A Toast to Shinobi III

Shinobi III – The Return of the Ninja Master came out on Sega Genesis towards the end of 1993. I got it from my grandparents for the 1993 holiday season. I remember, my parents kept saying how they’d heard the new Disney Aladdin game for the Genesis was supposed to be hot stuff and asked if I was going to get that one. Yeah friggin’ right! I think the test of time has proven itself in this case, as nobody blogs about Aladdin anymore.* Shinobi III on the other hand…

The Shinobi franchise had two prior Genesis/Megadrive games in the series, and those were pretty successful. Revenge of Shinobi, the first Sega Genesis/Megadrive release, had a gameplay engine slower but similar to the third one. However, it was a little choppier and had a different rhythm to the action. The second game, Shadow Dancer, had a completely different game engine and featured a hybrid wolf-dog sidekick . For that reason, it seems all my dog-loving friends have fond memories of Shadow Dancer. Poseurs!

from Zone Segafrom Zone Sega

Shinobi III may seem like it’s all fun and games on the surface, but it is also serious business. Joe Musashi has such a nice variety of moves at his disposal and sails through the air like some kind of sky-fish creature, albeit one which Japanese people are not allowed to eat. The graphics are beautiful, fleshing out the Genesis’ impressive array of greens and even does some nice things with deep hues of blue. There are a nice variety of locales and enemies and varieties of gameplay. This is also the infamous game where Shinobi gets to ride a horse, so equestrian nerds tend to bond over it.

Just a southern gentleman...Business as usual...Shinobi is FREAKIN\' OUT!!1!

Shinobi III is really one of the best action games or all-round games for the Sega Genesis/Megadrive. Yuzo Koshiro did the music for Revenge of Shinobi, but he didn’t do the music here. I sometimes see it mistakenly attributed to him, but this doesn’t really sound like his style. It’s actually attributed to three people: Morihiko Akiyama, Hirofumi Murasaki, and Masayuki Nagao. To my western ears, it’s even more influenced by traditional Japanese musical phrasing. There are some gorgeous, almost shrill melodies when the soundtrack emulates the shakuhachi.

There are also really nice uses of sound effects in this game, which are occasionally implemented in the stage music. Those ambiance or percussive effects are very tasteful. And the drum programming is really incredible! Although a couple of stage tracks are reused later in the game, they are both substantive enough and appropriate to the plot setting (a cyber-feudal Japan, what else?) to avoid becoming redundant.

This music is also interesting, as it is rather progressive and academically complex for the medium. Some of the tracks can be difficult to compositionally follow or reproduce, when compared to your average 16-bit game music. That might turn casual game-music listeners away, but the result is that breaking these songs down compositionally is very rewarding. That is a notable difference between this stuff and Yuzo Koshiro’s Revenge of Shinobi OST. Perhaps it’s partly because Yuzo was so young when he wrote that (it was his first Genesis/Megadrive soundtrack), and that he opts for simple, catchy themes in action games.

The complexity of the music does also highlight a difference in themes between the Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden franchises. The Shinobi games have always had a dark feel that is slightly different from the Ninja Gaiden games. The old Ninja Gaiden games had some kind of cinematic, anime-inspired storytelling. They were very plot based, and while the plots were rather dark, the game had a very different melancholic yet inspiring aura. The Shinobi games do not focus very much on the plot (at least in the older games) and instead require very precise movements on the player’s behalf. The dark elements in Shinobi appear more subtly.

Plus, gameplay for Ninja Gaiden was a bit different, being fast and repetitive and relying on the player’s ability to find a rhythm and use power-ups wisely. In Shinobi, there are an abundance of weapons and power-ups, but the combat is long-distance and the control is more specific and has a more “casual”, rolling rhythm. The flow was a little different between the two games. However, both series (at least in the older incarnations, and perhaps on the first Shinobi for Playstation 2) managed to evoke a sense of solitary perseverance against an eerie environment. As a kid it was so spooky and I loved it!

Denver...Joe Musashi -- Mad Scientist, Esq.\

Here’s a rundown on some choice cuts from Shinobi III:

  • The opening track rocks. It sounds equal parts Lupin III and Sonic the Hedgehog II. The whole sequence at the beginning is pretty awesomely cheesy as well…

Morihiko Akiyama, Hirofumi Murasaki, Masayuki Nagao – Shinobi

  • Of course any track called “Shinobi Walk” is gonna kick pretty hard. It’s like, the sound of Shinobi making the rounds, covering his beat.

Morihiko Akiyama, Hirofumi Murasaki, Masayuki Nagao – Shinobi Walk

Shinobi fights Peak Oil...

  • “Sakura” is really beautiful. It plays at the end of the game after the final battle with Neo Zeed. The ending has pretty nice graphics and this comes from a time when part of the reward for beating the game was hearing a really beautiful song. In this case, the game delivers.

Morihiko Akiyama, Hirofumi Murasaki, Masayuki Nagao – Sakura

  • How about “Solitary”? It’s the beginning of the last level, when our protagonist is infiltrating Neo-Zeed’s dreaded flying headquarters. This level is really pretty cool. It really feels like Joe is high above the ground. Part of the level involves smashing out shuttle rockets which are impeding progress into the ship. Although you shoot them with shuriken, I used to get really close so it looked like Shinobi was chopping them with his hand ’til they exploded! Hahaha!

Morihiko Akiyama, Hirofumi Murasaki, Masayuki Nagao – Solitary

  • “Trap Boogie” is also pretty rockin’. It has a nice flow to it, like Shinobi Walk. The “chorus” part here is really cool, kinda determined, like it’s reminding the player not to fuck around or Shinobi will be smooshed. I say smooshed, ‘coz this song plays when Shinobi is being tracked by a big mutant’s laser in stage 3 and at the end of the last stage when he has to climb a gigantic closing wall.

Morihiko Akiyama, Hirofumi Murasaki, Masayuki Nagao – Trap Boogie

Looks like the Eggplant Wizard...

  • “Mandara” is one of the more beautiful and exotic sounding video-game boss themes around. The way it flows is very smooth and pleasing to the ear. Some of the melodies are of Marty Friedman caliber, while some others in the song sound even more traditional, like a Noh drama or something!

Morihiko Akiyama, Hirofumi Murasaki, Masayuki Nagao – Mandara

It\'s Bruce Banner!

  • “Shadow Master” is the jam. It’s the showdown with Neo-Zeed at the end of the game, against a really crucial, eerie backdrop of swirling, eddying faces. The song is dissonant and builds up over what sounds like a harmonic minor scale, segues into a complicated ominous harmonized organ section before leaping into a chorus section which sounds very bleak-yet-determined and sort of… “valiant”. It gives the Shadow Master theme from Double Dragon II (the final boss in that game was also called the Shadow Master) on NES a serious run for its $$$.

Morihiko Akiyama, Hirofumi Murasaki, Masayuki Nagao – Shadow Master

  • “Whirlwind” might be the star of the whole friggin’ Shinobi show here. It plays during the hydro-board stages. Whirlwind is the sound of riding into the sunset after a dangerous quest, one which gives no rewards and assures no extended peace or victory to the survivors. It is the sound of solitary perseverance. Which is what Le Shinobi is all about. Kapicz?

Morihiko Akiyama, Hirofumi Murasaki, Masayuki Nagao – Whirlwind

Where did the jet-board come from?Cool off

This post took me longer than any other post I have written here. But it’s because Shinobi III is one of the few old-school action games I’ll still pull out and play through from time to time. It’s top-quality and you’re a fool if you neglect this one. Especially if you’re at all interested in good electronic music or the recent incarnations of the Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden franchises.

______

* I’m kidding. Despite being from a crummy Disney franchise, Disney’s Aladdin was a good Genesis game with good music and animation.

**the cartridge-box covers were taken from Wikipedia and Zone-Sega respectively

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~ by chaosrexmachinae on June 22, 2008.

8 Responses to “A Toast to Shinobi III”

  1. I remember this game being unbelievably awesome. Also I remember it came out around the time I learned to swear and I’d call it “Shit-nobi” as an excuse to swear pointlessly. I was a fun kid.

  2. There was much rivalry between Aladdin and Shinobi III owners when these games were released. I recall getting flakk on the soccer field for choosing this over Aladdin. But who’s laughing now?!?!

  3. one of the best games i ever played along with streets of rage/bare knuckle only missing here the song MY DEAR D from stage 3 boss, the big mutant, by the way don t you perhaps have it? :)

  4. Yeah that’s a good song. I had thought of posting it, but I only have so much time and space. It’s pretty easy to get: just download the .vgz file of the Shinobi III OST over on Zophar’s Domain or some such place and download the Winamp plugin for .vgz files.

    I only post the mp3s for iPod/CD convenience and sampling!

  5. […] the depths of this madness and in theme with my recent colossal Shinobi III post, I present to you some of the finest Shinobi III artwork to ever grace a composition notebook. […]

  6. After attempting to remix (or at least recreate) Mandara, and a lost search for a decent midi, I stumbled across your blog. And my gawd, i can appreciate your taste. Shinobi 3 and the Metal Slug Series are my all time favorites, but S3 came first so it is the better lol.

    Mandara is my favorite song in ANY game ever made. Mostly because of the memories. It followed so well from the Wonderful japonesque, and i got to fight my favorite boss to the awesome tune. I just loved the chilling ripples of excitement i got from the intro of the song and how the backround faded almost in sync, revealing a sick lil fellow with a 4 arms and one spear/lance.

    I must say that Shinobi 3 may have been the game that started my addiction.

  7. I finished this game several yars ago. when I was a child .
    i remember , i enjoy from play it and i want to say i love “SHINOBI” even now.

  8. best game i have ever played in my life i love this game and i followed the series since i was a kid and i will keep hunting for it “like a shinobi” ^_^d

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