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With a new generation of consoles underway, 2021 could be an exciting year for Team Ninja.
Many fans believe that one such announcement could be the revival of the Ninja Gaiden series, which hasn’t had a mainline instalment since 2012’s Ninja Gaiden 3, which Yasuda served as director.
Ahead of Nioh 2: Complete Edition’s release, VGC had the opportunity to speak to Yasuda about completing that game’s development, the series’ future and what the studio plans on doing next in this new console generation.
Nioh 2 first launched in February 2020 just before the start of the global pandemic. How much of an impact has this had for Team Ninja since?
Yasuda: Team Ninja is well known for making action games. When developing an action game, it’s really important to have the team together, being able to play and interact with it together and see each other’s reactions. But after all the issues with COVID, that’s really not something you can experience as much anymore, so we had to transition to remote work, working from home, less people in the office – which has been the case around the world. That’s definitely been a big change for our development process.
It was relatively easier to be producing the Nioh 2 DLC expansions and the remastered Complete Edition because we already had the main game finished. The base game and all the gameplay had already been done just as the situation with COVID started around the world. So that was a good base for us to build off of, and definitely easier than a completely new project. That said, with the first DLC, we were still transitioning into this new way of working. But after progressing through the other DLC content, as well as the remaster, it became easier and easier as we started to pick up the pace and were able to get really well adjusted to this new style of working.
With the release of the Nioh Collection and Complete Editions, does that mean Nioh as a series is also complete?
With Nioh CE and Nioh 2 CE, the story that we had built has come to an end. It’s reached a good point in the story where all the loose ends are tied up, so there are no plans for a sequel at this point. Of course, it’s something that is still possible in the future and that we will consider at a later date. But players can really enjoy the full story of Nioh with Nioh CE and Nioh 2 CE.
Last year we also saw the release of samurai game Ghost of Tsushima on PS4, which pays tribute to the films of Akira Kurosawa – including an actual ‘Kurosawa mode’, but it’s interesting that Nioh actually began as an unfinished Kurosawa project. Can you talk about how this came to be a Team Ninja game and how much of that idea had remained intact?
Originally, that definitely was the case, but through the development process, Nioh really just became its own original story, with the main character William, then of course with the Sengoku period and all the yokai influence in it. But I am a fan of Kurosawa’s work so there probably is some influence in the game from that perspective.
The first Nioh had an interesting choice of William as the protagonist – had it been a Western developer, there would have likely been criticisms of ‘whitewashing’. Was this a peculiar decision for the team and were there any strong reactions from Japanese players towards having a Western white character in a Japanese game?
The team was trying to base a lot of the aspects of Nioh on historical fact, so adding William Adams into the game, that kind of was a natural progression of just looking at history and trying to find what aspects to add in. It was kind of a big mystery and odd to have this individual from England coming in and then working under a Shogun and being in that Sengoku period as a samurai, as a Westerner coming into Japan. So just trying to make a story around how he came to Japan and the reasons for him becoming a samurai worked really well for the story.
Even as a Japanese person, looking back at the Sengoku period, that was such a different time. It was so long ago that, regardless if it’s a Japanese individual or someone from the West being the main character in the story, it still doesn’t change too much in that regard, just because it is such a different world that no one really has experienced and no one has access to at this point. So to the dev team that really didn’t change that much, but with a Western character as the main character, there is kind of something that does stand out there as opposed to a more orthodox Samurai story. In regards to the Japanese users in general, we didn’t really see much of a reaction in that regard, so it didn’t really stick out too much as an issue.
Was that reception (or criticism) a reason behind letting players create their own character in Nioh 2?
The character creation aspect of Nioh 2 really gave players a higher level of freedom to create exactly how they wanted to look in the game. So that was a really important point to allow everyone to have their own experience, but there is still a specific story that you are going through and the character of Hideyoshi is a set aspect of the game. So there’s a balance of both being able to create your own character with a high level of freedom but also taking this creator through a set story.
“With Nioh CE and Nioh 2 CE, the story that we had built has come to an end. It’s reached a good point in the story where all the loose ends are tied up, so there are no plans for a sequel at this point.”
One particularly interesting historical character is Yasuke the Black Samurai, who’s getting his own anime on Netflix, while there’s also an upcoming film that the late Chadwick Boseman had originally been attached to star in. Especially with more Black characters taking a lead role in games (e.g. Spider-man: Miles Morales), is there a chance we might see a Nioh spin-off or sequel with Yasuke?
Yasuke was actually a character in the Nioh series from the beginning since the planning documents. But we’ve really done as much as we can with the Sengoku period at this point, so I’m not really sure that he’d be the perfect fit for his own game to go back through that period again. But I’m a really big fan of the character of Yasuke as well, so I can understand why there’s anime and films making him the star because he really is such a fascinating character.
Are there no plans for another Nioh game because you’ve exhausted the Sengoku period, or does that mean any future instalment might be in another setting?
Even in Nioh 2, we’ve actually gone outside of the Sengoku period, such as going into the Heian period in the DLC expansion. So there’s no specific ties to the Sengoku period that we feel like we have to abide by. So it’s definitely possible for a potential sequel in the Nioh series to be in a different time period or even a completely different setting, and that’s something we’d like to take a challenge with in the future.
With the whole Nioh series coming to PC and PS5, can we expect a release on Xbox Series X/S too?
[laughs] There are no current plans for the Nioh series to be on Xbox consoles at this point, but of course the Ninja Gaiden series has had a long history on Microsoft‘s consoles. So if there was to be a new title in the Ninja Gaiden series in the future, we’d definitely like that to be on Xbox consoles.
Are there plans for a new Ninja Gaiden game then?
[laughs] No plans currently, but I’ve always wanted to make a new instalment in the series, so here’s hoping for that!
There’s certainly a bit of overlap of characters appearing across Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo’s games (e.g. Ninja Gaiden, Dead of Alive, Fatal Frame). Given the trend of studios and brands tying everything to the same universe, is a ‘Team Ninja Universe’ on the cards?
There’s a lot of people on various projects that are working together who may share between the different titles that they’re working on at Team Ninja, so naturally there are going to be characters that are going to be appearing in different titles. In some cases, that’s something that they make an effort for or in some cases it’s kind of a natural progression. But if we were to make a new series or title that has characters from all of these worlds appear all of a sudden, it may make the story a little too messy. So it would be better to have them appear as DLC or in a kind of sequel.
Having now developed for PS5 already with the Nioh Collection, what aspect of new-gen hardware do you think is going to be the most important for you and the studio?
The controller is a very important aspect for core gamers as that’s what you’re using so much when you’re playing a game on a console. So the DualSense’s adaptive triggers and haptic feedback are really interesting and those are going to be some big points moving forward. But the SSD is actually probably the biggest point I’m interested in just because the load times are going to be made so much smaller, which, for example, is going to open up new avenues for open world games being even more accessible to developers.
Is an open world game something Team Ninja wants to do next then?
There’s definitely no specific plans to speak of at this time, but Team Ninja as a whole would specifically like to take on the open world genre. But we feel at this point that there haven’t really been open world games with a lot of intensity, which are really action-packed from beginning to end. So we’d like to actually take that on as a potential challenge in the future, and try to put a new spin on the open world genre in that regard.