Why 'Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z' is far more than just 'Ninja Gaiden' with zombies

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, a collaboration between Team Ninja and Keiji Inafune's new company Comcept, was one of the neater new announcements at last week's Tokyo Game Show. The fact that it exists at all, though, is a testament to the powers of dumb luck.

"When I launched Comcept, I decided that I would create original-brand titles," Inafune told Famitsu magazine in an interview published this week. "I didn't want to make a sequel in a series that had already been established. However, there was one game where I didn't think that, and that was Ninja Gaiden. I had heard that Onimusha was one of the inspirations for that series, and that really impressed me. I've played them, of course, and I wanted to make a ninja-themed game of my own. What's more, Tecmo Koei is a very flexible publisher, one with an eye towards overseas as they work on games. Comcept is a small company, so we have to team with someone or else making games will be difficult. So when I met with [Team Ninja head Yosuke] Hayashi, I presented a plan for making a new Ninja Gaiden."

"I felt destiny at work here, actually," Hayashi added. "There was actually a concept for a sort of zombie version of Ninja Gaiden that had been floating around the company in the past. The thing is that nobody in Team Ninja at the time had what you could call a 'love for zombies'. I thought it'd be too difficult to handle, and then half a year later, I had a chance to meet Inafune, and he presents this idea to combine zombies with Ninja Gaiden. I thought 'Hey, I've heard this before,' and it went really smoothly after that."

Team Ninja showed off some footage at TGS of brand-new hero Kamikaze Yaiba ("I wanted a name that was not only cool, but very stereotypical," Inafune explained) mowing down undead foes while exhibiting a cel-shaded look reminiscent of American comics. What kind of game is it, though? "My first thought was to take the good things about Ninja Gaiden, this well-loved series with a lot of history, and make it into as different a game as possible," said Inafune. "Of course I wanted to take advantage of the world setting and excitement the series has nurtured over the years, but above that, I wanted to make a Ninja Gaiden that felt different from before. Something Team Ninja couldn't do alone. I wanted to show off the chemical reaction that occurs when you mix up these two themes; that had to be at the forefront, or else there was no point in me being involved."

The way Inafune put it, putting something really new into the series is part of the reason why he enlisted California-based developer Spark Unlimited to work on Yaiba. "They're a company that's been involved with past projects of mine," he said. "They've got great technology, and they're really compatible with Japanese developers."

"This was also kind of fate at work," admitted Hayashi. "I received this really extensive Ninja Gaiden project proposal from a director at Spark a few years ago; he really loved the series. Discussions at the time didn't go much of anywhere, but when I met the director when Inafune and I visited Spark, it turns out it was the same guy who sent that proposal to me. So me and Inafune are the producers and we have the final say on decisions, and there are directors in Team Ninja, Comcept and Spark. We're throwing ideas around and conducting lots of meetings as we make this."

It all looks pretty nice, but when can we play it? "It won't be this year," Inafune laughed. "We're aiming for 2013. For the platform, we can only say that it'll be in the console market for now."

"We decided to announce this title now," Hayashi explained, "because we think we're already at a point where we can be confident about it. We wanted to unleash a lot of info at once while media from around the world were gathered at TGS. We'll need some more time before we release anything further, but until then I hope people play the rest of Tecmo and Inafune's titles while they're waiting."

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