Team Ninja boss Yosuke Hyashi has a hell of a reputation to live up to. Brenna Hillier cornered him to get the word on the genuinely hardcore Ninja Gaiden 3.
Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden 3
The third core entry in the series and first since 2009 re-release Ninja Gaiden Sigma II.
The first game in the series to be developed without studio founder Tomonobu Itagaki. New studio lead Yosuke Hayashi directed the PlayStation 3 series of enhanced ports, Sigma.
Team Ninja has around 80 people per team working on Dead or Alive 5 and Ninja Gaiden 3. “We’re working vary hard to get both games ready for release,” Hayashi commented.
Expected on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in February; a Wii U version with unique feaures will follow.
Trivia: The modern Ninja Gaiden series is part of a classic franchise which began in the 8-bit era.
Standing out clearly from the scantily-clad booth babes and bright neons of nearby displays, Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden 3 TGS booth stood like some sort of temple to violence. Outside, rows of benches evoked the spirit of the amphitheatre around a massive screen showing carefully-edited gameplay footage. Black curtains shrouded the interior, to protect the innocent and youthful from sights which might scar them for life.
London in flames at the hands of a mysterious alchemist; the dark hero Ryu Hayabusa whose killings provoke less gore but more consequence than ever before; and the unrelenting, controller-breaking, rage-inducing action gameplay the series is famous for.
“We’re not just focused on the high-speed, crazy battle stuff all the time. We really want to give players a lot of undulation in gameplay,” Team Ninja boss Yosuke Hayashi told me through a translator when I admitted I was a bit nervous about trying the game.
“We want players to feel the drama, then have a bit of a break, then go back to drama – almost like you’re watching a movie.”
Hoyashi likened Ryu Hayabusa to Spider-man and Superman, explaining that the game’s “dark hero” dramatic direction is designed to bring his humanity to the forefront.
“He’s not just like a killing machine. We’ve used that theme of consequence to show a more human feeling. The more he kills the more he suffers.”
Despite an emphasis on character and narrative, “cinematic experience” seems like the last description you’d apply to a Ninja Gaiden game. Press X to win is not a design paradigm Team Ninja is at home to. Happily, games like Dark Souls have demonstrated that tough-as-nails is coming back into fashion.
“Good players got used to the game. The gap between standard players versus the hardcore has just been widening and widening as the series progressed.”
“But one thing with this whole difficulty issue is that players got used to the game,” Hayashi commented.
“Because it has such a long history, good players got used to it, and the gap between casual players, standard players versus the hardcore has just been widening and widening as the series progressed.”
The gap is now so wide between veterans and new players that Team Ninja has introduced a “playstyles” system, so as to cater for series fans without building an impossible entry barrier.
Inspiration and Rivalry
Achieving this twin focus requires a precarious balancing act. While Ninja Gaiden is a very different kind of game, Team Ninja has a wealth of action knowledge to draw on from its work on Dead or Alive.
“There’s definitely that connection. We can take what we learned from of Dead or Alive and try to use that to balance Ninja Gaiden 3,” Hayashi admitted.
“We always talk about the frame date in making Ninja Gaiden games,” he continued, referring to a common phrase used in fine-tuning fighting games, but rarely invoked outside the genre.
“We use that knowledge actively, and try to give that unique facet to Ninja Gaiden 3 – that instinctive feeling when you play the game.”
So Ninja Gaiden is an action game with a fighter’s finesse; it sounds reminiscent of the latest Devil May Cry. Ninja Theory’s close work with Capcom has resulted in a definite nod to a tried-and-true fighter technique – juggling. Ninja Gaiden? Not so much.
“The thing about Ryu is he’s a ninja, he’s not really a superhero. He’s just a human with better abilities than a standard person,” Hayashi mused.
“We wanted to kind of show that – what a ninja really is – so if we focused on aerial combat it would take the reality away from the game.”
“The thing about Ryu is he’s a ninja, he’s not really a superhero. He’s just a human with better abilities than a standard person.”
But Team Ninja doesn’t dismiss Ninja Theory’s efforts.
“You can say that Devil May Cry is a competitor [to Ninja Gaiden], and I think that’s good for us.
“When we make this game and put it out, the DmC team will take a look at it and pick up from it, and try to beat that – and their game will come out, we’ll come back, and we’ll try to beat them.
“This healthy competition helps us set a standard in our games, helps us improve, gives us the edge. It’s good for everyone in the action game genre to do that, because then we can keep pushing and pushing and pushing. It’s good for the whole industry.”
As we chatted, and waited for our interpreter to exchange answers, Hayashi’s eyes constantly wandered over the demo stands. I asked him whether he was looking for anything in particular.
“Of course. I always watch these people play,” he said.
“When we made the E3 version, we saw in LA how people reacted to that, and we brought that back and did a lot of polishing for the TGS demo. And when we finish TGS this year, we’ll take this data back and just look at it, analyse it, see how people play.”
“So… can you identify the veteran fans, hardcore players, by how they play?” I asked, a little worried by the news that Hayashi might be watching me struggle later.
“Definitely,” he said, with a gleeful laugh.
“When I see people who really get into it, it makes us so excited. We really just want to give back what they give us.”
With this in mind, I waited until another interviewer had Hayashi’s attention before I crept over to a vacant demo stand to have a go. I lasted about 45 seconds before dying, but went back in more cautious and careful – and an eye for the control cheat sheet posted nearby – and did better.
This pattern repeated itself at regular intervals for the next fifteen minutes as I remembered why I gave up on Ninja Gaiden on previous iterations, and discovered a rising optimism for this new “accessible” entry. I might actually be able to finish this one, even.
That’s not to say Ninja Gaiden 3 has been nerfed; a sideways glance at the intent Japanese player beside me showed me that while I might be progressing through the level on offer, there was a depth and skill level available in combat which I certainly wasn’t reaching. As Hayashi had said, the game catered to both our play styles, but I couldn’t help but aspire to the rapid reactions of expert players.
Suddenly Hayashi finished his interview and turned to scan the booth. I dropped the control pad and fled in shame.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is expected on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in February 2012. A Wii U version will launch alongside the new console.