Whenever I boot up a new game for the first time, I usually select the easiest difficulty setting—not because I don’t enjoy a good challenge, but because some difficulty modes tend to frustrate more than challenge. As you can imagine, I was a big fan of the optional “Hero Mode” difficulty included in Tecmo and Team Ninja’s bloody action-adventure game, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. But is my appreciation of Hero Mode shared by the rest of the gaming community?
Hero Mode makes the entire gameplay experience of Ninja Gaiden 3 feel more like an interactive movie, a refreshing change of pace considering the series’ infamously punishing difficulty curve, even on the lowest difficulty setting. With Hero Mode active, hidden under-the-hood gameplay systems kick in whenever the player is low on health, causing protagonist Ryu Hayabusa to automatically block, dodge, and evade enemy attacks, basically making him unkillable in a combat scenario. With Hero Mode active, hidden under-the-hood gameplay systems kick in, basically making protagonist Ryu Hayabusa unkillable in a combat scenario.
No matter how much the player gets flung, slashed, stabbed, shot, crushed, or blown up, there is virtually no risk of dying, even during some of the game’s dramatic boss fights. The only way Ryu can “die” in Hero Mode is if the player jumps off a bottomless cliff, or fails a quick-time button press during a cinematic (which isn’t even much of a penalty since the event can be immediately retried). Hero Mode allowed me to enjoy the game with minimal frustration, and focus on the aspects I found appealing. Instead of having to worry about stocking up on healing items, or getting stuck on a particularly nasty boss fight, I was entertained by the stylish combat sequences and cool weaponry.
However, there was a palpable lack of real risk throughout my entire playthrough of Ninja Gaiden 3. Not to say I didn’t enjoy playing the game, I most certainly did; but I also couldn’t help noticing the flaws and cracks within the “immersive” picture that Hero Mode tried to paint for me. I also couldn’t help noticing the flaws and cracks within the “immersive” picture that Hero Mode tried to paint for me. There were many moments where I’d say out loud: “I totally would have died there,” or “this part must be hell on normal difficulty.”
Hero Mode also locks out many of the optional side challenges that can normally be found and accessed throughout the game’s story. Similarly, Hitman: Absolution on the easiest difficulty doesn’t allow the player to complete certain challenges, forcing the player to sacrifice certain gameplay elements for the sake of a smoother ride. While Hero Mode is an excellent solution for easily-frustrated gamers like myself, I’m still left wondering if the boon of a guaranteed victory was worth the gameplay-specific tradeoffs, not to mention the greatly diminished sense of accomplishment.
Personally, I’d rather be able to work my way through a game with minimal hindrances, rather than constantly get stuck on difficult fights or boss encounters. If missing out on optional content is the price I have to pay in order to not risk breaking my controller in a fit of frustration, then so be it. If missing out on optional content is the price I have to pay in order to not risk breaking my controller in a fit of frustration, then so be it. I understand, however, that mine is only one opinion—I know all too well that there are many players out there who enjoy, and actually thrive on conquering nearly impossible challenges. It’s no surprise that when Ninja Gaiden 3 first revealed its toned down difficulty, many long-time fans were very upset.
I’m glad that Team Ninja and Tecmo opted to appeal to both camps by making Hero Mode an optional setting in Ninja Gaiden 3. Other developers wishing to make a difficult game should take a page out of Team Ninja’s book, and provide more easily-frustrated gamers like myself an avenue to still enjoy the game, only minus the frustration. As gamers, we all have different tastes and levels of tolerance. But thanks to games like Ninja Gaiden 3, there’s no reason we can’t all coexist.