After leaving Capcom, Keiji Inafune formed Comcept in order to work on original titles, such as the superhero president game J.J. Rockets on mobile devices and the action-RPG Soul Sacrifice on PlayStation Vita. However, he wouldn't be completely against working on a licensed property if he had a strong attachment to it.
One such game series that he really respects is Ninja Gaiden, and he had been playing around with the idea of a new Ninja Gaiden that incorporated zombies. He proposed this idea to Team Ninja, which coincidentally had been thinking about developing a zombie game of its own but lacked any personnel with experience in the genre. Thanks to his notable history with Dead Rising, Inafune was seen as the prime candidate for such a project.
But Inafune was quick to remind me that the comparisons with Dead Rising end there. Speaking through a translator, he explained, "Yaiba is not purposefully trying to be influenced from Dead Rising. They are both [my] games, so the zombies made for Dead Rising and the zombies that are here will of course have some similarities... but you can't just cut zombies down and leave it at that. That's not going to be a fun game. You have to think, okay, ninjas and zombies, put those together and see how do we make that fun. What kind of chemical reaction comes from that combination?"
The reaction is Ninja Gaiden Z, a game far apart from what we've come to expect from the series. Most notably, we are not playing as longstanding protagonist Ryu Hayabusa but rather Yaiba Kamikaze, a rival shinobi cut down by Ryu and resurrected as a cyborg. Yaiba is about as un-ninja as can get -- he's loud, foul-mouthed, lecherous, and driven by an insatiable bloodlust.
Despite Yaiba's harder edge and a world populated by zombies who are surprisingly not the pushovers we've grown accustomed to, Ninja Gaiden Z is significantly toned down from the series' trademark level of difficulty.
"It should have a Ninja Gaiden feel to the combat, the kind of responsiveness of a Ninja Gaiden game," Inafune stated, "but this is not a main Ninja Gaiden game. Yaiba is its own thing, and we need to make it accessible to people who maybe come in for the zombie aspects. They like zombie games and they're not used to the technical aspects of Ninja Gaiden. We need to be as open to those players as well so they don't quit in two seconds. Once we have that, we can think about how to make a deeper combat system and offer those sort of technical challenges for people who want that as well."
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is being developed for PS3 and Xbox 360 with the assistance of Spark Unlimited, the California-based studio currently working on Lost Planet 3. Inafune has been an extremely vocal proponent of Western developers, so it comes as no surprise that he would look outside Japan for aid. Still, Spark's history isn't that extensive, so why was it brought on board?
"You can't just look at the past experience of a developer to judge them on what they can do moving forward. People leave developers, staff changes, so you can't always judge them by their past experience. You have to think of the management that is going to be constantly there and their vision for their studio."
Inafune felt a connection with Spark's management and knew they could build a good relationship. And for added assistance, they even brought in Toby Gard, one of the designers of the original Tomb Raider!
"No Japanese developer could come up with this art style," Inafune noted in regards to the game's striking cel shading. "You could give them all the direction in the world and they still wouldn't come up with this. Also, the kinds of things that you can do with zombies, the ways that you can play with the zombies, you maybe get half of the ideas from a Japanese developer that you get from the West. And even then, those ideas won't be up to the same fun quality."
Zombies in Yaiba are not just cannon fodder. You can rip off their arms and use them as nunchuks, or you can toss them into heavy machinery and watch them operate it out of instinct. I'm surprised by how much humanity they've retained -- behind the wheel of a steamroller, one zombie gestures to his undead compatriot to get out of his path lest he get squashed, for example.
I don't know how much of this humor simply couldn't be replicated by a Japanese studio, but I'm digging it. It's not traditional Ninja Gaiden, but any game where the hero will crash a truck into a lingerie store and start dancing as panties rain from the sky is okay in my book.
Before I left the interview, I had to ask Inafune one final question regarding the elephant in the room. You think I'd spend 20 minutes with Mega Man's caretaker for roughly two decades without asking about the Blue Bomber?
I asked, how do you feel about Mega Man in Super Smash Bros.?
"I'm really happy for that! It's great! And hopefully they'll put Yaiba in it in the future!"
First we need Yaiba on Wii U!
"Yeah, no, not right now."
Ha ha ha ha! Okay, I'm not even mad at the response! Well played!
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