Strider: Studying the Greatness of Hiryu

Strider‘s Hiryu has been undeniably awesome since he first dashed into arcades in 1989. But while previous iterations of the titular ninja have been good, not until the series’ recent reboot has he felt like a truly spectacular character. A product of several shrewd characterization decisions, the new Strider Hiryu looks well equipped to take on the world and show everyone why he deserves to be recognized.

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Strider‘s hero doesn’t look like your typical ninja. Dressed in a royal blue sleeveless gi with his iconic red scarf billowing in the wind, Hiryu exudes a confidence and swagger rarely found in the soft-spoken stealth of his fellow video game ninjas. He also has a penchant for technology, brandishing a plasma-sword, which he calls a cypher, and a trio of energy-based robotic animals, which distance him from the simplicity normally associated with ninja.

Hiryu doesn’t do much talking throughout Strider, but his composure and physical prowess mean he doesn’t have to. Hiryu’s default stance has him half-crouched, blade drawn, ready for anything, while leaving him idle sees him center himself upright in a focused pose, feet together and arms crossed awaiting the next sign of danger. His personality is clearly communicated by his calculated and composed demeanor, and is further enhanced once the player takes the reins for the first time.

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From the moment he hang-glides into Kazakh City, Hiryu radiates an irrepressible sense of confidence and agility that makes him an absolute joy to control. His every movement is disciplined and acrobatic, attributes that are translated perfectly into beautifully tight controls that, after a quick acclimation period, leave you feeling capable of anything. Strider‘s launch trailer invites you to “become the ultimate weapon”, and you feel like you’re well on your way right from the beginning. That feeling of empowerment is enormously important in presenting Hiryu to the player, as it instills a sense of trust and confidence that convinces you to blaze through the world and revel in the ninja prowess on show in Strider.

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That freedom of movement is magnified by Hiryu’s ability to climb walls and ceilings with incredible ease, making for a sense of unobstructed exploration that few characters enjoy. It provides great incentive to explore the hidden areas of Kazakh City, and makes for a useful tool when hunting for items or collectibles. It also provides superb variety in how you can approach your enemies, like swooping in from above or leaping up the side of a platform, and further illustrates the advantage and empowerment afforded to the player in Strider.

Don’t mistake that advantage for a lack of difficulty, however. Strider remains challenging with the introduction of new and more powerful enemies and excellent boss battles, testing all of Hiryu’s strength and agility. That said, controlling Hiryu brings a perpetual sense of hope, and as difficult as some fights may become you never feel completely forlorn. Hiryu can swing his cypher as fast as you can hit the button, which imbues a tangible connection between the player and the character, and combined with the solid controls brings you straight into the action.

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As fantastic and fluid as Hiryu’s acrobatics are, no one move sums up his character like his iconic star jump. Inverting himself over his enemies with his limbs spread wide, every jump bears a wonderfully jubilant feeling, a novelty that never seems to wear off. Evading enemy attacks has never felt so audacious and satisfying, and Hiryu’s ability to slash his cypher at any point throughout his leap makes the star jump a flexible and fantastic staple in your arsenal of skills. Every great character needs a signature move, and Strider Hiryu’s unique jump has cemented its place as a prime example.

However, all game mechanics and animations are in danger of growing stale with repetition, and luckily Strider plans accordingly by doling out upgrades that add enhanced movement and attacking abilities at regular intervals throughout the game. Because of this, the initial wonder and excitement delivered by Hiryu’s stellar agility and swagger is maintained and even enhanced as you progress through the game, making for a truly enjoyable and engrossing gaming experience.

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Games are excellent vehicles for communicating emotion to players, but with the rise of complex and compelling narratives and equally sophisticated gameplay mechanics, the power of refinement and simplicity have become underappreciated. Strider serves as a reminder that tight controls, polished gameplay, and most of all expertly implemented characterization can still communicate what has made video games a joy to play for decades: an unequivocal sense of fun and excitement.