So I finally played through Ninja Gaiden (Black) in Normal difficulty, boldly moved on to Hard difficulty - which by the way gives a whole new meaning to the word hard - got totally destroyed at the Alma boss battle, and immediately started a new session on Normal again. That's how f*cking cool Ninja Gaiden is. The first play-through is just standard procedure to become familiar with the environments and to know the story just enough to ignore it in the following play-throughs. After these minor nuisances are put aside, the game becomes the true Ninja Gaiden, reduced to the gamer on one side and Ryu's weapon on the other, connected through the game pad. And this essence of the game, unleashing combos, Hayabusa's unbelievable moves, the perfect feedback through audio, gore and rumble is what sets Ninja Gaiden far above all other fighting games I have played so far.
Playing NG is almost like an exercise in meditation. The moment one loses focus and allows the mind to wander off the disciple is mercilessly punished. The difficulty level of Ninja Gaiden is the stuff of legends. But the game is never unfair. Becoming better at the game is purely a matter of training and honing one's skills, and never of pure luck. Sometimes another weapon, a new combo or another way to use the environment makes all the difference, but most of the time it's simply about not losing focus and keeping calm.
So in conclusion I award Ninja Gaiden a score of 11 out of 10, and that's after deducting 2 points for lame story and setting :)
I also played a few hours into Blue Dragon, enough to realize that old-school JRPGs are simply not my thing. Conan is alright but the combat lacks oompfh (maybe I'm spoiled by NG). I'm also feeling a slightly suspicious urge to play Dynasty Warriors (Empires) which I cannot really explain. There's something fascinating about the 3 levels of the game (the turn-based strategy phase on the top level, the Z-like elements of conquering bases during the game, and finally the pure hacking and slaying on the lowest level) which shines through the layers of bad graphics and voice acting.