The Last Ninja takes place in a time when the strongest of the Japanese clans reaches the pinnacle of their decadent lifestyle. Appalled and oppressed, the peasants retreat into the mountains. Deep in the mountains they establish the secret art of the ninjutsu. Several centuries later they become the strongest and fiercest warriors of all Japan. Kunitoki, the merciless ruler of the Ashakagi Clan, envies their power and so takes an oath to achieve their total destruction. Once every decade all Ninja must travel to the Island of Lin Fen where they pay homage to the shrine of the White Ninja and receive further teachings from the Koga Scrolls. Seeing his best opportunity to destroy them all he amasses his forces and strikes without mercy. Every single Ninja is slaughtered in this treacherous ambush.
Unknown to Kunitoki, the tradition of the Ninja is to leave one of their own behind to guard the holy shrine of Bunjinkan. Armakuni, now the last Ninja, soon learns of the genocide of his people and swears to destroy Kunitoki. From his childhood, Armakuni remembers the secret passageway that would lead him to the palace of Kunitoki on the impregnable island of Lin Fen. He travels to Lin Fen only to find out that the secret passage to the castle is not as he remembered. His quest for revenge begins...
The last ninja contains a combination of exploration, puzzle and combat game mechanics. Since the game has an isometric perspective, there are eight directions the character can move in. However, where Armakuni can move is also defined by pre-existing paths within the game (making some scenery inaccessible). Throughout the game a variety of weapons become available to the player, including a sword, nunchaku, shuriken, staff and smoke bomb(s). By kneeling at certain in-game landmarks, such as Buddha statues or fountains, the player can gain some insight into what they are supposed to do next, a sort of in-game help system. The game also "scales" as the player progresses, making the enemies progressively more difficult towards the end.
The island of Lin Fen is split into six distinct districts, each with their own assortment of items and challenges. The six areas (in the order they must be completed in) are:
- The Wastelands: A bright green grassland surrounded by a rocky landscape, 25 squares total. Here the player must jump from rock to rock in order to collect the essential items from the area. The player must also deal with a large fire-breathing dragon who roams around the Wastelands.
- The Wilderness: A diverse area with mountain ranges, caves and a bamboo forest that coves a total of 27 screens (the largest area). To complete it, Armakuni must climb his way up a steep cliff by using precise pin-point jumping.
- The Palace Gardens: a scenic, peaceful area adorned with pictures of flying white doves, grand waterfalls and magnificent flower beds that covers 25 screens. There is a Buddha shrine in this area, along with a lurking blue dragon.
- The Dungeons: Armakuni gets dropped through a trap door to this haunting area filled with torture chambers that spans 24 screens. Here lie spiders, rats, ghosts and skeletons that all seek to bar the player's progress.
- The Palace: Decorated with Asiatic furniture, the Palace's 15 screens are filled with highly trained guards that will do everything they can to thwart Armakuni's progress. Also, in the hallway there is a particularly difficult sword-throwing statue that requires the player to remain close to the wall in order to pass safely.
- The Inner Sanctum: Covering 15 screens, the final area features a secret passage and a notorious archer statue leading up to the final confrontation with an armored Kunitoki. After the player defeats him, he finally relinquishes the scrolls.
A fun note about one of the two composers of the music for the C64 and Amiga versions of The Last Ninja,
Ben Daglish got offered Mark Cale of System 3's slightly-dodgy left-hand-drive BMW as pay for his amazing efforts.
Ben aptly responded "no thanks, I'll have the cash please." and that was that. Seemingly a good deal as the car itself wasn't worth much and the actual pay Ben received per tune for the game was about $300.