2011 is set to be the year Team Ninja emerges from the shadow cast by the departure of Tomonobu Itagaki with new games in the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden franchises. Dimensions, the first DOA fighting game in over five years, is a launch window title for the 3DS, and Ninja Gaiden 3, still without announced platforms, has been described as a reboot. Exciting times.
For new studio head Yosuke Hayashi, who chatted to Eurogamer after taking to the stage at Nintendo's 3DS event last week, 2011 is going to be an important year. Now, finally, he gets to stamp his own authority on the series Itagaki fans treasure so much. No pressure, then.
Eurogamer: Why is the 3DS the right platform for the first Dead or Alive fighting game in over five years?
Yosuke Hayashi: Originally, before the 3DS arrived, or before we knew about the 3DS, we were studying whether there was some way we could provide a different play style for the fighting game. But we couldn't find any appropriate handheld console.
Then, meeting with the 3DS, which has many communication functions, we thought it enabled us to actualise that concept. That's why we chose the 3DS. But of course, everybody's thinking, what about the consoles? Console is also important but we were thinking about handheld, too. Then 3DS came in. That's why we have it on the handheld.
Eurogamer: Is there a danger some gamers might have forgotten about Dead or Alive? Is it as relevant today as it was five years ago?
Yosuke Hayashi: By not releasing a title for over five years it's maybe more challenging for DOA to go back to the fighting game genre. But with the 3DS we can reach more people. We positioned Dead or Alive: Dimensions as the comeback of Dead or Alive. You can see it as restarting the series.
Eurogamer: You can double the frame rate by turning off the 3D effect. Will hardcore fighting game fans opt for 60 frames per second while newcomers pick the 3D?
Yosuke Hayashi: We didn't put in the 3D 30 frames just for the newcomers, or on the contrary 60 frames just for the hardcore. It's up to people. Actually, there is a Team Ninja member who really loves Dead or Alive and has played thousands of times and for hours, but he opted to choose 3D 30 frames per second. So it depends on the people.
For me, it just depends on the day or maybe the weather.
Eurogamer: The interactive move list that appears on the bottom screen allows players to touch a combo from a list to execute it. If I'm playing online, is there any way to block my opponent from using it if I don't use it? Does it give a player an advantage?
Yosuke Hayashi: Actually, it's fair. All fair. You're not going to be disadvantaged by not using the interactive move list. So don't worry about that.
For another title in the 3DS fighting genre that also has one button touchscreen play, that doesn't have any advantage to using it. But for us the move list itself can be a reference to those who forget about that.
Actually in the bottom screen, of course the list is there, but for the real hardcore fighting game fans, they don't need it, right? They know about that. But we can change the screen to another one, which is called Skill Information.
It includes details about each attack, for example how much disadvantage as a frame rate per second. So even hardcore fighting game fans can see that and learn the frame rate difference technique by technique.
Eurogamer: What online modes are included?
Yosuke Hayashi: There's local play and internet play. But in addition to that, there's a Team Ninja challenge that's two-fold. One, in local play with a Friend Code, Team Ninja tag challenge mode, which is actually co-op where you tag together against an opponent.
The idea behind this is, for example, with a fighting game, you might have A and B. A is really strong and really good. B is okay, so so, but not really great, and when they're fighting together, who knows? Always A wins against B. Maybe for B it's easy to lose interest.
To prevent that in a more entertaining way, even in a fighting game we can challenge them to try the co-op mode and B can run from A, interrupt each other and improve their fighting skill.
Second is using Street Pass mode. Here the user can play other people's avatar – not only a figurine. Your opponent comes into your 3DS and fights. Your avatar imitates how you play. If you play more using kicks, your avatar kicks a lot. It's challenging, but that enables the user to play with an unknown person.
Eurogamer: There is a Metroid: Other M stage in the game. Does that mean Samus Aran is a playable character?
Yosuke Hayashi: The concept of this game is basically best version of Dead or Alive. For the Metroid collaboration, we had help from Nintendo and they're really friendly with us. But the concept of Dead or Alive as the best version of the game means Samus Aran or Metroid is something different. That's why we are not focusing on that in terms of the concept.
So talking about Samus Aran, is she playable or not? This time she's not playable. But Samus Aran will be shown in the game. She comes to help the player. That's the collaboration shown there [in the trailer]. But how can you unlock Samus Aran? Please find out for yourself.
Eurogamer: Let's talk about Ninja Gaiden 3. I've heard it described as a reboot. Is that correct?
Yosuke Hayashi: Maybe reboot is a good word. Maybe not. Talking about Team Ninja's understanding of the current gaming world, game design has changed dramatically and the previous Ninja Gaiden series is already classic or outdated.
That's why aiming at the current or latest 3D action games, we have to make it from scratch. In that case, maybe somebody says reboot. But we say we need to revolutionise the way we develop the title.
Eurogamer: How is the gameplay different? What's changed?
Yosuke Hayashi: Ninja Gaiden 3 focuses on integrity with the playable character and the user. Previously it was separate. At this point, maybe the previous ones lacked integrity. Previous versions, people focused on Ryu Hayabusa's fast movement and sword cutting, katana cutting action, and they felt, OK, it's awesome.
But you need more integrity and a feeling of humanity. You have to feel like you're playing as a real Ryu Hayabusa. It's a different feel.
Eurogamer: How is the fighting system different? What new abilities are there?
Yosuke Hayashi: Usually for Ninja Gaiden we have a number in the title, Ninja Gaiden 1, 2 and this time 3, and we make it from scratch and revolutionise. Talking about Ninja Gaiden 1, it focused on the movement of the action and the cutting action itself.
Ninja Gaiden 2 focused on the outcome of actually cutting people, but in a deforming type of expression.
Ninja Gaiden 3 focuses on the feel and the sense of cutting down real people in a realistic way. That is the main difference.
Eurogamer: Ninja Gaiden is famous for its difficulty. Will 3 be easier, more difficult or as difficult as previous games?
Yosuke Hayashi: Difficulty is just one of the elements. But we understand series fans like you really like the difficulty part.
Eurogamer: I found it too difficult, actually.
Yosuke Hayashi: Okay, maybe not you! That's why Ninja Gaiden 3 is going to be for you. Team Ninja is focusing on two things. It aims to be the number one 3D action game of the time. And secondly, the main character is Ryu Hayabusa. They're the two things we're focusing on.
Then, providing excitement, which is not only from the difficulty. That's just one of the elements. It's more like having excitement from fighting an exciting boss. That is what we needed.
With the previous Ninja Gaidens, you were playing and you were excited, but it was more about putting the controller into the TV screen or something. So that's why for you maybe it was too difficult at that time. That is one of the elements, but we're not focusing on that. We're focusing on providing excitement.
Eurogamer: So it will be easier?
Yosuke Hayashi: Not easy, but it will enable more people to play. More accessible. We don't plan to have Ninja Gaiden 3 only for the really good, skilled people.
Eurogamer: We know nothing about the game's story, or the teaser image you released last year. Can you explain it?
Yosuke Hayashi: All we can say now is Ryu Hayabusa is the main character. Also, as I've said, we're focusing on integrity for the story, action, player and the playable character. You will be more emotionally immersed.
For the series fans and the people who are devoted to playing Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2, they will like the new Ryu Hayabusa more. We can ensure that.
The setting is not separate from the previous games, but Ryu Hayabusa is more of a living character, having the history of 1 and 2 coming into 3.
Eurogamer: Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden 2 began as Xbox exclusives. You haven't announced the platforms Ninja Gaiden 3 will release on, or when it will release. What can you tell us about that?
Yosuke Hayashi: Actually we cannot answer at this point. We will in the really near future. Also, especially for the series fan, we will make sure we bring excitement. At E3 this year we are going to provide a playable demo.
Yosuke Hayashi is the current head of the Tecmo development studio Team Ninja.