I remember first getting my hands on Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden, for the original Xbox system, some three years ago. I remember being impressed by the game’s stunning visuals, and then squealing with glee at the wide variety of attacks and weapons at my disposal. But what sticks with me most was the spray of blood let forth when I sliced into my first ninja, or when the occasional limb would get severed.
So when the inevitable Ninja Gaiden II was revealed, I expected a certain level of, shall I say, carnage. And sure enough, it’s the first thing that stands out to you, and in true Team Ninja fashion, it’s cranked up to 11. Team Ninja’s very own “super ninja,” Ryu Hyabusa, is pissed off about something, and any man or demon that’s unfortunate enough to be in the path of his wrath is bound to have a bad day. Ryu tears through baddies with a ferociousness that would make God of War‘s Kratos blush. Limbs are removed with ease, and blood splatters across the screen and onto the floor like punch at a rowdy River City Ransom prom.
For sure, Ninja Gaiden II immediately stands out as one of the most physically brutal and violent games in the genre. As the demo concludes, and the game’s blood splattered logo is displayed, we’re teased: “Vengence Begins.” But just what on earth does Ryu have to be so mad about, and does this guy plan on cleaning up after himself? Because if not, that’s just rude.
“Obviously, there’s a reason Hyabusa’s out there and killing all of these people,” says Yoshifuru Okamoto, the game’s assistant producer, through a translator. “Obviously, that has to do with him being wronged in some fashion, and then taking revenge. That’s about all I can say right now.”
So the game’s bloody, and in many ways, it certainly looks similar to the original Ninja Gaiden — so what’s the news? Okamoto is confident that with Ninja Gaiden II, Team Ninja is creating “the best action game on the planet.” And Jack Thompson is going to have to come up with a strong case for this one; according to Okamoto, all of that gore serves a slightly more important purpose than just making Ryu look like a total badass. But that helps, too, apparently.
“I think in terms of gameplay, the newest features are how we are integrating the violence and the gore into the gameplay,” he says, as he coolly leans back in h’is chair. “We don’t really want to do violence just for violence’s sake. We want to make sure it’s going to work really well with the gameplay, and we feel that we’ve accomplished that really well.”
Having started development immediately after completing Dead or Alive 4 in January of 2006, Team Ninja has had a year and eight months to nail this integration of gore and gameplay. Part of that, of course, has to deal with the game’s new weapons — the scythe and the hand claws, for instance, both seem to deal very different types of damage.
“I think the key consideration with the weapons is [asking] what would look cool when Hyabusa is using them,” Okamoto says. “I mean, this is our super ninja. We love our character, and we want him to look like a bad ass. Instead of doing what a lot of developers are doing, you know, saying ‘We have X number of new weapons!’ and some are total crap, we’d rather say it’s not about the total amount. It’s about how awesome he’d look when he’s cutting people up with it.”
Cutting people up indeed. While I have no problem with the game’s over-the-top, almost blatant use of violence (in fact, I quite like it!), you have to question — besides looking super sweet, what does this really have to do with the gameplay?
“I mean, it shows itself in a lot of ways,” he says to me, as he makes wild sword gestures in my general direction. “One is in how the enemy AI changes. The enemies are not just automatons. We have all of this dismemberment and things, and when you cut off an enemy’s arm or his leg, he’s not going to die instantly. But that’s going to affect the way it moves, and how it thinks.”
Ninja Gaiden, it seems, will finally answer that burning question: These guys you’re running around slaughtering, don’t they have families, or anything better to do than try to give you a hard time?
“Speaking from an enemy’s point of view, obviously he’s there to kill Ryu,” he goes on. “But if you lop off a leg, this guy knows he’s not going home, he’s not going back to his wife and kids. So he’ll pull out a grenade and grab you and do a suicide bomb. Because he’s thinking, ‘If I die, I might as well take you with me.’ So, you’ll notice, if you look at the demo closely, that’s how the enemy attacks are changing. That’s one of the things — we don’t want to lop off an arm to say, ‘Ooh! We lopped off an arm!’ There’s got to be consequences.”
By simply watching the demo, and contemplating the game’s vengeance angle, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to a game I mentioned earlier, God of War. Certainly, there must have been some influence here, no?
“Yeah, I have played God of War II lately, and I have to say it’s one of my favorite games that I’ve played,” Okamoto admits, “but that doesn’t mean it’s directly affected anything. Team Ninja’s philosophy is not ‘Game A is doing such and such,’ and therefore we must do the same or better.’ It’s more what does Ninja Gaiden II needs to be the best action game on the market, and we just look at each of those needs and build on those. We think that that’s working well for us.”
We’re still a ways out from seeing what the end result of this philosophy, but anyone who was a fan of the previous game, and has a strong stomach, shouldn’t have anything to worry about. With most (if not all) of the original Ninja Gaiden Xbox team back on board for the sequel, there’s no doubt the game is in good hands, and if anything, should satisfy sadists and gorehounds when the game hits shelves Spring 2008.