By: Casey Curran
There are a lot of things I can tolerate as a gamer. I can get past a lack of polish, poor graphics, and even shallow combat; I think a game can do something to redeem itself from these qualities. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z initially gave off the impression of being a game that could pull this off. Despite falling victim to all of the aforementioned issues, the combat is still fun while the style is wonderfully campy. However, as time went on an issue so serious cropped up, not even the best game could overcome it.
In terms of combat, Yaiba works surprisingly well. There’s a wide variety of combos between normal, heavy, and chain attacks that allow a number of combos. There is a seamless transition between juggling these to pull off high combos. Dodging and blocking are both responsive as well, making the combat, while not deep, at least satisfying to pull off.
The issues arise in instances outside combat, however. Both the puzzles and combat are context sensitive, meaning you can only jump in areas that allow you to jump and pick up items/zombies to throw when the game permits you to. The issue, however, is that the button to trigger both of these does not always work. Normally this does not bother me, but the game takes it to the extreme where it will sometimes take minutes for me to trigger it, which is inexcusable.
When I say that I have seen PS2 games that look better than Yaiba, I do not mean the ones like Okami or Metal Gear Solid 3, which still manage to hold up beautifully today. I mean games like Bully and Beyond Good and Evil, titles no one has (or ever will) remember fondly for their graphical prowess. While the dark cel-shaded look does slightly mitigate this, it is not even close enough to make up for its ugly look.
Music is instantly forgettable, which is never a good thing for a game. In one such as this, however, I was hoping for something particularly crazy to help match the tone and complement the gameplay. Dialogue is equally forgettable, though the sound effects are very gory and fun.
Initially, I really enjoyed Yaiba. The combat just barely has more depth than a Dynasty Warriors game, but like that series, it manages to make taking out waves of enemies very fun. The game actually offers many combos between its three attack buttons, although there is not much variety between these combos. For the most part, what a combo does is dependent on whether the heavy attack button is used.
The standard zombies do not pose too much of a threat, primarily existing to get incredibly high combo chains (I’m talking 300-plus). There are also stronger enemies that do constitute a real threat. These enemies are fine on their own, but once paired together fighting them can get tedious due to their tendency to sponge attacks to ridiculous degrees all while dealing some very high damage.
Beating stronger enemies leads to great rewards, however. Each one has a unique weapon to hand you after. For instance, defeating a clown zombie allows you to use their arms as nunchakus, with other enemies dropping weapons equally ridiculous and awesome.
While combat is stellar, platforming is little more than fancy quick time events, pressing X, O, and triangle when you need to jump, grapple, and punch through a wall respectively. Puzzles can also be counter intuitive. One that requires throwing a zombie at a water tower to put out a fire, for instance, required it to be thrown at the opposite direction as you are facing. Yet the other side puts the player well below the tower, and it turns out that in a certain spot throwing the zombie will give it an upward arc, but it was a little too specific.
Yet none of that ended up killing the game. No, that would be the game literally not letting me continue. Multiple times I have tried to get past a level, only for my weapons to disappear at the end. My character would still pull off combos, but these would not do any damage, nor would the enemies even attempt to attack me.
I tried restarting the entire level and each time the glitch showed up. Maybe I am just unlucky or need to start a new game, but I shouldn’t be in this scenario to begin with. Even Skyrim on PS3 was not this bad. It is a shame too because without that bug, this score would be much higher as I quite enjoyed the combat.
I really thought I would end up liking Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. And I still really want to like it, to the point where I will jump right back in if/when the developers release a patch to fix the game breaking bug I kept running into. Yet as is, I cannot even access half of the game’s content, and that is completely inexcusable.