Critics have not been kind to Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (NGZ). They did much more than underrate this game; they straight up sabotaged it. NGZ is one of the finest action titles of the decade. The controls are easy to learn yet the combat is strategic. The action feels visceral and the enemies are fun to slice through.
After beating the game I couldn't think of one battle that I wouldn't want to have to play through again. I did not experience any cheapness whatsoever. The mix of enemies thrown at you late in the game gets a little maddening, but it's nothing that a bit of patience and strategy cannot overcome.
The final boss was the only genuinely frustrating fight due to the atrocious checkpoint. It was a multi-stage affair that sets you back to the very first stage whenever you die. It took me well over an hour to beat the final boss in part because of that and because there was a specific way to get past a certain stage that I had to learn on YouTube and didn't bother figuring out for myself. The fight itself was fair all around, as were all the battles I encountered throughout the campaign.
Note, however, that I played on the easy difficulty setting, which I can bet most reviewers did not. NGZ could definitely get a little crazy. At any other difficulty setting besides easy, I can see how some scenarios could drive even the best of gamers absolutely insane. The thing is, one just needs to get over his pride issue and play NGZ at the easiest setting, at least on the first playthrough. Trust me, the easy setting feels anything but.
There's an upgrade system that allows you to increase your maximum health, resistance to certain elements and adds new moves to your arsenal. Be diligent in beefing up your character. Everything carries over if you want to replay missions or start from the beginning. Once you've upgraded enough, go ahead and tackle the higher difficulty settings. If you pick the hard setting the first time you play NGZ, you're in for it and you'll be cursing this game till the day you die.
NGZ features some viciously satisfying attacks that are easy to pull off. They consist of your katana (quick strikes), rocket arm (heavy) and flail (think Kratos). You could grapple the weaker zombies and use them as projectiles or melee weapons.
Just before you kill an enemy a prompt will appear above its head for a split second, during which you can perform a gory execution that results in the only health drops the game provides as there are no health potions or regenerating health during combat.
Body parts of fallen enemies could be used as temporary weapons, which depending on the enemy type could be anything from nun-chucks to mortars.
Some enemies are imbued with elements like electricity, bile and fire, which trigger chemical reactions when combined. The game encourages you to experiment with mixing these elements, which could either cause an explosive fountain or incapacitate enemies. In some cases this is critical, particularly when you are facing multiple bosses simultaneously.
Thankfully, the game is kind enough to always provide you with the zombies that contain the necessary elements to level the playing field when you're up against seemingly insurmountable odds.
That is another important thing to know about NGZ. It is a fair game. Do not believe for a second any review that says otherwise. I was able to get past the most difficult situations by using good tactics. It never felt like it boiled down to luck or trial and error. I always felt in control of the action.
The controls are responsive and your defensive options are very reliable. Defense is extremely important in this game and your best friend is "dashing," which is conveniently mapped to the "X" button (PS3).
Also, do not forget to block. That may sound like a no-brainer but early in the game I found myself ignoring the block because I've been burnt by past NG titles and similar games where most enemies had unblockable attacks or could break your guard with one or two hits.
The blocking mechanic is NGZ is more effective than in any other hack & slash title I've ever played. As a general rule, if an attack is too fast to dodge, it is blockable.
NGZ's combat is extremely fast and Yaiba is more than capable to handle anything that comes his way. I think the biggest problem with NGZ's harshest critics has to do with their preconceived notions on how a NG game should be played.
First off, those who consider themselves "hardcore" like to jump straight into the hardest available difficulty setting from the outset. If you do that in NGZ you'll be in for a very rude awakening.
I think most players don't recover from that initial blow to their pride. They can't live with the fact that the game just handed their head to them so they blame the game for everything.
Also, features such as executions and the ability to weaponize your enemies are an essential component of NGZ's combat system, but similar features from other hack & slash games were little more than gimmicks. New NGZ players tend to treat them as such and they suffer for it. It's not the game's fault if you don't utilize all the tools it gives you.
It took me around 7 hours to beat the game. One of those hours belonged to the final boss. The game consists of 80% combat with some platforming and light puzzles.
The platforming is mostly hands off. You are more or less on rails and are required to press one of three buttons at the right time depending on the situation. You could either jump, grapple ala Kratos or punch through a barrier. Some sequences were trickier than others but all in all, the platforming sections never overstayed their welcome.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is an awesome game. Action fans will be missing out if they choose to pass this one up. I am still dumbfounded by the reviews I've read as this game is among the most playable and enjoyable titles I've ever had the privilege of beating.