Emperors realm. Ryu eventually succeeds in killing the Emperor, but the caverns are falling down around him. He quickly rushes to the Dark Dragon Blade and is Rescued by Rachel. As they leave, the Dark Dragon Blade falls into the hands of the Dark Disciple, who has been watching all along. The Dark Disciple murders his assistant, Gamov, and reveals himself to be Murai. Harnessing the evil of the Dark Dragon Blade, Murai is turned into the Devil Incarnate, and fights with Ryu. Ryu is victorious and destroys the blade with his True Dragon Sword, shattering it. Despite Rachel wanting to stay with him, Ryu transforms into a Falcon and flies back to the Hayabusa Village, victorious.
In a brief epilogue, Ryu lays the jewel back on Kureha's tombstone that it was found upon, in his village.