Ninja Gaiden, my worst enemy...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008
I know Ninja Gaiden 2 is fun. I know it's satisfying to slice demons and rival ninjas apart. I know that if I buy it I'll cackle madly in the night. All that aside, I'm not about to buy another Ninja Gaiden game, ever. Ever. The reasons aren't industry related, nor do they point to a larger issue within our niche. It all goes back to my freshman year of college.

I lived in a small dorm room with my good friend Conor. We had between the two of us, much to our delight, every current console. My prized possession was my Gamecube, but it was may of 2004 and Ninja Gaiden was due to be released on the Xbox. In a whirlwind tour of tutoring I scraped together the cash for the game. On buying it I was given the option to buy the strategy guide along with it. I refused, outraged by the very thought of relying on advice from some book to guide and hone my ninja skills. Ahem, I mean skillz.

Conor and I got back to the dorm somehow. I know neither of us had a car at that time but we managed to get across town and back with so little adventure that I hardly remember it. This is particularly strange as Conor and I are known for our, shall we say, shenaniganary. We create between each other a kind of bizarre devil that acts through us to achieve it's dark ends. It rarely ends well for any party involved. But that's all beside the point.

The disc was torn from the case and roughly inserted into the tray of that humming black box I called friend. I toiled through the night, rarely pausing for anything but the most basic of needs; food, toilet, MacGuyver. The first few levels offered a decent challenge and I was pleased with my progression.

As the days wore on my abilities grew. I became something less than human. Like the black armor clad tyrant of lore, I was now more machine than man, sans twisted and evil. I scoured every inch of the maps for golden scarabs, I found every weapon in the game and farmed enemies for hours to level them up to their keenest edge. I beat eight or nine combatant battles in less than a minute. I had become a weapon, unleashed upon unwitting ninjii (can you pluralize a japanese word using latin rules? I say Yes!) and demonkind with devastating result.

Boss fights were difficult, but I rarely died more than three times before claiming my enemy's head/tentacle/eyestalk/carapace. My greatest achievement came when I finally gripped the powerful hilt of the "unlabored flawlessness", the ultimate and cataclysmic final form of the previously useless wooden sword. I was pleased with myself.

I was treated with a great deal of respect by my fellow dorm-dwellers. The kind one shows for a wizened master of the dark arts. I was a god. Victory was close. The enemies were hardier with every screen and the towering spire in the distance loomed closer and closer by the minute. Then everything changed.

I was greeted with an entirely new threat in the form of large ghostly piranha eager to rend flesh from bone. My weapons seemed to have little effect on them, and I knew I couldn't risk using up all of my ninpo energy on these beasts. Working past these dread beings cost me three months of my life and more health and elixir than any other section of the game. I was frustrated but remained stalwart in the face of my demon enemy.

Finally, after another month of battling the cursed fish and various other lesser demons, I came to fight the slaughtered horde's general. Like a coward he conjured illusory beasts for me to fight. I dispatched them as best I could in my weakened state, and found myself at the feet of that slavering beast, bloodied steel at the ready in only a few days time.

Beleaguered and enraged, I fought bravely on as he flew, taunting me by staying just out of reach of my most brutal assaults. When finally he fought on my terms the death knell rang for me and my days of action gaming.

I fought that wretched being for nearly a year. That same battle raging almost every night until it played in my head while I slept. The demon beast invaded my dreams, humiliating even my subconscious self, patiently waiting to strike at me from behind my eyes. I suffered crushing defeat every night for nigh on 10 months.

Somewhere in that nightmare I cracked and bought the strategy guide, but even it's limited expertise could not assist me in the state I entered that fight in night after night. 9 times out of 10 I would face the beast with a quarter of my life remaining. Still I fought. Surely, this must end some time, I thought to myself. Still death came as swiftly as it always had, night after night, day in and day out.

This incident came very close to swearing me off video games for the rest of my days. I couldn't look at my console without feeling a growing well in my stomach. I couldn't bring myself to play anything else but that relentless and now epic battle over and over again. I had no hope for victory anymore, I simply knew nothing but this one fight. Loss came as easily as breathing.

Then came the day. I fought the same beast in the same arena on the same terms. This time though, I was winning. I was now in a position to reverse my fortune for months on end. All my pride and integrity was again in my grasp. I felt good again. I was confident. Conor, on seeing how close I was to delivering the final blow sat transfixed by the historic moment. The great demon reeled from my attacks, bled profusely from every wound I inflicted. His eyes grew desperate. His death called for him and he strained against it's dulcimer notes.

Now ready for the blow that would end this fight once and for all, I readied my blade. I struck, but too late. The beasts last desperate claw caught my face and sent me hurtling against the rock wall of this bloodied theatre. My body collapsed, dead. Some part of my true self died at that very same moment. All the determination I had to defeat this fiend and move on with my game was replaced with spite. I hurled my controller across the room, screaming expletives. I immediately removed the disc from the tray, placed it in it's case and traded it in for store credit.

Having been through my own special hell with Ninja Gaiden, I believe I've played enough of the action genre to satisfy me for the rest of my life. I feel no desire to play any such game, be it this latest iteration of the Gaiden series, a Devil who may or may not cry, or any other brand listed under this genre. I simply can not bring my hands to grip a controller in thrall to those mechanics ever, ever again.