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Keiji Inafune explains the origins of 'Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z' and its Western roots

Yaiba Keiji Inafune
Yaiba Keiji Inafune

Keiji Inafune talks about the origins of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, his collaboration with Team Ninja and Spark Unlimited.

The creator of Mega Man and Dead Rising now has his hands on Ninja Gaiden, after a fashion, thanks to his collaboration with Team Ninja. Keiji Inafune's development company Comcept is teaming up with Team Ninja and developer Spark Unlimited to create Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.

Inafune and Team Ninja head Yosuke Hayashi unveiled the title earlier this week, a console game that will pit ninja against ninja against zombie. Much of the game is still a mystery, but Inafune tells Polygon that the game is already playable and that development is progressing well.

"It's going to be a game that's not about just slashing and action," he said. "It's going to be taking in the goodness of Ninja Gaiden, so it's going to be a different and new action game."

Following his departure from Capcom in 2010, Inafune says he approached publishers with various concepts, noting that the one franchise he was particularly interested in working with was Ninja Gaiden. The game's publisher Tecmo Koei, he says, was receptive to the idea.

He had to persuade them that the company should collaborate with a non-Japanese studio, a rarity for Tecmo Koei, on Yaiba.

"I convinced them that, since we're looking to make a successful game in the Western world, we have to start working with Western developers," Inafune said in an interview at Tokyo Game Show. "I would be the one to gather the three teams [Comcept, Team Ninja and Spark Unlimited], which was a brand new experience for Tecmo Koei."

Inafune said that in order to make a game with global appeal, he wanted to work with a Western studio, but that in order to make an authentic ninja game, direction had to come from a Japanese developer.

"It had to be a good mixture to appeal to a worldwide audience," Inafune said. "Also I wanted to work with people that I can feel comfortable saying anything to. It had to be a team that can really communicate. I've worked with Spark before while I was at Capcom, this dev knows how to work with Japanese developers."

Spark Unlimited is also working on Lost Planet 3, a project that began while Inafune was still at Capcom.

Inafune explained that Yaiba — the name of the game's ninja protagonist — means "blade" in Japanese. The kanji for Yaiba (刃) is part of the larger kanji (忍) for "ninja," and that the main character's full name is Yaiba Kamikaze.

"Ryu Hayabusa — that's a very straightforward name, simple and cool," Inafune said. "I had to come up with a name that could be equally cool." Hence, Yaiba Kamikaze, a name he hopes appeals to gamers both in Japan and in the West.

Inafune, notorious for declaring Japanese video game development dead, said earlier this week that game creators in his native country have the opportunity to rebound, but only with lessons learned from non-Japanese developers.

"The state of the Japanese gaming industry hasn't changed," Inafune said, "but with some help from Western developers and Team Ninja I want to prove that I'm making the industry better and heading in a better direction. I'm not just saying it's dead, I'm taking action and I'm going to prove that the Japanese gaming industry can recover."

"It's undead," he joked.

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