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'être 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."