Side Story

How to enjoy playing Ninja Gaiden

So you’ve just bought the Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection, eager to see what it is all about. Or perhaps you dusted off that old Xbox after struggling with the series in the past. For all of you, let this document here be your guide to the most important thing regarding Ninja Gaiden: how to enjoy it!

When going through analyses on games, their difficulty, design and history, Ninja Gaiden is often omitted. For some it is too old, but for most it is just this archaic title that they couldn’t quite grasp. If you’ve been in any online community where Ninja Gaiden was mentioned you’ve probably heard these remarks before: “it’s too hard”, “it is just spamming the same move over and over again”, “it is just abusing i.frames”,“it is broken” and the scariest of all: “it is unfair and not fun”. Yet, usually, you’ll find one or two replies that say “it is the best damn thing I’ve ever played”.

What are these players seeing that others aren’t? Or are they just crazy?

Well, a bit of both! Ninja Gaiden’s beauty is in its ability to always offer a challenge, but does this by also leaving a lot of its mechanics up in the air for you to find out for yourself.

As such, in this guide to enjoyment we’ll first cover some basic playstyle tips, followed by more mechanics tips and end with some specific tips per game.

So, let’s make Ninja Gaiden the most fun action game you’ve played!


Keep an open mind

Let’s not beat around the bush: Ninja Gaiden isn’t just difficult, it is also very different. For one it doesn’t have a lock-on system. There’s no on-the-fly weapon-switching, enemies are extremely aggressive and definitely don’t take turns attacking you. Also, unlike other entries in the genre, playing stylishly isn’t a given. 

As such, go in with an open mind. Don’t expect Ninja Gaiden to play like God of War, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta or even something like God Hand or The Wonderful 101. See it as its own game.

Try all three entries

If, after numerous attempts, you still don’t enjoy it, be sure to check out the other entries. Unlike most series of games, Ninja Gaiden is very different in terms of playstyle per entry, with Ninja Gaiden Black being more of an adventure game with defense-based combat while Ninja Gaiden II is a linear action game with a heavy focus on offense with Razor’s Edge combining the styles more. You can however skip the original release of Ninja Gaiden 3.

If after that you still don’t enjoy them, that’s fine. Not every game is for everyone!

Style isn’t the focus

As noted, playing stylishly isn’t the focus here, though it is possible. Playing stylish in Ninja Gaiden is a reward for having mastered an engagement, now allowing you to be more creative within it. Don’t be intimidated that you can’t play with your food right away, it has to be earned!

Priority system 

Ninja Gaiden uses a priority system. This means that Ryu is free to attack in any direction, but will automatically target enemies based on certain factors. Proximity is one such factor but later games will also see him prioritize certain enemy types or enemies that have lost a limb for example. While not as tight as a lock-on, this system is essential in a fast paced game as Ninja Gaiden that can have many, many, many enemies on screen at once without hampering its combat speed.

Instead of fighting this system, accept it. If Ryu attacks a shielded enemy instead of the nearest foe, remember that shields take priority. Don’t cry foul everytime Ryu attacks a shielded foe because you should’ve known he’d do it. You can also use inputs like [Forward + Attack] freely, with directional input, to attack other enemies than the one Ryu is focusing on.

Learning what priorities take precedence over others is a big skill to master in the series and one that will pay its dividends!


Probably one of the most important skills to master. It helps to recenter the camera with each jump by pressing the [center camera button] or change it during other animations to keep an overview of the battle. Once you get more comfortable with the game, controlling the camera will become second nature as well as predicting where off-screen enemies will be.

The Sigma’s are fine…

Though the original releases tend to be prefered by veteran players, the later releases aren’t as bad as the internet would have you think. Unless you’ve played 100s of hours in the games, most differences would go over your head. Especially for the first game. That said the series has quite a lot of versions per game, so here’s a quick rundown:

Ninja GaidenXbox (original)The original release, a fun game to play as a series’s fan but generally invalidated by later iterations.
Ninja Gaiden BlackXbox Original, Backwards compatible on Xbox 360/Xbox One/ Xbox SeriesA full rerelease of the original. New content added. Generally considered the best version of the first game.
Ninja Gaiden SigmaPlaystation 3, Playstation NowThe playstation remake. Less prefered due to some changes it made, but still a fantastic title.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma PlusPlaystation VitaSame release, some little things added for the VITA.
Ninja Gaiden IIXbox 360, Backwards compatible on Xbox One/ Xbox SeriesThe original game, very challenging and brutal. Runs best on Xbox One X.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2Playstation 3, Playstation NowA remake of Ninja Gaiden II for the Playstation. Very different. Almost a completely new game. Also added online co-op.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 PlusPlaystation VitaSame release, some little things added for the VITA. Terrible framerate.
Ninja Gaiden 3Playstation 3, Xbox 360Very heavily story based, low content and very laggy. Advice would be to ignore this version.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s EdgeWiiU, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Backwards compatible on Xbox One/ Xbox SeriesRe-release. Added a lot of content and removed the story focus. Highly recommended to play this version.

Generally speaking most would recommend Ninja Gaiden Black, Ninja Gaiden II and Ninja Gaiden Razor’s Edge, all on the Xbox Series/One X due to their improved framerate and stability on that platform.

The Master Collection includes Sigma 1, Sigma 2 and Razor’s Edge, though the latter two are missing their online modes in this re-release. Despite this, the Master Collection is a great way to start if you’re interested in the series and don’t own an Xbox. It’s a good bang for your buck.

Taking damage is good

Ninja Gaiden has no scoring bonus for coming out of a fight unscathed and there’s a reason for this. Especially within its later entries, taking damage is part of the fight. Once you accept this, the games become a lot less frustrating to play. The whole concept of Ninja Gaiden is to die slower than your enemies. There’s plenty of minor projectiles, off screen grabs or stray bullets that will graze you. 

Going for a no-damage run in Ninja Gaiden is possible, but it doesn’t promote skillful play or interesting combat, as each fight turns from a tense melee into a cowardly test of patience. So take that hit, take the risk, and don’t reload every time you are hit or have to use an item.

Use items

Items? Aren’t those for bad players? Ninja Gaiden features items, mostly restoratives, that are built into the game and not used as an overpowered fallback like in Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. The damage enemies do are balanced around you using them, so don’t forget about them!

You are your own judge

Some veteran players use said items to blast through the game or avoid them entirely to improve – it depends on the player. This is because Ninja Gaiden doesn’t really have a ranking system. Though it does feature Karma Scores, this is more like an old arcade scoring system and not indicative of your performance. Don’t worry if the game gives you a “lesser ninja” rank, some of the best players still do.

Instead in Ninja Gaiden, you are your own judge. First time doing a fight it’s fine to barely scrape by with a pixel of health left and an empty belt of potions remaining. It’s about that next time you do the fight. Did you improve? Did you lose less health? Did you use less potions? Were you faster? More Stylish? More efficient?

Note what’s important to you, not some ingame system.

Take 5 minutes time to play around

Ninja Gaiden has a lot of systems. Some complex, some simple, but all playing towards a greater whole. 

Instead of immediately playing the game, jump around a bit. What happens if Ryu jumps forward into a wall – what can I do from there? Dodge to the right and then jump to the left into a wall and see how that works and what kind of attacks you can do from that angle. This doesn’t have to take hours, just do it for a few minutes and get comfortable with how Ryu moves and behaves.

Apply the same idea to bosses or enemies that are giving you trouble. Jump around a bit, feel out their moves, block and see what happens. Play smarter, not harder.

Each difficulty is training for the replay

If you beat the game, first off: great job! That said, you probably barely scraped by. A good part of the series’ enjoyment comes from replaying the game with the knowledge you’ve gained. You beat normal mode? Great! Now beat it again and show that game who’s boss.

Higher difficulties, unlike any you’ve ever played

Where Ninja Gaiden really shines though is in its higher difficulties, which are some of the best designed in the industry. Instead of turning enemies into damage sponges, things are mixed around. Some upgrades are given later. Some harder enemies appear sooner or are even exclusive to higher difficulties. Item rewards are changed and some are even in totally different areas. Ryu can carry less healing items.

As such these modes are great for that new refreshing challenge after you’ve beaten the game on a lower difficulty.

There is no shame in starting on Easy

Ninja Gaiden’s infamous Ninja Dog mode might take a few jabs at the player’s expense, but at the end of the day offers a finely tuned lower difficulty that gives the player some extra safety nets to learn how the game works. If Normal Mode is giving you a hard time, consider switching to a lower setting. It might just be what you needed to get the hang of things!

Avoid Hero Mode

That said, later entries and re-releases of the series saw the addition of Hero Mode, a difficulty for players that just want a relaxing experience after a hard day’s work. As such it takes control away from the player by doing actions for them, such as blocking, breeding a host of bad habits for those who want to improve at the game.

Use the environment to your advantage

Especially in the later entries, the environment plays a big part in the combat. Things like allowing Ryu to jump off of walls for strong attacks but also to throw enemies into them for a guaranteed delimb. But most importantly, using the environment for cover. Enemies will generally want to fight you in large open spaces to swarm you; don’t let them! Instead, focus on backtracking during fights for better advantage

Go online 

One of the beauties of the latter Ninja Gaiden entries is their online mode. While sadly absent from the Master Collection, these modes offer a vast co-op mode where players can fight together to beat insurmountable odds. This is a good way of getting into the community and coming in contact with other players. As noted before, Ninja Gaiden has a lot of systems, and as such relies much on community interaction to improve. Don’t be shy!

The dangers of the Izuna Drop

While exceptionally cool, the Izuna Drop is quite the trap. Generally unsafe upon landing, it’s damage output was also decreased over the subsequent games and abusing it will not teach you how to play Ninja Gaiden’s ever so important ground-game. Use it, but don’t abuse it!

Always hold block when you’re not attacking

A simple enough tip, but never let go of the block button unless you’re attacking and even then think about keeping your finger on the trigger!


Essence management

(NG2004, NGB, NGS(+), NG2, NGS2)
When a foe dies, he drops Essence. When absorbed they give Ryu some money while Red and Blue orbs restore magic and health respectively. There’s another layer to it however.

Should Ryu hold down the heavy-attack button, he’ll absorb any nearby Essence to charge up his Ultimate Technique (UT). While a great boon in difficult fights, Essence absorbed this way yield less cash. On the flip side, enemies killed by an UT offer nearly seven times as much money in your pocket, unless you of course also absorb that Essence again.
This is expanded on by Ryu not absorbing Essence if he holds block, and players can even let go of block for very short moments to jump or attack to keep that Essence floating around. Lastly, enemies that are killed using Ultimate Techniques never offer Red and Blue orbs, but Ultimate Techniques fueled by Red or Blue orbs are more potent – offering a tight dynamic.
Knowing when to absorb essence for a kill, when to take the money or when to let it float – all while trying not to die holding block – it’s an essential skill to improve your play!

On Landing Ultimate Technique

(NG2004, NGB, NGS(+), NG2, NGS2)
Known as OLUT by veteran players, this technique combines the aforementioned Essence absorb to quickly decimate fights. By pressing [Heavy-attack] just as Ryu lands, he’ll immediately absorb any roaming essence to charge his UT, as shown below. A fantastic move that can also be done after head stomps, regular jumps, wall jumps and even at the end of aerial strings. Get creative!

Roll Jumping

(every entry)
The old standby! By dashing and then jumping and then dashing again, you can create a sort of mobility rhythm that allows for really quick traversals. 

Wind Run

(every entry)
Ninja Gaiden has two types of jumps. A regular jump and Wind Run. The latter is done by pressing [Light Attack + Jump]. This jump has a nice blue shine to it and will automatically home in on the nearest enemy. It’s very handy when surrounded. Knowing when to use the regular jump to focus on a far away enemy and when to use the homing Wind Run is key to high level play.

Wind Path

(every entry)
When jumping you can press [Jump] once more to stomp on the enemy’s heads. Not only does this stagger them for quite a long time, leaving them open, it also can be chained into other head stomps, wall-runs and running attacks. Learn to love it!

Continuous jumping 

(every entry)
An evolution of the dash jump, continuous jumping is done by pressing Forward and Jump on landing, allowing Ryu to quickly jump around. While faster than Dash Jump, it requires tighter inputs.

Redirect jump

(every entry)
By combining the above two entries, you can for instance dash to the right and jump to the left, creating a zig-zag pattern of jumps, making it a lot easier to avoid certain projectiles.

Guard resetting

(every entry)
Instead of dashing out of blocks, it is possible to block indefinitely. By releasing the [block button] when your guard is broken and immediately pressing it again, you can reset your block. Fantastic for staying in your enemy’s face.

Shuriken cancels

(every entry)
Throwing shurikens is a great way to cancel some recovery lag of attacks. Another great method behind this is to use it not on your current target, but an offscreen enemy. So you attack your target, throw a shuriken at an offscreen enemy who wants to hurt you and then focus again on your main target. It’s a great way to control the fight.


Defensive play

Ninja Gaiden’s first entry is all about defense. While you can play quite offensively, playing a slower more reactive game is very possible and a great way to learn how to play. So wait out a strike… and punish hard!

Press R3

In Ninja Gaiden Black, you need to press R3 to activate the manual-camera controls! 


To perform a counter, once you’ve acquired the scroll to do so, simply press [Light Attack] or [Heavy Attack] just after a hit has connected with your block while still holding down the [Block] button. The timing is very lenient.

It’s an adventure game…

… that just happens to have great combat. A lot of players go into the first game expecting a traditional room-to-room action title. Instead the first entry has a semi Metroid-esque hub featuring backtracking, key collecting and even some optional items and fights to explore. Treat it as such!

Weapon tips

Generally speaking the Dragon Sword is a fantastic weapon and learning to use it will teach you a lot of basic tips. Also don’t underestimate the Flame Wheels Ninpo, using it while a boss is opened up can put some serious hurt on them. 

Wall attacks

In the first game, attacks done from the wall are very powerful. Not only are they completely invincible, they deal a lot of damage and have a fast recovery, making them decently safe. They can carry you very easily. Later-on it might be good to limit their use to explore the combat system more.

Smoke bombs are great 

Probably the most overpowered weapon in the series, Smoke Bombs – when used when a foe isn’t attacking – make them open for attack while they focus on the bomb’s location. Combined with Flame Wheels Ninpo this can lead to some bosses melting in front of you.

The wooden secret

It’s possible to find a Wooden Sword that, unlike most weapons, can be upgraded 10 times. I wonder if something special will happen if one were to invest such ludicrous amounts of Essence into such a basic weapon…


The polar opposite

While the original game was an adventure game with a defensive focus, the sequel is all about you being as aggressive as you can be in a linear action game. Enemies become more passive as you get aggressive, and Ryu has a lot of i.frames during his own attacks. So keep up the pressure!


Countering works a tad differently in the second entry. Instead of doing it after the hit has been blocked, it needs to be done slightly beforehand. Note that this counter can even be used against most grabs and even ranged attacks! Experiment away!


Doing certain attacks will delimb enemies. A delimbed foe is slower but also more dangerous. While you can instantly kill them by pressing [Heavy-Attack] next to them, there are advantages to leaving them alive. 

Consider putting some distance between you and them, while fighting the healthy enemies away from them, allowing you to control the fight.

An example:

Weapon tips

The Tonfa is generally speaking the most powerful weapon, having the strongest Ultimate Technique in the game. Other than that the Lunar’s upgraded Ultimate Technique, done with a 360 input, is a fantastic attack that can really carry you when starting out. The Dragon Sword is more of an all rounder while the Falcon’s Talons shine with their high delimb rate.

Version Differences

Unlike most in this list, Ninja Gaiden II and SIgma 2 are vastly different and could even be considered completely different games that just happen to have some levels look similar. Note that the original Xbox 360 release was very laggy and crash-happy – a problem fixed on the Xbox One X through backwards compatibility. Both games are well worth enjoying.


Cicada, buy it ASAP

One of the most important skills that is key to enjoying Razor’s Edge needs to be bought, called Cicada Surge. At the cost of a little meter Ryu can, at any time, cancel out of his attacks to teleport behind an enemy just before he’s hit. This really allows you to keep up the pressure. Buy it and don’t look back!


Counters operate similarly to Ninja Gaiden II, but timing is far, far stricter and counters aren’t a guaranteed hit. So be careful!

The Razor’s Edge

If at all possible, play the re-released version entitled Razor’s Edge. The original has a lot less content and a far bigger narrative focus. The WiiU, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 version all suffered from dropped inputs and lag however. So if possible, purchase it on the Xbox One X or through the Master Collection.

Hold attacks

In Razor’s Edge certain attacks can be canceled by pressing down the [Heavy-Attack] button. These attacks automatically cancel into Obliteration Techniques, which vastly increases your mobility while also allowing you to stay on the move after a long attack string.

Steel on Bone

Sometimes during gameplay enemies will glow red. If they are struck by a heavy attack at this time you’ll initiate an instant-kill attack that will heal you. These attacks can be chained two times, plus the amount of level-ups you’ve given your weapon. You can also bait them out by using ‘hold’ attacks or using meditation (a buyable skill).


Attacks in Razor’s Edge have a very very low delimb chance; instead the delimb chance rises per attack in the combo. So just pressing [Light-Attack)  won’t do a lot but a longer string will send limbs flying. Use this to your advantage.

Weapon tips

There’s a move called the Graveyard Spin for the Scythe. It is recommended you don’t abuse it as it can … lead to the game becoming absolutely dull: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH2ti7upQ9o

Bloody Rage

Each kill Ryu makes increases the rate at which you gain Karma, now used to buy upgrades. It’s an interesting mechanic that keeps players aggressive, hunting for kills lest the multiplier drop, while also rewarding more defensive players by giving bonus points to Steel on Bone kills. The fact that using an Ultimate Technique stops the chain is also a good way to prevent players from abusing that powerful move. Learn to love it, as you’ll need that Karma to buy more skills!


Well, that was quite a lot of information. I hope some of you found it useful or, as a result, have started to enjoy Ninja Gaiden as a series! 

If you’d allow me to share my own opinion on Ninja Gaiden; it is a series that challenges and pushes players further than any other single-player game on the market. It is a series that has such a high skill ceiling there’s always something to explore or some impossible benchmark to aspire to. There’s such intense joy in the adrenaline rush only it can give you, I hope some of the above information has put you on the path to also enjoy it!

Should you require more information, I’d highly recommend joining up on the Stinger forums. Feel free to ask questions there!

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