You should see Ninja Gaiden Black somewhere on any top 10 list of best action games ever made. It’s still available to buy to this day and is backward compatible with Xbox Series X|S. However, quite a lot of people haven’t played the base 2004 release of Ninja Gaiden. Ninja Gaiden Black is a refinement of an already great action game and improves it in so many ways. The big two are mechanical refinements and improved handling of difficulty. There are a lot of interesting differences between the two versions that make them distinct, despite being the same core game.
Between the two versions, many mechanical differences exist. First is how the Ultimate Technique system works. In the original game, you could only charge an ET or a UT by essence charging. Enemies drop red, yellow, and blue essence, and those can be charged to deliver these attacks. You first learn about these in a tutorial by Murai that’s exclusive to the base game. That tutorial also introduces the player to the reverse wind technique, the roll move. This tutorial was likely cut due to changes in the UT system in Black, but regardless, it could lead to players not knowing how to roll in the latter.
Black introduced manual charging, which is a highly welcome addition in certain scenarios. Most of the time, you’ll use essence charging to deliver these moves, but manual charging is still useful for certain boss fights like Smaugan and Yotunfrau. It’s also helpful when grinding money.
Another important change is the ability to freely control the camera in Black. You do have to click the right stick to change it first, however, and you must do it every time you load into the game. That can get annoying if you’re constantly dying. This change might not have a big impact on beginners, but for advanced players, it’s quite a helpful jump. Freely controlling the camera makes it easier to see all the possible threats on screen, so you don’t get blindsided as often.
In terms of the core weapons, many changes have been made. One is that recovery frames for moves like Flying Swallow are longer in the base game than in Black. This can lead to you being punished more for abusing Flying Swallow in the original game. The Guillotine Throw move input has changed as well. In the base game, you need to press Y while jumping past an enemy’s head. This can result in you nailing the move when you’re trying to do something else. Black fixed this by having the move be easily done by pressing X+A twice.
The Kitetsu was a bit lame in the base game, with it not being very useful and slowly draining your health. NGB again fixed this by removing the health drain and giving it some needed buffs. Black adds the Lunar weapon, which is welcome during the initial chapters and is incredibly useful for fights like Paz Zuu and Smaugan.
Equipment and throwable weapons are also quite different. In the original, if you’re collecting all the Golden Scarabs, you should get the Armlet of Tranquility right before you head into the Chapter 12 caverns. This is actually really useful in that area, as you can take quite a lot of burn damage in the lava section. It is quite boring, though, having to wait for your health to be refilled. Black cuts the Armlet of Tranquility from the campaign altogether and only puts it in mission mode. This makes sense as you can easily cheese the game with it, and it’s just boring waiting for health to be refilled.
Another great addition to Black is throwable weapons are now usable on almost all the bosses. In the base game, throwable weapons had no effect on most of them. This change makes those weapons even more useful. The big one is the addition of Smoke Bombs in Black. Beginners will likely find them almost useless, but it’s excellent for veterans. Smoke Bombs will lower the guard of enemies and will essentially give you a free hit on them. They’re quite useful against the bast fiends on higher difficulties.
There’s also one other notable change in one of the puzzles. Three separate times you can do the turn dial puzzle in the monastery. In Black, you don’t even need to think. You just look at the book, notice the directions, and input them until all the blue lights shine. In the original game, though, you actually need to pay attention to the hint since you need to manually input the code. This is one area that the base game is superior.
The original 2004 Ninja Gaiden has three difficulty levels, while Black has five. First, we will discuss the added easy mode in NGB called Ninja Dog. Accessed by dying three times on the first level and by picking yes to the options, the mode is one of the best easy modes ever. The differences between Ninja Dog and Normal are actually fairly minor. You get more supplies and access to bands. These are actually equivalents to the armlets, but you get them earlier.
(Video by: swarm)
For a beginner, Ninja Dog is basically Normal but with added support. You still need to try and beat these enemies and bosses on your own. It’s way better than something like Hero mode in Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, where it’s almost impossible to lose. The game auto blocks for you when you get near death, turning you almost invincible, like a cheat code. Except for the last boss, you don’t even need to try.
Ninja Gaiden ’04’s Highest Mode
The main reason Ninja Gaiden Black is so superior to Ninja Gaiden ’04 is how effective the higher difficulties are. Let’s first take a look at the highest difficulty in the base game, Very Hard. The enemies and bosses you’ll face will be the same. However, in most cases, the number of enemies you’ll have to kill will be higher. The damage you’ll take will also be massively increased, and enemies will take far longer to kill. One of the hardest bits is actually the horse fight in Chapter 2 because of how many of them you have to deal with, and you don’t have the Lunar like NGB.
The bosses, in particular, take an annoying amount of punishment to kill. The Marbus gauntlet near the end of the game is the worst in this manner, with all the bosses seeming to go on forever. Their not any harder from lower modes, really; they just test my patience. They also went way far too far on the item prices. Most of the weapon upgrades are ridiculously expensive, and keep in mind grinding is harder in the base game. All of this results in Very Hard not being the most fun mode to play in comparison to the lower modes.
Ninja Gaiden Black’s Highest Mode
All of these issues in the base game’s hardest mode are fixed in NGB’s Master Ninja. The way Master Ninja handles enemies is far better. Each increasing difficulty mode adds new deadly enemies and even adds a few new bosses keeping the player engaged. Bosses also now have minions, which makes the fights more dynamic, with having to deal with multiple foes at once. Since they drop essence, you can use that to get some health back or use that to charge UTs, which can be useful for certain fights like Spirit Doku. Damage done to you and the enemies is much more balanced when compared to the base game’s Very Hard mode.
The item and upgrade prices are higher, but not to the same degree as Very Hard mode from the base game. Again, they’re much more reasonable. Another great change is that each difficulty mode besides Ninja Dog will have different items in chests and different scarab rewards. The number of supplies you can carry for each item is significantly reduced on Master Ninja. This ensures you can’t simply use items to win, as they can run out fairly quickly. All enemies have more resistance in general. For certain fights like both Alma forms, Flying Swallow will almost never hit on Master Ninja. You must use a different strategy.
Certain fights like Spirit Doku and the final boss are made significantly harder. In the base game Spirit Doku is launchable, making him quite easy, and for the final boss, you can simply Flying Swallow him over and over again. These tactics no longer work in Black. All of these changes result in Master Ninja being a great mode to actually test your skills and, at a high level, is the most fun mode to play.
One interesting fact about Ninja Gaiden 2004 that most fans don’t know about is that it actually has a semi-new game plus mode. After completing the game, you can make a save for Successive Play. This mode does start you from the basics, but all 50 scarabs are already in your inventory if you collected them all. Upon first going into a shop in Chapter 2, you can get all scarab rewards except the Dabilahro. With that weapon, you still have to wait until Chapter 8, which is a major bummer. Unfortunately, you had to wait until Ninja Gaiden II to have good new game plus options.
Additional Weapons And Costumes
A bonus within Successive Play mode is that you can obtain the Dark Dragon Blade in Chapter 13 upon returning to the Hayabusa village. In Black, it’s a scarab reward for getting all 50 of them and works great for Beserkers or Marbus. The costumes are also different. In Ninja Gaiden 2004, there is the Ninja of the Future outfit, which is exclusive to that version. The costume is in the files of Black but can only be accessible by hacking. After beating it, hold the L button when starting a new game. The costume also comes with a Plasma Saber and gets upgraded to the MK-II, where you normally get the True Dragon Sword. The MK-II is in Black as a scarab reward for getting 49 of them.
The reward for beating Very Hard mode in NG ’04 is the ability to start the title with Ryu already cursed, which normally happens much later in the title. Hold R when starting a new game. NGB adds four new costumes. Beating the game once unlocks the Doppelganger Fiend costume. Beating the game on Hard and Very Hard, respectively, will unlock the Red Muffler outfit and Ryu’s blue gear from the NES games. The Red Muffler outfit is strangely similar to Shinobi from his PS2 reboot. Finally, after defeating Eternal Legend from Mission Mode, you get my favorite costume, Ryu’s outfit from Dead or Alive 2. All of these are a nice addition, although it’s unfortunate you can’t select the Ninja of the Future outfit.
Ninja Gaiden ’04 vs. Ninja Gaiden Black: How To Make A Masterpiece Even Better – Conclusion
Ninja Gaiden 2004 is a game that already received critical acclaim and was considered in the top 10 best games of that year. However, the old guard at Team Ninja simply made Ninja Gaiden even better with the differences in Black. With the various mechanical refinements, rebalanced weapons, added tools to the player, and the difficulty overhaul, Ninja Gaiden Black is one of the defining examples of an enhancement. I didn’t even mention Mission Mode, which is one of the greatest inclusions. Those short-burst missions can be played for far more time than the campaign. Black is such an improvement that it frankly didn’t need another revision. That is until another came out.