Under the leadership of the iconoclast Tomonobu Itagaki, Team Ninja went from being an upstart to one of the most celebrated developers in gaming. The original Ninja Gaiden was one of the Xbox's defining titles. Not so much the sequel, however, which debuted on the Xbox 360 without nearly as much fanfare. It simply wasn't as good.
Itagaki was forced to leave Tecmo, and for a while, the leadership of the studio he had formed was not entirely clear. But now, that leadership has solidified behind one man: Yosuke Hayashi. Hayashi came into the light as the director of Ninja Gaiden Sigma, the PlayStation 3 version of the original Ninja Gaiden title. He's now hard at work on Ninja Gaiden 3, the first game in the series where he's fully in charge of the vision.
To that end, you'll see some significant changes from the first two games -- creative changes driven by Hayashi and the team's desire to push forward and create a great game.
In this interview, Hayashi discusses these changes, as well as his collaboration with Nintendo on Metroid: Other M, what he learned from Itagaki, and what drives him creatively. Ninja Gaiden 3 is due in March for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
So I guess you're in charge of Team Ninja now, right?
Yosuke Hayashi: Yeah. [laughs]
So what's the "Hayashi era" going to bring?
YH: Well, I've been part of Team Ninja since from early on. So I've always been part of Team Ninja, so I don't know that things are going to change a whole lot, but we're going to stay focused on giving entertainment and making games that we like -- you know, that the developers who've been part of Team Ninja like to play, like to make, and that we hope everybody else enjoys it as well. So it's fairly simple: just making good action games that people like.
Hayashi smiles on stage at Koei Tecmo's Tokyo Game Show 2011 booth.
You announced Dead or Alive 5, and you also have Ninja Gaiden 3 -- two series that started before you were in charge. But now you're in charge. So have you been able to do anything with those series that you've been wanting to?
YH: I feel that games reflect the era in the time in which they were made. So it's not like we want to go back and sort of remake or tweak games from five years ago; we want to make games that are modern games and feel like they come from modern game designers. We're just trying to keep it simple, and focused on those games.
And we see a lot of games right now that -- especially here in Japan -- people are saying, "Oh, you've got to focus on the West, you've got to focus on the Western developers and Western tastes" and all of that.
But the more of these external influences and external needs that you have, the vision, the core of the game, sort of gets blurred. So for us as Team Ninja, we want to stay focused on that core that we know and that we know we can do well, and keep making games, and keep updating the games. Make games in the modern sense.
I spoke to your former boss, Tomonobu Itagaki, and he said that he does not make games by looking at other games. It sounds like you follow the same philosophy.
YH: I feel like Itagaki is my master; he's my teacher. So of course we're going to have a similar kind of style. But for both of us, we're making games that we want to make, and having players play the games, and hopefully they will enjoy the games. It's not like we're trying to make bullet points and things like that; we're trying to make creative entertainment that really connects with people. And so we both make good games. I'm looking forward to his game.
Ninja Gaiden II didn't really have the impact that the first game did. So how are you addressing that? Is that a concern for you?
YH: Ninja Gaiden was all about the gameplay and the feel of the action. And Ninja Gaiden just nailed that; the gameplay just felt good. But if that's all you have, players will get tired of it. And we think that for Ninja Gaiden II, our solution was going more over the top in terms of visuals, with dismemberment and with the gore. But that maybe didn't compensate enough, and you get tired of that as well.
So we want, for Ninja Gaiden 3, to have players feel something, and get a shock -- within the course of the gameplay, within the gameplay itself, and within the course of the story -- that will really resonate with them at an emotional level, not just a surface level. That's what we're trying to go for with Ninja Gaiden 3.