Yosuke Hayashi doesn't look like a ninja. He looks young, smartly dressed and smiles a lot, and seems singularly unlikely to flip out and kill everyone in the room at the drop of a hat. Of course, ninjas are noted as masters of stealth, so we should be on our guard. Appearances can be deceptive.
That said, we suspect that real ninjas (with apologies to Masaaki Hatsumi) probably wouldn't announce themselves as being from Team Ninja. It seems a little, well, obvious.
There's nothing deceptive, though, about Ninja Gaiden Sigma - the PlayStation 3 remake of 2004's gorgeous, critically acclaimed and utterly rock-hard Xbox action title. No artificial claims of originality here; Hayashi, who worked on the original game and is now producer and director on Sigma, happily describes it as a "remastering".
Team Ninja's objective in remastering their much-loved game is straightforward. Despite enjoying two iterations on the Xbox (Ninja Gaiden Black, released in 2005, included a chunk of new content and rebalanced levels - most of which makes its way into Sigma), PlayStation owners have never had a chance to gnash their teeth at Ryu Hayabusa's quest through the Vigoor empire. Sigma's raison d'Ítre is as simple as that; Team Ninja wants you to play their game, even if you don't own an Xbox.
Along the way, though, the team isn't adverse to tightening the bolts, shining the bodywork, polishing the chrome and re-tuning the engine. As you'd expect from a PS3 game - especially from a PS3 game from the graphics obsessed Team Ninja - the game supports 1080p displays, and its models and textures have been upgraded to match that resolution.
Graphical effects have been given a lick of paint, scenery elements which were previously painted on are now fully 3D, animations have been made more detailed, and everything runs at 60fps. It looks lovely, frankly (but then again, it looked lovely on the Xbox, too) - we're not sure if it's quite the "showcase for the power of the PS3" that Hayashi claims it to be, but it certainly doesn't let the side down.
Under the Bonnet
It's not just the graphics that have changed, though. We may notice the shiny new packaging first, but the really important tinkering has gone on under the bonnet, according to Hayashi.
"I've been involved in the development of Ninja Gaiden since I joined Tecmo," he tells Eurogamer, by way of introduction. "I love the game, and as a result, where I've focused most of my effort in Ninja Gaiden Sigma is on the action engine itself."
"Naturally, the battle system has been much-improved in Sigma, but..." Hayashi pauses. "Well, it's difficult to explain. Technically speaking, there are a lot of things I can say, but it's hard to explain the difference we've made using those technical terms. Once you touch and feel it, though, you can perceive the difference instantly."
"That's what I concentrated on, and put my energy into most of all. In addition to that, there are new weapons like the double sword, and the playable Rachel character - these features as well, but the main thing is the action engine."
Oh yes - forgive us for not angling for the fanboy vote earlier, but Rachel, the game's busty female fiend-hunter, is a fully playable character in Ninja Gaiden Sigma for the first time. Several of the mission mode scenarios are completed using her, and there are three new chapters of the story mode where you play as Rachel.
"Basically," Hayashi says with a grin, "when we were designing new features for Ninja Gaiden Sigma based on feedback from users, the number one request was - make Rachel playable!" We don't blame him for grinning; given the pervy reputation Team Ninja has developed thanks to Dead or Alive (and its spin-off, DOA Xtreme Breast Voyeu... er, Beach Volleyball), it must be nice to get occasional confirmation that the company's fans are just as pneumatically obsessed.
Rachel's missions are interesting, not least because she plays entirely differently to Ryu. Her weapon, a massive war hammer, is slow but immensely powerful - and her various special attacks and movement options will take some time to get to grips with for those used to Ryu's timing and abilities. Her addition to the game is, therefore, arguably the biggest headline feature after the graphical upgrades.
Hayashi, however, is still ruminating on how to describe the changes made to the handling and battle system - an area he clearly considers to be Ninja Gaiden Sigma's strongest point. "You see, it's very easy to explain additional features like Rachel," he says. "It's very easy to recognise them."
"When we're talking about the engine... If I'm talking about a car, maybe you can recognise the difference in the sound of the engine, but it's very difficult to explain how the feeling of driving has changed. But the engine is still a very important part of the car, right? This is the same thing. The action engine is a very important part of this game."
Steel and Silk
It's this attitude, we sense, which led Hayashi and his team to eschew many of the trappings and window-dressing features which have become par for the course in next-gen gaming. Real physics on world objects, destructible environments; these are things which PS3 and Xbox 360 games have in spades, and which we don't doubt Team Ninja is capable of.
However, you won't find them in Ninja Gaiden Sigma - perhaps because, ultimately, they would distract from the absolute beating heart of the gameplay, namely your character, your weapon, a group of enemies, and the skills you've learned along the way.
One other new feature that has been introduced, however, is Sixaxis support - albeit in somewhat limited form. When casting a Ninpo magic attack, you can shake the controller to power it up; similarly, when grabbed by an enemy, a quick shake will release you. In effect, Sigma uses shaking the controller instead of the traditional "mash the buttons" action; hardly the kind of use that Sony probably had in mind for its ultra-sensitive accelerometers.
Hayashi is unrepentant. "Basically, I don't want to use that functionality, or the features of a thing like Sixaxis, just because people might think "oh, there's a Sixaxis function, so you have to feature that element to be a real PlayStation 3 game." That's not the right approach."
"What we intend is this - if, by using the function of the Sixaxis, the game will be more interesting... We'll do it. Taking such an approach is more important. If we find something unique, some gameplay that takes advantage of such a function, I'll implement it in the next game."
"When I come up with such an idea, I'll do so. But otherwise, I don't care, you know?"
He's equally unrepentant and outspoken in his views on some of Team Ninja's competitors in PlayStation 3 development. When we ask how the team has found moving from working on the Xbox to the PS3, Hayashi sidesteps the question somewhat - but delivers a stinging broadside to developers who complain about the difficulty of creating games for any platform.
"There are some developers who have complained about the difficulty of developing for PS3," he admits. "But, I am a creator, a developer - and by making a product, we receive money from the players. We shouldn't complain about the difficulty. If they think it's difficult, creating a game with the PS3, they should get out of the ring!"
So he'll definitely be working on further PS3 products, then? Hayashi grins widely and impishly. "As I said, people who complain about the difficulty of creating games for PS3 should get out, right? While I'm saying that kind of thing, if I get out myself, then what I say doesn't mean anything! So, I should stay - right?"
We'll take that as a "maybe", then, with definite overtones of "yes" - but there's time for one last question, and we opt for the usually-hopeless stab in the dark of asking what he's going to be working on next. You never know, jetlag might loosen lips - and surely after working on three iterations of Ninja Gaiden, Hayashi is ready for another challenge?
"Well," he says, "while developing Ninja Gaiden Sigma, we came up with some new ideas. We have these ideas, a lot of them... But, you know, I can't tell you about those right now. I've got to hold on to them for the next game, and when the time comes, we'll let everyone know."
Eurogamer's audience with the ninja is over. It must have gone well; we make it to the door without feeling the stab of a handful of razor-edged shuriken in our backs. Perhaps he's just one of the friendlier ninjas in the team.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma is out in Europe in July. A demo should be popping up on PlayStation Network some time in the next few weeks.