When it comes to rumours, there's often no decapitated head without a head-stump, and Tecmo has now responded to reports that the European version of gorgeous Xbox slash-'em-up Ninja Gaiden will be trimmed of some of its more gratuitously violent aspects prior to its PAL release. Spokesman John Inada reminded the US press this week that "most of the European countries have much more strict standards against the use of violence," and that "if we have to make minor alterations [to get it published in every European country], we will."
If you're as excited about Ninja Gaiden as we are, then you're probably entertaining all sorts of vengeful prospects right now, and we certainly had half a mind to show up at Tecmo with an example of our standards of violence when we first read that quote, particularly after he added: "The good news for the American and Japanese gamers is that they got a genuine original version." Wah! Not fair! Second-class gamers! Europe gets treated shit! Again! Etc!
But, as it turns out, any reports that you may have read about the removal of decapitation sequences and indeed any specifics whatsoever are entirely speculative at this point. Speaking to Microsoft today, we learned that Tecmo hasn't even started taking anything out. When asked specifically about the removal of decapitations, a bemused spokesperson told us, "Nothing as it stands has been changed" (their emphasis, too).
Indeed, although an official statement from Microsoft UK conceded that "minor changes may be made to ensure that the game satisfies ratings requirements in Europe," we were told categorically that the game will be submitted as is - with decapitations, head-stump blood geysers and exploding chest cavities intact. If, at that stage in production, the authorities in certain countries demand a few alterations, some changes may have to be made, but it's no more or less severe in this case than in any other. For heaven's sake, Tecmo's probably just worried about the bloody shurikens (throwing stars), regularly cut from similar titles in Europe without bothering anybody. In short: there is no pre-emptive policy of censorship in place at Microsoft UK, or any other European branch of the publisher.
What's more, as gamers on the continent who occasionally have to suffer censored games well know, PAL games from the UK or anywhere else for that matter still happily work on PAL systems from other countries. So if an edited version blights the experience, continental gamers can still raise two fingers to John Law and sneakily import an unedited version from countries where morals are at more of a premium - like the bloodthirsty United Kingdom. Not that we could condone any such practice, obviously.
And besides, Microsoft recognises the value of Ninja Gaiden. It's this spring's "the next Halo" as far as the Xbox platform holder is concerned, and it knows just as well as anybody else who's played the game that the removal of decapitations would have an adverse affect. They add a certain vicious charm and a particularly emphatic conclusion to the more acrobatic combos in Ninja Gaiden, and fuel some of the most beautiful cut sequences we've ever seen, never mind in a videogame. MS will doubtless fight to ensure they survive the authorities' mighty sword of censorship.
Phew, eh? With that out of the way, we're currently seeking clarity on the issue of the Master Ninja Tournament aspect - an Xbox Live bonus in the States that aims to culminate in a global showdown at this year's European X04. MS in the States hasn't mentioned whether European gamers will be able to compete, so we've got MS UK looking into it. We should hear back about that later in the day, so expect an update either than or on Monday, and we'll be bringing you our own take on the US version of Ninja Gaiden sometime next week.