Additional thoughts on Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z

I finished YAIBA last night, and… well, I felt rather compelled to amend my previous post on the game.

I still largely stand by what I wrote – the game isn’t AS bad as rumors make it out to be, the combat is pretty serviceable, the semi-automatic jumpy platformy bits are a fun palate cleanser, and the writing and story are atrocious. But what I can say with the benefit of hindsight, is that before writing the other post, I had happened to stop playing right before an absurd difficulty spike that served to highlight and exacerbate most of the game’s biggest problems: Mission 5.

“Mission 5: Ryu Hayabusa” is essentially nothing but a boss fight. Having reached the point where I was mostly satisfied with what I’d seen and was kind of waiting for the game to wrap up, I was thrilled to see the level starting with you facing off against Hayabusa right off the bat, without the need to go through a long level. I didn’t really talk about it last time, but up until that point, the boss fights had actually been decently fun. They had certainly exposed some of the weaknesses of the combat system; many combo attacks make cancelling into dodging or blocking inconsistent and thus completely unreliable – but figuring out how to work around that sort of became part of the puzzle, and coming out on top was just hard enough to make it a satisfying challenge to overcome.

Unfortunately, Hayabusa throws all that out the window.

Ryu Hayabusa basically breaks a lot of the established rules of combat, and asks far more of the player than they can reasonably be expected to deliver with any consistency. It’s hard to predict whether your attacks will put him into any kind of hitstun state (if he’s in the middle of an attack they definitely won’t – but even if he appears to be idle, some of his attacks start up quickly enough to intercept yours, so that’s not really enough of a tell), and if they don’t, he’ll hit you right back through getting combo’d, and getting hit tends to take off anywhere from 15% to 50% of your life bar in one go. And hey, guess what – even if you do land a clean hit, clearly comboing him… if he feels like it, he can just sort of drop out of hitstun , and start comboing you.

The safest time to attack him is seemingly when he’s doing a longer wind-up for certain attacks – but even those windows are quite short, and if you misjudge the timing or spacing even a little, you guessed it, you eat a ton of damage. Defending is tough as well, not only because many of your attacks makes dodging or blocking difficult and kind of unreliable – Hayabusa also has tons of moves that are just flat out unblockable, and others that are so fast and far-reaching that even dodging isn’t much of an option.

What it comes down to, is you have to deal an absolute ton of damage, landing hundreds of hits on him – but make maybe 2-5 mistakes, and you’re dead. Oh, and by “mistake”, I guess I mean something closer to “unlucky guess”. Or “randomly get stunlocked by the boss for 100% damage”, “welp, I guess dodging didn’t give you invincibility frames that one time, RIP” or whatever else just screws you over.

This song and dance goes on for several phases, with a few additional tweaks and stipulations I can’t be bothered to describe in detail – but getting through this fight was a complete slog. The game simultaneously starts requiring far, far more of the player in terms of both reaction and technique (and I guess luck?), but also punishes you way harder than ever for failing to deliver. Each phase of the fight, when done well, can take two to three minutes to complete – but can go to shit at any point, in about two to three seconds. Die, and you have to sit through a considerable load screen as well as the tail end of a cut scene, before you get to try again.

This fight nearly drove me nuts, and certainly ground down any goodwill the game had managed to build up until that point. I spent around an hour and a half trying to beat this boss, and by the time I beat it I’d racked up 71 deaths. To put that into some kind of perspective, the previous 4 missions had taken around 3 hours to complete with maybe 10 or so deaths. 3 or 4 of those were probably on the 4th mission’s boss.

I can’t think of a worse boss fight in recent memory, and whether I’m the idiot who didn’t figure out how stuff works, or the difficulty spike is as bad as it seemed, it kinda boggles the mind to think how things turned out that way. And although it’s really only one enemy encounter (even if the game dedicates an entire chapter to it), I can’t help but wonder how my overall views on the game had changed if I’d made it that far only to give up on the Hayabusa fight in my first sitting. As it stands, I had a mostly positive outlook on the game from beating Mission 4, had that soured immensely by the atrocious Mission 5… and then kind of turned around again by the end of the game?

I’m not going to spoil anything but the game does go some surprising places towards the end, narratively, tone-wise, arguably even with the mechanics. The final mission was surprisingly fun and interesting – some of the writing and dialogue actually even managed to get a few chuckles out of me! So overall the game actually ended on a positive note, for me at least.

But boy, that fucking Mission 5. For all the positive I may have to say about YAIBA: NINJA GAIDEN Z, that fight alone is making me feel so glad I’ll never have to touch the damn game again.

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