Situated between the modern Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword provides a gaiden, or side story, to the series with one notable difference from those games – it’s portable. Dragon Sword was released for the Nintendo DS on March 25, 2008 and it tells of the continuing struggles of the elite ninja, Ryu Hayabusa.
Set six months after the first game, Dragon Sword sees Ryu’s native Hayabusa Village rebuilt and life returning to normal when a fellow villager and disciple of Ryu’s, Momiji, is kidnapped by the Black Spider Ninja Clan. As Ryu seeks Momiji, he discovers the plans of Obaba, leader of the Black Spider Ninja Clan. She wishes to empower the evil fiends with the Eye of the Dragon, a mystical jewel that would entail certain doom for humans if the fiends were able to obtain it. Ryu’s quest for Momiji requires the collection of eight dark dragonstones; each transporting him to the next one and eventually to Momiji.
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, like its predecessor, was headed up by Tomonobu Itagaki and his [former] elite ninja development studio Team Ninja. They deserve recognition for not losing the fast-paced action the series is known for in the transition to a portable, even more so considering the game makes heavy use of the DS’ touch screen.
The only buttons the game utilizes are for character movement, guarding, and pausing/opening menus; everything else is handled through touch. Slashing an enemy with my stylus resulted in Ryu quickly attacking. If I slashed upwards, Ryu would launch the enemy into the air and another upward slash would see him launching after the enemy to pummel it back into the ground. Ryu’s vanilla combo contained five fast attacks and I could decimate most enemies if I was accurate. Because he streaked around the arena, attacking multiple enemies was simple to do, and reminiscent of Batman’s melee in the Rocksteady developed Batman games.
These combos weren’t the only attacks at Ryu’s disposal. He also had some projectile attacks that were handy for dealing with weaker enemies. One attack I have a problem with is the ultimate technique. To pull it off, I had to furiously scribble on the screen, charging up this powerful attack. When initiated, projectiles targeted nearby enemies and did massive damage. It seemed hazardous to my DS’ touch screen using these attacks, but they were very helpful in clearing out rooms of weaker enemies. This attack seems at odds with the design philosophy of the series however. For a series that demands a high level of skill to succeed, the reckless ultimate techniques seem counter to that philosophy.
It took me around five hours to complete Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword and I had a good time with the game. The combat was fast-paced and easy to execute. Slashing arenas of enemies was a blast and the eventual boss fights provided a change from the fodder, both in scope and strategy. The plot unfolded as one would expect, but the occasional breaks from action for plot development were still appreciated. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword takes full advantage of the unique capabilities of the Nintendo DS and because of the stellar implementation it remains a fantastic action game.