With Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z being showcased at this year’s Gamescom event, Team Ninja certainly pulled out all the stops to ensure that its latest game would be adequately promoted, and had Yosuke Hayashi (Head of Team Ninja) and Keiji Inafune (Director of Yaiba) attend the event so as to answer any questions that one may have about the game. Luckily, they took the time to answer my queries and to also allay any fears that one may have about their forthcoming PS3 and XBox 360 game. They were also kind enough to answer queries pertaining to Team Ninja and how the developer has sought to forge a new identity post Tomonobu Itagaki, as well as answer any concerns that long-standing fans may have about the developer’s future output. What follows is a conversation that I was able to have with them during the game’s presentation.
Why isn’t the game being developed for next generation consoles?
Hayashi: We originally started work on the game even before the announcements of next generation consoles. So Yaiba was originally intended as a current gen title, and we are hoping to make it the best game that we can.
A lot of people were critical of Ninja Gaiden 3 and felt that the game really missed the influence of Tomonobu Itagaki. What have you learned from the experience of Ninja Gaiden 3, and even though Team Ninja has taken steps to move out of Itagaki’s shadow, how have you moved forward since the release of Ninja Gaiden 3?
Hayashi: Ninja Gaiden 3 was a great learning experience for us. We were able to understand what fans expect from a Ninja Gaiden game. After Ninja Gaiden 3 came out, we released Razor’s Edge which we believe went a long way towards appeasing core fans, and the response from that has been pretty positive. So from our end, it was definitely a learning experience from what fans expect from a Ninja Gaiden game.
For Yaiba… Yaiba is a very different game. We are collaborating with Keiji Inafune, and the game will have a similar (difficulty) challenge that Ninja Gaiden fans will appreciate. But the systems about the game are largely different and are somewhat new. We therefore think Yaiba will be its own thing, but Ninja Gaiden fans should find it to be a fun game.
Considering that Yaiba is “its own thing”, is it fair to have the game be associated with Ninja Gaiden? Why not start a new franchise?
Inafune: With Yaiba being a ninja game from Tecmo Koei, and me working with Team Ninja, it doesn’t really make sense to have a completely new ninja lineage and IP. We have a great hero we can use in Ryu Hayabusa, and we have that whole ninja universe which we can set the game in. It therefore makes sense to set the game in the Ninja Gaiden universe, but we can tweak it by changing the art style. In that sense, we can have the game in the Ninja Gaiden universe, but have it different from the Ninja Gaiden series and let it be its own thing.
Team Ninja have taken on outsourcing development duties for Nintendo’s Metroid: Other M, and Platinum (whose Bayonetta game Itagaki wasn’t too fond of) have also developed for Konami and its Metal Gear Revengeance title. Would Team Ninja ever consider doing outsource work again, and consider bringing their experience of action fighting games to other titles? Maybe for even something like Capcom’s Devil May Cry franchise (a series that Platinum’s Hideki Kamiya has also worked on and one that Itagaki is also not a fan of)?
Hayashi: We currently have a list of projects that we are looking at making. That is something that is interesting to think about, and if the right opportunity comes up, we can look into it then. I think Devil May Cry may be a little too close to what we do, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a “no”. If the right opportunity comes up, then we’ll look into it.
To be fair to you Mr Hayashi, you are really young and are considered to be a bit of a prodigy within the industry. But having said that, how daunting was it for you to step into Mr Itagaki’s shoes and what sort of pressure did you feel? Also, and considering that Ninja Gaiden 3 was your first big project (at a high level), and considering that Ninja Gaiden and Itagaki fans were disappointed with the end results, how did you feel when success didn’t come your way?
Hayashi: I’ve learned a lot over the past several years. As already said, Ninja Gaiden 3 was very much a learning experience. I do feel bad that Ninja Gaiden 3 didn’t live up to fan expectations, but I feel that we did manage to come out with a game that lived up to expectations with Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. We’ve also done Dead or Alive 5 since, and fan feedback to the game has been very good. I’m looking forward to what the future brings.
What was the inspiration for the game?
Inafune: Ninja games tend to only really come from Japanese developers. We wanted to see what would happen when we brought the concept of ninjas to a western developer, and we’ve been working with Spark to have a western take on ninjas. We know that ninjas are popular in the West, but they’re a little bit different from how they are portrayed in Japan, and so we wanted to bring that out as it’s a really good contrast with Ninja Gaiden games. We’ve worked closely with Spark to bring a more comic book art style touch the game, and the kind of character that Yaiba becomes is also influenced very much from the Western development side. It’s really about the mix where we ensure that the ninja aspect is ok from a Japanese standpoint, but mixing it in with the kind of solid gameplay that Team Ninja is known for, but also ensuring that you have Western sensibilities such as art, presentation and humour present. Putting those together, and seeing the results (like a chemical reaction) has been interesting, and Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is something that we are working really hard towards to ensure that the mix turns out well.
Razor’s Edge came out on the Wii U. Will Yaiba also be coming out on the Wii U?
Hayashi: You can probably tell from just looking at it.
You’ve talked about how ninjas are popular in Japan, but since the days of the 16-bit era when Japanese games like Revenge of Shinobi were really popular in the West, Japanese developers have found themselves to become increasingly marginalised in terms of influence and worldwide popularity. In what capacity would you argue that ninjas and the Ninja Gaiden franchise are as relevant today, and what is Team Ninja doing to ensure that its games live up to expectations and have mass-market appeal?
Both Inafune and Hayashi: If you look at Japanese games now, they’re splitting between games that copy Western games and games that cater for otaku niches. Ninja games have a history of being hack and slash games with solid gameplay that involves a quick response and very technical gameplay. That kind of gameplay is still enjoyed by a decent chunk of users in the West. They like the challenge that it presents, the feel and the responsiveness, so if we can make a game on our end that satisfies those users… we still think that there are plenty of those users out there. If we can satisfy them, then it can grow from those people.
In addition, the development of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is being done by a Western developer (Spark) in the USA. In doing that, it allows us to make some aspects more appealing to Western audiences – the look of the game, the humour of the game etc. That’s something that we think can only come from the Western development studio that we are working with, and so it’s a different kind of appeal to ninja games and as to what we’d be able to offer as just a traditional Japanese studio.
Last question: this one’s for you Mr Hayashi. Mr Itagaki preferred the Xbox over the Playstation. Which do you prefer between the Xbox One and Playstation 4 and why?
Hayashi: I haven’t had hands on time with either the PS4 or the Xbox One so I can’t tell you about either one. Talk to me again after I’ve actually had a chance on them.
*Special thanks go to Peter Garza (Overseas Producer at Team Ninja) for providing translation duties.