Shin Shinobi Den (New Shinobi Story), or known as Shinobi Legions in North America and Shinobi X in Europe,
is an early Saturn release that used digitized graphics for all of the characters. Taking control of a new ninja named Sho, the controls and mechanics are very similar to Shinobi III, although a little more sluggish and clumsy. For the first time, there are separate buttons to use a sword and throw shurikens. And compared to the other games, there's a far bigger emphasis on swordplay than ever before, since the shurikens are slow, even more limited in number and fairly weak, even though you can now throw them upwards. You'll also spend much more time blocking and parrying enemy attacks. New melee moves include a spinning sword slash, a downward thrust manuever, and the ability to reflect enemies projectiles back with your sword, though this move is hard to time effectively. The magic skills have changed up a bit. The only one you can store up and use at any time is the Fire Dragon, which attacks everything on the screen. The POW icon has been replaced with the Bushido Blade, which is immediately activated and summon gigantic shadowy warrior statues every time you slash. There are also glowing orbs, which will grant an extra life when you collect ten of them. Boxes are much rarer than before, as most items are dropped by enemies. Unfortunately, this also means bombs, which are even more numerous and annoying than they usually are.
Even though the core mechanics are familiar, there's something not quite right about everything. Sho doesn't control as tighly as before, and has a tendency to make extra movements when executing sword combos. And while the level designs in the previous Genesis Shinobi games weren't exactly the best, they were at least competant - here, they're overtly long and boring, as each stage is only comprised of a single long area, rather than two or three smaller areas, before the boss fight. Many areas are similar to the ones seen in previous games - medieval-style Japanese towns, biological laboratories, caves (complete with a mine cart ride), forests, and so forth. Similarly, the bosses themselves are fantastically unmemorable. All and all, it can't help but feel somewhat uninspired.
The worst of it, though, is the graphics. All of the sprites are digitized actors in rather goofy looking costumes. This was at least a few years after Mortal Kombat came around, so theoretically this fascination with live actor sprites should have worn off, but apparently the designers were still enamored with characters that looked "like real people". Except that, in execution, everything comes off as remarkably silly, especially the animation. The backgrounds look photorealistic (albeit as a low resolution), but realism is boring compared to the near-futuristic levels in the 16-bit titles. Forgot fearsome monsters and mechanical robots - mostly you're fighting other ninjas, birds, and occasional supernatural creature, like the big dinosaur thing, which looks like a ridiculous toy model. Still, it's bloodier than before and it is cool to slice bad guys in half, with a spurt of blood as their torso falls off. If that wasn't laughable enough, after each level follows an FMV cutscene telling the story of ninja Sho and his quest to rescue his woman Aya. It's unclear whether the developers were paying homage to cheesy Saturday afternoon ninja serials, or they just didn't have a budget, but this is a C-grade level production with cheap locations, terrible acting, awful lighting and some massively dated 80s-grade synthesized music. In the English versions, the spoken dialogue is left in Japanese and subtitled, but it's still extremely corny.
While not an overtly terrible game, Shinobi Legions looks painfully dated, and the core game is sloppy and uninspired. Apparently Sega of America felt the same way, and opted not to publish it in America, instead licensing it to Vic Tokai. Sega of Europe did publish it in Europe, but apparently wasn't happy with the soundtrack, which is fairly standard, boring, and completely unbefitting the Shinobi name. To fix this, they pulled a situation similar to Sonic CD, where they replaced the soundtrack with music by a Western composer. The new tunes are provided by Richard Jacques, also known for his work on Sonic 3D Blast for the Saturn and Sonic R. While still not quite up to par with the Genesis games, it's also leaps and bounds better than the Japanese/American soundtrack, making it the superior version overall.