Ninja Gaiden II: Q&A with Tomonobu Itagaki

Team Ninja's Tomonobu Itagaki talks to GameSpot UK at the European press event for Ninja Gaiden II about the game, its characters, weapons, locations, and more.

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Most action genre fans should be familiar with Tecmo's Tomonobu Itagaki. As head ninja for its Team Ninja group, Itagaki-san has been responsible for killer franchise Dead or Alive and the rebirth of classic franchise Ninja Gaiden, which he brought back to life on the Xbox in 2004.

Itagaki is also recognised as being a rather unorthodox Japanese developer, supporting Microsoft's consoles over its Japanese rivals, and being no stranger to controversy. Recently in London to promote the upcoming Ninja Gaiden II on Xbox 360, Itagaki sat down with a group of industry journalists to discuss his upcoming title.

GameSpot UK: How does the difficulty of this game compare to previous iterations?

Tomonobu Itagaki: If you like action games you should be able to play it all the way through. In previous Ninja Gaidens you really had to be hardcore. You not only had to be [well] versed in action games, but you had to know about fighting games and other things too, to understand how the combat worked. Here, what we're looking for...to give an example from another publisher...Onimusha...if you're able to beat one of those [games], you should be able to make it through this, obviously your skill increasing as you go along.

GSUK: Can you talk about some of the different weapons in the game? How many are there in total? Are there different levels to them?

TI: There are a total of eight weapons, and you pick them up as you go along. You can go to...shop[s] scattered in several places in each stage where you can go to the blacksmith and have him rework your weapons to make them stronger. There's, on average, three power levels to each weapon, and the visuals change as well as the number of moves that you can do.

Another important thing that I'd like to note is unlike in [the] previous Ninja Gaiden, in Ninja Gaiden II, once you've completed the game on a difficulty level with all your weapons, you'll be able to start a new game on the same difficulty and keep all of those weapons. So, if it's a weapon that you haven't gotten until later on in the game, and you want to use it right away, you'll be able to do that from the second play through, so we think that really helps with replay value as well.

Another thing that we believed was the case in Ninja Gaiden was that while you received a lot of different weapons throughout the game, you always kind of fell back on the Dragon Sword--the standard single sword--because it always felt like the most stable, the most powerful, and had the widest number of moves.

In order to counteract that with NGII, what we've tried to do is make every weapon unique and powerful in its own right, so they feel differently--some are faster, some are slower--but they all have a breadth of moves in order that you could play the entire game through with any of the weapons. We think that people are more likely to find a weapon that they really like and stick to that one, rather than falling back on the Dragon Sword all the time.

GSUK: What's your favourite weapon?

TI: I think it would be the dual swords. I won't get into details as I don't want to spoil the surprise, but let's just say that the dual swords play a very important part in the story of the game as well.

GSUK: We saw Sonia in your demonstration. Is she going to be a playable character like Rachel was, in Ninja Gaiden Sigma?

TI: First of all I'd like to point out real quickly that the playable Rachel in Ninja Gaiden Sigma was something that was done by a junior member of Team Ninja and I didn't really have any involvement in Ninja Gaiden Sigma for PlayStation 3 because I was working on this title. That being said, I think Ninja Gaiden is the story of Ryu Hayabusa and of his journey and, particularly, I didn't think that the Rachel playable aspect in Sigma was done very well. Here what we're trying to show is how cool Ryu can be with all his different weapons. Sonia is mainly a supporting character that provides a function within the story.

She uses machine guns and bazookas and things like that. If we were going to feature her as a playable character, we'd have to make a game like Gears of War.

GSUK: How many levels are there in the game? Can you tell us a bit about the different locales, and why you've chosen to go where you have, across the world?

TI: As many of you know, I've spent a long time working on the Dead or Alive series in which the stage plays a part as eye candy. It's a place that you say, "Hey, that looks really cool, I'd like to fight there." And that's something that I kind of want to bring to this game by saying: Where would it be cool to have Ryu Hayabusa fighting? Where would it be cool to have him running around as a ninja?

In the first game, because everything was really tightly confined by story, you had the city that the fiends had taken over and you went to various areas of the city and a lot of it was very demonic themed--I thought that was a little bit constrictive. So what we've tried to do here is basically think of a number of locations--I want some with rain, I want some that's bright and sunny--instead [of] a lot of the dark areas from the first game, and basically think about how to create a variety of places in which Ryu can fight, to give pleasure visually. A lot of colours, light, and things like that, and that was really the main goal behind choosing various real-world inspired locations for the game.

Getting back to your original question, there are 14 chapters in total, and they take place in various locations around the globe. You basically hop the globe to different areas to save them from the clutches of these monsters, and later on in the game you descend deeper into the underworld where things are much more fantasy-based, so we feel we have a nice progression there, visually.

GSUK: Have you ever considered doing a London-inspired level?

TI: We really wanted to include an area that had a lot of water-based gameplay, either in a river or canal or something. In Ninja Gaiden II you're able to run on top of the water, and fight on top of the water, so it's something we wanted to do. We considered London as part of that, but ultimately Ryu destroys everything in his path, basically, and we didn't really want to be responsible for destroying all the old architecture here in the city, so we decided to be a little bit more politically correct there and we have a stage inspired by Venice--we can't say it is Venice--and that's our water-based stage. I'm always looking at what areas make good stages.

GSUK: Will this be the last in the Ninja Gaiden saga?

TI: I've really put all of my heart and soul into making this the definitive game in the Ninja Gaiden franchise. I personally don't intend to make any more games in the series.

This is a game that we've basically built from the ground up. We threw away everything we had from the first game, improved on what was good, and changed what was bad. It has been a long project, it's been close to three years in the making, so I really think we were able to accomplish everything that we wanted to achieve for this franchise. In story chronology as well, this takes place after the first Ninja Gaiden for Xbox and then after the story of this game it leads into the old NES ones, so I think we have a nice continuity there.

Maybe some of you will get the reference but Sonia, in NGII, is a CIA agent, and her name in this game is Sonia, but who knows if that is really her true name or not?

GSUK: Have you considered what you'll do next?

TI: I love the action game genre, in particular I'm very focused on the movement, the animation. One of the precepts I always have for my games is making sure that the animation of all the characters is fluid and as cool looking as it can be. So I think I'm going to continue to explore the action genre and do something that [will] allow me to go in directions that I haven't been able to go [in] with the Ninja Gaiden series, [albeit] with an entirely new franchise.

Watch our exclusive video interview with Tomonobu Itagaki here.

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