Feature Article

How I Learned to Like Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z

Ninja strayed.

It was Halloween, 2013. You don't forget a day like Halloween.

That day, Tecmo Koei released an obnoxious and divisive trailer for the upcoming Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. This was the trailer that featured the game's star uttering the line "I've always known where to stick my sword, sugar-tits" to Miss Monday, his mission guide. The one where he asks, "Can I see through your dress with this thing," and responds with "Then who gives a shit?" when the answer is a firm "no."

And that's all less than halfway through the trailer.

I don't know many people that responded positively to this barrage of misogynist profanity, and I myself posted to my Twitter and Facebook profiles--rather harshly--that the trailer was creatively bankrupt. And given how little we knew of the game at this point, I could only assume that the game would follow suit. Like so many other scowling Ninja Gaiden fans, I was ready to dismiss Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z out of hand.

This week, I played a good stretch of Yaiba, and spoke at length to Spark Unlimited's Charles Babb (the game's senior associate producer) and creative director Tom Lee from Team Ninja. Team Ninja has taken a novel approach to Yaiba's development process, bridging the East/West divide by assigning Spark and Comcept as co-developers. And with that pairing comes a lot of baggage--the baggage of Ninja Gaiden 3, which many fans saw as a betrayal of what makes the series great; the baggage of Spark's legacy, which includes disappointments like Legendary and Turning Point: Fall of Liberty; and the baggage of other developers' unsuccessful attempts to broaden a series' appeal to Western audiences.

We're the guys that created Ninja Gaiden, and we're the guys that destroyed your beloved Ninja Gaiden. And we want to test the mettle and say hey, we're willing to put Hayabusa into this mess, put this thing in his world, and spin it in a way you've never seen it before.

-Tom Lee
Time to face the funeral dirge.

Both Lee and Babb are keenly aware of the baggage. Says Lee, "We've heard all the rants and the criticism after Ninja Gaiden 3, and I think we wanted to put Ninja Gaiden, the actual hardcore franchise, out of the way for a while. And when this idea presented itself, we wanted to show a different side of us that we rarely get to show. In fact, we'd probably never have gotten to do this before. We've been so controlling in the past of our products, but given this opportunity, we told Spark, we told Comcept, to basically go all out, go balls out. You can see that some of the stuff, it's like kids in a candy shop. We're not sure how far to stretch this. We don't have any limitations or barriers in front of us. You're seeing a little bit of this. It's growing pains for us. We wanted to show our audience and our fans that we're willing to take chances. Hopefully, with this in mind, you can at least forgive, and understand, and see the potential of what we can do with this experience."

Playing Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, I was struck by the "kids in a candy shop" approach, which came across successfully at certain points, and not so successfully at others. Babb says of Yaiba, "This is more gonzo, this is more grindhouse, this is a comic book," and that's certainly true. It wasn't Ninja Gaiden that the game most reminded me of, but rather a mixture of Splatterhouse and God of War. The Splatterhouse element was most obvious in the vivid comic-book art style and the preponderance of blood and dismembered limbs--not to mention some stubborn camera angles and some wonky collision. The God of War element was apparent the moment I used the flail, which resembled Kratos' blades of chaos, to rip apart hordes of zombies in just a few powerful swings. These aren't Yaiba's only murderous tools, however: he's also got a sword, along with a cyber-fist that allows him to pummel the undead and punch through weakened walls so that he can plunder the secrets held within.

And I have to say, the action won me over. In only a few minutes' time, the zombies were too numerous for me to button mash my way to grotesque glory. I began to use my repertoire of moves to defeat them, and the game helpfully displayed the button combination I used whenever I stumbled upon combos by accident. More intriguingly, after the zombie hordes thinned out, I was up against a miniboss--a miniboss that soundly defeated me due to my inefficient blocking and tumbling. This wasn't Ninja Gaiden, but it wasn't Dynasty Warriors either, and I wouldn't be able to let my eyes glaze over and disengage my brain.

After a while, however, my fingers learned the rhythm. You can perform disgusting executions as you do in plenty of other games, but the camera doesn't linger long, and you need to exercise precise timing to string multiple executions together. Nor does the game crowd the screen with annoying button prompts announcing the potential execution. As a result, the flow of combat doesn't stutter or drag, and you can focus on defeating the enemy rather than cursing the game for prioritizing action-movie antics over fluid action. It was fun--and it was fun from the get-go.

We're expecting viewers, and the audience, and players to understand that this isn't to be taken so seriously.

- Tom Lee

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z isn't all about combat, however. Babb showed off the Yaiba "chemistry set"--a system that lets you combine objects of three different elements (bio, electricity, and fire) for various purposes. For instance, when bio and electricity meet, they produce a breakable crystal that congeals enemies inside. Such elemental interactivity also figures into the game's various puzzles, allowing you to, for instance, crystallize an electrified fence so that you might smash it and make your way past. The non-combat feature I enjoyed most, however, was simply traversing environments. Wall-running and grappling segments had me zipping about like my old friend the Prince of Persia, though such sequences were palate cleansers rather than main dishes.

The main dish--combat--was best served up in Ninja Gaiden Z mode, an arcade-type mode that rotates the camera to the side (and sometimes flips it overhead) and asks you to cling to life while mowing down as many enemies as you can. This is where I had the most fun, in part because I discovered a new use for my fist: charging it up, and then rocketing through lumbering mutants and other baddies. Once I figured out how to fly into the air and land on my target with a splat, the killing really began, but my limited health pool forced me to control the crowd wisely lest I succumb to undeath. And succumb to undeath I did. This may not be Ninja Gaiden, but there's still a trace of that old NG challenge.

As much as I enjoyed my time with Yaiba, the game's obnoxious, in-your face, "xxxxxtreeeeeme" vibe was inescapable, though it wasn't as prevalent as it was in last October's trailer. Even so, I cringed when Babb was showing off Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z's hidden rewards and scrolled past a poem written by stoic Ninja Gaiden star Ryu Hayabusa in which he professes his adoration of Momiji and refers to his own manhood as a "wee-wee." Because it rhymed.

Yaiba's blood reign has begun.

Really.

Says Lee, "The trailer reflects our enthusiasm for being able to go as far as we wanted to go, meaning this is far from goodie-two-shoes Ryu Hayabusa, the all-time traditional Japanese ninja. We wanted to go and celebrate this villain, this anti-hero of sorts. So in hindsight we may have pushed things a little too far, with some of the narrative and whatnot, and certainly the actual game probably doesn't reflect the dialogue and sexist remarks as much as the trailer did. We pushed that trailer to make sure that everyone understands this isn't your grandma's Ninja Gaiden. Everything takes place in the Ninja Gaiden universe, but we wanted to really try and make a statement that we're introducing this brand-new character, and he's basically a walking middle finger. He's punk rock, he's completely different than Hayabusa is."

Lee adds, "We're the guys that created Ninja Gaiden, and we're the guys that destroyed your beloved Ninja Gaiden. And we want to test the mettle and say hey, we're willing to put Hayabusa into this mess, put this thing in his world, and spin it in a way you've never seen it before."

Nevertheless, Team Ninja, Comcept, and Spark are all aware of the game's potential to offend, but hope that they can win players over by poking fun at Ninja Gaiden's typically staunch attitude. "You really can't take a game seriously when it has both ninjas and zombies in it," laughs Babb. Lee chimes in: "We're expecting viewers, and the audience, and players to understand that this isn't to be taken so seriously."

"Now mind you, there's a lot of things happening, things we're throwing at you," says Lee, "but when you look at a movie like Django [Unchained] for instance, I don't think Tarantino set out to make a racist movie. There are certainly a lot of racial slurs in that movie, and it is very violent, and very brutal in that sense, and some people have condemned that movie as being exploitative. But the way we look at it, the way we're treating this, it's more of a commentary on violence, more of a commentary on those types of games. It's very adult and mature. We're not saying we condone these actions, but this guy, this douchebag of a character, is interesting. He's like the Sid Vicious in our sphere. And in this day and age where everyone is so squeaky clean, where everyone is very concerned with being politically correct, we felt it would be kind of fun for a change. And we can get away with it, because it's ninjas and zombies, you know?"

I may not be wholly convinced that Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z's attitude is always going to land on the "funny" side of the equation, but it landed there more frequently than I expected. At one point during the demo, I crashed a zombie wedding, ultimately taking on a corpse bride that may or may not have been poking fun at the so-called "bridezilla" stereotype. Either way, I couldn't not laugh at the rows of undead waiting patiently to throw rice on the happy undead couple, who seemed a match made in hell. It's not yet clear whether Tecmo Koei's merging of two creative teams from opposite sides of the world is an equally successful marriage, but it's still one worth talking about, even if the love letters they write refer to Ryu Hayabusa's wee-wee.

Written By

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

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Discussion

79 comments
VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

Sounds fast paced and over the top.

I could use some B-movie dialogue in a game for a change that doesn't come from Duke Nukem's tired crap.

Zeeksie
Zeeksie

I have high expectations for this game. Maybe I shouldn't, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed nevertheless.

MatthewSnyder86
MatthewSnyder86

Spark Unlimited is involved, and nothing good comes with them involved with any project.

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

It's unfortunate that morons with no idea what they're talking about have tried to kill this franchise and landed us with this. Razor's Edge was a solid third entry in the new franchise and I find it hard to believe Ninja decided that enough was enough.

meeghoulz
meeghoulz

Just a little question :this game was not originally meant for VITA?I would aprecciate it quite more if it was a portable game...even so I might try it out!

Ducez_III
Ducez_III

I'm not a long time fan of Ninja Gaiden so the new aesthetic don't bother me. The visual style, Yaiba's personality, and the overall silliness of a ninja cyborg fighting zombies and out for revenge, is hilarious to me.

Not to mention Inafune's involvement, which makes this game even more interesting. 

ManfromRedRiver
ManfromRedRiver

I absolutely love the stunning, comic book art style.  Can I please have a game like this without a bunch of stupid, immature sex jokes?

HonorOfGod
HonorOfGod

This game hits the spot its a must have for me.

Coren_Larken
Coren_Larken

This is the most interesting preview I've read in a while. When I read the Django: Unchained comparison, I was immediately skeptical. If you have to explain to me that you aren't trying to be offensive, you've done something wrong. The setting and story must be presented in such a way that we know from the start it's going to be gritty, that this character could very well be a racist/sexist jackass. If you don't properly convey that setting, then it can seem to the audience that you're the racist/sexist jackass.

bmwz4y
bmwz4y

This industry is meant for children and/or the inner child in adults, It will never grow up so face it as it is, just shut the fuck up and have some fun will ya.

raddys2001
raddys2001

Im not confident with team ninja after nj3 and the last dead or alive game they made to me was not great.  the only reason why this game is interesting to me is because of Kenji Infume (hope you spelled it like that). 

donutking7
donutking7

U sound like a prude to me Kevin...

bunchanumbers
bunchanumbers

The developers are talking like heels in wrestling. 'We're the ones who destroyed your beloved franchise.' I love it! Its going on the list.

arqe
arqe

Actually these "Borderlands" looking games are pretty cool. And now we got use "Ninja" with this artstyle ? Hell YEAH Im in !

Gen007
Gen007

Why are Japenese developers outsourcing some of their biggest titles to horrible devs? I mean capcom outsourced DMC and LP3 + they have outsourced the new strider as well like wth why bother if youre not gonna do it yourself.

croxus
croxus

It looks like a PS game...

Are they going to charge a full prioce for that, or xbla-like?

meatz666
meatz666

Your body are just a bomb!

foxhound_fox
foxhound_fox

Shadows of the Damned mixed dark gore with childish humour and it worked exceedingly well. If I get more into the NG series, I may give this a go one day.

tomkat69pc
tomkat69pc

looks fun and promising - definitely on my list ..

Diegoctba
Diegoctba

This game looks awesome, and looks really funny, can't wait to play it.

tsunami2311
tsunami2311

What was so bad about NG3? I got NG3 razor edge its it a NG game no doubts about it,
And I liked it just as much as NGS1 and 2 it  was just tad easier just brutal though

santinegrete
santinegrete

So gameplay is not abysmal? OH good! I'm really not bothered about the attitude of the character or this game relies on, maybe I'll chuckle, but if I wanted political correctness I'll watch some more MLP FiM

RONNILO
RONNILO

Ninja Gaiden is one of my favorite franchise, and this love grow on you when the years past. Not many good slashers left, and this franchise is ruined.

nparks
nparks

This is not the Ninja Gaiden you are looking for.  But it can't be any worse than the abomination that was NG3.

sum_guy09
sum_guy09

Is this a 3DS game? I was hoping for something that resembled more like the pictures above which looks cool, but after watching the trailer idk. I see it as a possible laptop download but thats it.

codac
codac

I'm just glad this games getting a PC release, so I'm supporting it for that. On the flip I'm glad to hear it's not garbage.

pearlspade
pearlspade

No sake bottle? Madness! Damn this trailer had me cracking up this game looks like a lot of fun.

wizardboyus
wizardboyus

i'm actually really excited about this game. i trust vannord's criticism, and that trailer is hilarious (i love the old school NES aesthetic with the music and sound effects in those "cutscenes(?)"! i've been a ninja gaiden fan since the beginning, and loved how they kept the combat fresh, fluid, challenging, and stylized without having to add a 100 different quicktime events/animations...i didn't even try ninja gaiden 3 as everyone said the challenge was gone...but we could consider this as another entry in the series as it has..new setting, new weapons, new enemies, new characters, and a new protagonist!(?) I've been holdin on to my ps3, was not sure why, but i think i know now XD

there's still a bunch of great games that are gonna come out on last-gen systems! even with my new ps4, i only really play it when friends come over to see it. otherwise i've been spending a ton of time on my new 3DS and my ps3...there's still a catalogue of games that I haven't even tried! Journey for one...still can't believe I haven't played it..

stage4saiyan
stage4saiyan

Can we stop pretending to give a shit about the feminist agenda for one minute, please? If you're offended by the trailer, you need to grow a pair or gain a sense of humor. Seriously.

AK1015
AK1015

@Zeeksie I'm hoping for the best too. I understand and recognize that this isn't Ninja Gaiden, much how I see Ninja Gaiden 3 (RE or no) still not being Ninja Gaiden, but I can appreciate the hilarity I've heard in this game thus far and Yaiba does seem like a fun character. #FingersCrossed

Senor_Kami
Senor_Kami

@bmwz4yI don't know about all of that but I definitely think there's a place for these types of crass American Pie crude style games. 

meatz666
meatz666

@psuedospike lol

But come on, so every time we do an "edgy" game, it's Suda 51 rip off? He has the rights of it now?

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@tsunami2311 There was nothing wrong with Razor's Edge. Anyone who dogs on it hasn't played it, and if they have played it, they had no business playing Ninja Gaiden in the first place. It was a niche title from the beginning but NG3 was just as brutal and difficult and fun and interesting as the first game.

Maoxx
Maoxx

@tsunami2311 the original NG3 didn't have multiple weapons or even character progression, not to mention the combat felt automatic at times. T

jinzo9988
jinzo9988

@tsunami2311 Razor's Edge was the better version of the game.  It's not that far removed from NG3, but it does contain a lot of improvements just the same.

lordgodalming
lordgodalming

@stage4saiyan  "Can we stop pretending to give a shit about the feminist agenda for one minute, please?"

That's funny, I was just wishing we could stop pretending we DON'T give a shit about it. You, for example, care enough about it that you were motivated to leave a comment, just like I care enough that I'm commenting back to you. You and I may care in opposite directions, but we both care.

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@stage4saiyan You're right; everyone should have carte blanche so say whatever shitty things they want. It's up to everyone else to grow a pair and have a sense of humor. Got it. Also, doesn't that argument work the other way around? "If you're offended when someone criticizes a thing you like, you need to grow a pair. Seriously." I am just checking to see if that's how it's done. 

psuedospike
psuedospike

@meatz666 No, not every time...but, definitely this time.  I mean just look at it.

tsunami2311
tsunami2311

@Maoxx@tsunami2311 the combat feels automatic in 2 and 3 compared to 1 that argument is kinda moot, it just more flashy when take ones head or limb off

Edge15
Edge15

@Kevin-V I will say that I do find the whole politically correct thing annoying. Everyone wants others to cater to themselves without catering to anyone else's tastes. Most peoples attitudes have become the "I don't care if what I said offends you, but you better not offend me." If people could just realize that not everything that could be taken offensive should be taken that way, the world might just be a better place. However, in all our human arrogance, that may never happen. I'm just saying, if it offends you, don't watch, play, or listen to it. Just don't suck the fun out of it for everyone who happens to enjoy that type of humor. Of course, at the same time, people who do enjoy that humor shouldn't expect others to enjoy it as well and shouldn't try to force it on them.

Edge15
Edge15

@codac True, there must always be limits as to what to accept as a brand of humor and what not to do that with. You do bring up a good example, but if you don't like that kind of humor and he's consistent with it, would you really hang out with him again? I'm more talking about the self righteous behavior to it that has a tendency to make things worse. As I said, you don't have to participate in it if you don't like it. You always have the option to just leave or ask him to stop it while he is around you. There is just no reason to do that about every little thing.

CharlieSpot
CharlieSpot moderator

@Edge15 @Kevin-V If politically correct criticisms offend you then just ignore them; you're sucking the fun out of it for those of us who like politically correct criticisms.  

codac
codac

On the other side of the coin. Hanging out at a bar and listening to your mates drunk friend make 'n****r' jokes to the new guy why he nervously smiles and "takes it". Is not something I'm fond of, nor do I want to learn to appreciate said brand of humor.

meatz666
meatz666

@bamir0 @stage4saiyan If you notice, stage4saiyan wasn't being literal. He doesn't think Kevin VanOrd was born without testicles, and he needs to seek medical advice to make them fall. No. It's called "figure of speech". When @stage4saiyan says "gain sense of humor", he's not stating that's mandatory for someone to "acknowledge a new perception of comedy". He's just saying that it's a type of humour that some have, others don't. If you don't, get it, or ignore it. Just don't bash it because you don't get it or like it. 


But yes, you're completely right, since Kevin gave the "No, it's your mom!" and you went there running to like it...

bamir0
bamir0

@stage4saiyan I find it incredibly amusing when somebody exhorts others to "gain a sense of humour" because basically what you're saying is "laugh at the things I find funny" in the least humourous way possible.