Hagane: The Final Conflict is a cyberpunk ninja action game, a spiritual successor to the Ninja Gaiden series, with elements of Shinobi and Metal Slug thrown in for good measure. It is also one of the hardest games I’ve ever played.
Originally released in Japan in 1994, Hagane’s 1995 North American released exclusively as a rental game through Blockbuster Video, making it one of the rarer Super Nintendo games. In recent years, thanks to a shout out from Cinemassacre’s Mike Matei, Hagane cartridges have soared in price, with loose copies generally selling for a few hundred dollars online, and boxed copies going for well over a thousand. Thank goodness for emulators, right? (Not that I’d ever condone such a thing – for the sake of plausible deniability, let’s say I won the lottery, okay?)
In Hagane, you play as the titular ninja, the last survivor of the massacred Fuma clan. Saved from death and transformed by powerful cybernetic implants, Hagane seeks revenge against the evil Koma faction, who annihilated his people and stole the Holy Grail the Fuma were sworn to protect. In practical terms, this takes the form of battling through an army of enemies that vary from ninjas and bats, to giant flying warships and guys who look suspiciously like Mortal Kombat’s Noob Saibot.
Luckily, Hagane hasn’t gone to war without being prepared. Our hero is armed with a variety of weapons, including spears, smoke bombs and shuriken darts, as well as his trusty katana. More importantly, Hagane has all the acrobatic skills you’d expect a cyborg ninja to have, manifesting in a huge variety of flips, leaps and rolls, and a ton of different attacks. The game’s controls are incredibly fluid, and mastering them is essential for turning the unrelenting enemies into something more manageable to deal with.
While the instinct to kill every enemy in sight is somewhat ingrained in most gamers, Hagane rewards you for carefully picking which enemies you want to tackle, and which you’d be better off trying to dodge past and hope for the best. A good example of this is that in one of my earlier attempts at playing the game, I found myself struggling to get through the second level… then watched my friend Shane literally back-flip his way through the entire stage, leaving a battalion of presumably confused enemies in his wake.
Hagane looks and sounds great. The graphics are excellent, from the fluid attack and dodge animations, to the huge and stylish enemies, and the impressively detailed backgrounds. The game’s music does an awesome job of pumping you up as you wade into your foes, each hack and slash accompanied by a satisfying audio flourish.
My only complaint about Hagane is its previously mentioned difficulty level, which borders on insane. Enemies come at you quickly and attack ruthlessly, and the game is very stingy with health power-ups. Throw in the fact that there’s no save feature or level select, and you get a game where only the most hardcore of players will make it past the first few levels, even with the option of infinite continues. Still, if you’re up for the challenge, Hagane is a hidden gem, well worth seeking out.
Final Score – 8/10