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23 Endings
Game Over: Ninja Gaiden III and the Problem With Prequels
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on December 22, 2017   |   Episode 22 (Show Archive)  

   
Welcome to the twenty-second episode of 23 Endings: The Early Years, the show where we put old school video game endings into proper context. It's time to complete the trilogy, because today we'll be discussing the conclusion of Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom. Will Ryu Hayabusa survive yet another harrowing adventure? Find out when you watch this episode of 23 Endings: The Early Years!


When we last checked in with Ryu, he had just found out that his long-dead father wasn't dead after all, he rescued the girl, he defeated the evil Jaquio and kept the world from ending. Wait ... isn't this how I started the Ninja Gaiden II episode?

As it turns out, the exact same "previously on" recap applies here, because Ninja Gaiden III is a prequel. Even though it's the final game in this NES trilogy, it takes place smack dab between the other two. That would normally be fine, but for some odd reason the game wants you to be worried for Irene Lew when she's chased to the edge of a cliff and falls to her death. Except, we know that she doesn't really die, since she's around to get abducted by Ashtar in Ninja Gaiden II. I think I'm just going to have to let this one go.

So wouldn't you know it, Ryu is accused of murdering Irene and forced to clear his name. He decides to search the laboratory that Irene was investigating before her death and finds a mysterious man that tells Ryu to go to the Castle Rock fortress. It's not much to go on, but at least it's a lead.

As you might imagine, the trip to Castle Rock is a harrowing one. At first Ryu has to put up with quicksand, then lava filling up the caves he's exploring, and finally a battle with this robot thing. What is this place? That's the same question Ryu had, and thankfully there was an answer.

Do you remember Foster? He was the CIA interrogator from the first game that ended up sending Ryu to South America. He shows up as some sort of video projection and talks about the defense system he built around Castle Rock. Unfortunately, he doesn't know where Irene is, but sends an ominous warning to our ninja hero. Both men know that they'll meet in person soon enough.

After fighting past the forest and through whatever this is, Ryu stumbles upon a young ninja that kind of, sort of looks like our hero. He's younger and filled with energy, excited to take on the real Ryu Hayabusa. It's after this fight that we learn that the doppelganger not only looks the same, but has acquired all of Ryu's strengths. Now we know who killed Irene and framed Ryu, so it's time to track down Foster and end this.

On the way to Castle Rock, Ryu ends up running into the mysterious man that gave him the lead in the first place. It turns out his name is Clancy and he used to work with Foster on something called the "Biohazard Plan." Apparently Clancy quit when he realized that Foster was working on a super-secret project to create a monster called a Bio-Noid. And if that wasn't bad enough, this might actually be Ryu's fault. When he defeated the Jaquio in the first game, a dimensional link remained and allowed some sort of life energy substance to seep inside the ruins of the fortress. Now Foster is experimenting with this alien substance and creating new life, which is the story Irene was investigating before her death.

Armed with the answers he sought, Ryu infiltrates the Castle Rock fortress and comes face-to-face with Foster. He also finds that bio-noid ninja from earlier, which is about to lead to an epic showdown when all of a sudden an armed gunman charges into the room. Wait ... that's no gunman. That's Irene, alive and armed to the teeth. But before Ryu has a chance to process this new information, the doppelganger magically transforms into a purple monster. He's injured with a hail of bullets and then finished off by Ryu.

But don't celebrate too soon, because we're only halfway through this adventure. It turns out that Clancy had been using both Ryu and Irene to take out Foster's defenses and seize control of the interdimensional rift. He mostly laughs before jumping through the portal with Foster, forcing Ryu to follow. But not you Irene, because you're tiny body will get ripped to shreds by traveling through subspace. You just need to stand around and not get abducted for the rest of the game.

So Ryu jumps into the demon dimension, which is where he once again finds his doppelganger. The good news is that he no longer looks like Ryu, but the bad news is that he's been brought back to life because of the mysterious energy floating around. They fight.

Ryu wins, obviously, and once again comes face-to-face with Clancy. It turns out that the subspace trip has turned the guy blue, and now he's spouting all this nonsense about how he's creating an interdimensional warship that will ultimately be the only arbiter of life. And to demonstrate his power, Clancy takes the ship for a spin and destroys a large mountain range with a single shot. Oh, he also opens up a trapped door that is supposed to send Ryu falling to his death, just like in the first game.

Of course, Ryu doesn't die, he simply falls to the lower platform outside of the warship. He fights his way back into the ship, only to find that Clancy has turned into one of those bio-noid monsters. He explains that he's doing this to protect the humans from themselves, because they are weak and prone to violence. Ryu is having none of this and decides that it's his duty to destroy Clancy and the warship. Here's what happens after they fight.

Well, at least they're consistent. Look, I think this is an overall solid ending, but I can't help but notice that all three Ninja Gaiden games have essentially the same ending. Ryu beats the boss, watches some sort of tower crumble in the distance, shares a message of optimism with Irene and then watch the sunrise over the landscape. It's a great formula, but did we need to see it three times in a row?

And it's not just the structure that seems lazy, but also the conveniences. How does Ryu escape the floating warship? He mysteriously teleports. How does he get miles away from Castle Rock in order to see it crumble? Who knows, he just does. Tecmo isn't really interested in the details, they just want to leave us on a note of optimism. But that happy ending doesn't stick, because we already know that Ryu's most epic battle has yet to come. And that's why prequels rarely work.
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