We get an update on this remake of a classic, straight from the developers at Overworks.
The Shinobi franchise was one of Sega's pillars in the late '80s as the company began making its move toward home consoles. The series showed off Sega's ability to take advantage of its own hardware--both in the arcades and on its home consoles--through three memorable games. But following a sketchy appearance on the Saturn, the series dropped out of sight. However, with the company's multiplatform development strategy in full swing, the franchise has been tapped to appear on the PlayStation 2. Featuring a full 3D world and updated gameplay mechanics, Shinobi is looking quite sharp. Since the game's first showing at E3, developer Overworks has made great strides in polishing Shinobi. The build of the game shown at this past Tokyo Game Show offered a profound improvement over the E3 build, and it looked very promising indeed. We had a chance to catch up with the game's producer, Takashi Uriu, and find out how the game is coming together.
GameSpot: Why did you decide to do another Shinobi game?
Takashi Uriu: We actually had a plan around the time of the Dreamcast, but Sega's multiplatform adoption changed that. So we wanted to do something big and exciting for our [Overworks'] entrance into the PlayStation 2 market, and it was decided Shinobi would be best suited for the platform.
GS: When did development start on the game?
TU: Roughly since May of last year.
GS: How big is the team working on it?
TU: About 50 people or so.
GS: What other games have they worked on?
TU: Skies of Arcadia and Sakura Wars.
GS: What do you feel was the best Shinobi game in the series?
TU: Probably Shadow Dancer or Revenge of Shinobi.
GS: What was the biggest challenge you faced in bringing the series to 3D?
TU: Well, in the past, the main combat element in the game was to throw the shuriken. However, bringing the series into 3D has changed the fighting component of the game a little and emphasized face-to-face combat as opposed to ranged attacks, so we had to balance that out.
GS: Were there ever any thoughts to make the game 2D?
TU: No, I wanted to make the game in 3D from the very beginning. I wouldn't say 3D is better than 2D, but since Shinobi is an action game that focuses on athletic action, we thought that 3D would allow us to make exciting gameplay that captured that.
GS: Has it turned out to be the game you originally intended it to be?
TU: Well the original concept is still the same. All the directors, including myself, shared the same vision of what we wanted to accomplish in the game.
GS: What are the key gameplay elements you feel define a Shinobi game?
TU: Well it's difficult to explain those elements. However, this game has double-jumping and eight-way shooting, and we actually played the games and listened to the advice from the original developer. So we've inherited those Shinobi elements that way.
GS: Can you explain a bit more about the gameplay mechanics such as the tate and the Hotsuma sword affecting his health?
TU: Well let me explain the sword first. You'll come to a point where the sword starts absorbing Hotsuma's spirit. He has to fight to feed it energy from his opponents. If he doesn't keep it fed, then it will start to consume his soul. We did this because of the trend in action games these days to avoid combat with enemies once you spot them. We wanted to encourage players to fight enemies and keep the action moving. The tate represents the beauty of Japanese sword fighting and gives you something to work for. You feel an accomplishment when you perform the move. That dynamic aspect of gameplay reminded me of Japanese samurais that I'd admired since I was a kid.
Protection From the Elements
GS: Why did you include the scarf?
TU: It looked cool [laughs]. Most of the time when you play a game you're spending most of your time looking at the back of a player. We wanted to give players something interesting to look at. Most games don't really take that into consideration.
GS: Will he be able to use magic like in previous Shinobi games? Will the explosive ninja spell be included?
TU: Well, they're mostly changed. Since we changed from 2D to 3D we couldn't leave them the same--there had to be more to them. There's a flame attack that covers a whole area. Kamaitaichi, which is a wind attack, and Muteki, which is a lightning shield.
GS: Were there any gameplay mechanics you wanted to include but didn't have time to?
TU: Well we'd wanted to do more with combat when you're running on the walls, but it was challenging to do so. It's something that we'll expand on in the next one. There were a lot of other things I wanted to do as well, like using vehicles like a motorcycle and trying another game system as well, but I decided that this installment of the series should focus on the basics to ensure we got it right.
GS: Have you been able to get the performance you'd like out of the hardware?
TU: I think the performance is good. I don't think that a game that has good graphical performance is necessarily a good game. What matters is the content. If your game is entertaining, then that's what's really important.
GS: Will there be hidden things in the game to reward players who explore the areas?
TU: You're going to find Oboro clan coins, and you can unlock things in the game like a hidden mode and maybe play as a different character.
GS: Who is doing the music for the game?
TU: It's being done by Wavemaster, an internal division in Sega.
GS: Did you feel that it was important to have music that was reminiscent of Yuzo Koshiro's work?
TU: I think Yuzo Koshiro's music for the previous games suit them very well. But I felt that this Shinobi needed a different style of music.
GS: Will we see enemies or other elements from the original games incorporated into this game?
TU: Those people who played the original Shinobi games will notice some, although there aren't many.
GS: What more can you tell us about the game's story?
TU: Well I can just give you a synopsis since I don't want to give away too much. Hotsuma is fighting against reanimated bodies of his Oboro clan members. But as you go through you'll discover that there's a reason for that happening.
GS: What are you proudest of in the game?
TU: Well it's hard to pick something right now since the game isn't done yet. But what I can tell you is that there are 50 people working on this game, and they've all managed to work together to create something that I think will please fans of the original Shinobi games.
GS: Thanks for your time, Takashi.
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