Ninja Gaiden director Tomonobu Itagaki has returned to game development with a newly-formed studio, he’s revealed.
In a post published on his Facebook page, the designer revealed he’s established Itagaki Games, a new studio unrelated to his former employers Tecmo and Valhalla.
“For the past four years, I’ve been teaching job to foster juniors, but now I feel like I want to make a game again and just established a company for that purpose,” he wrote.
The 53-year-old designer and his Ninja Gaiden team were behind Tecmo’s biggest games for nearly two decades, including the Dead or Alive series and the Xbox reboot of Ninja Gaiden.
However, Itagaki had a very public falling out with his employer following the release of Ninja Gaiden II in 2008, which saw him leave the company and file a $1 million lawsuit alleging unpaid bonuses and “disingenuous statements”.
After the split, Itagaki founded Valhalla Game Studios, the developer behind the critically-panned Wii U title Devil’s Third. In 2017, he resigned from his director position and took on an advisory role.
Devil’s Third was a rare deviation from Xbox platforms for Itagaki, but even that game was originally intended to be an Xbox 360 exclusive, according to the designer, with Microsoft said to have partially funded the formation of Valhalla. Due to the company’s shift to focus on Kinect, Devil’s Third eventually switched to THQ (and later, Nintendo).
Thanks to original Xbox hits Dead or Alive 3 and Ninja Gaiden, Itagaki remains a key figure in the history of the platform and recently contributed to a Bloomberg feature marking Xbox’s 20th anniversary.
Itagaki’s Facebook comments came from an unedited interview he originally submitted for the feature, which the designer said he wouldn’t have contributed if weren’t for the large number of Xbox fans anticipating his next game.
Asked if he would consider working with Microsoft again in the future, Itagaki said he’d be “honoured” to join up with his old partner.
“I would start again with questions that I made to [original Xbox designer] Seamus [Blackley] two decades ago,” he wrote. “Back then, I asked him, ‘are you confident that you will beat PS2?’ and he said, ‘Yes. Xbox is called Project Midway and I’ll gain the supremacy with it.’
“That’s why I trusted him and actually created Xbox-exclusive games for about ten years. 20 years have passed since then, and I established my own company, Itagaki Games, which is not Tecmo, nor Valhalla. I know Microsoft is still aggressive. If they reach out to me, it will be an honor for me.”
Xbox has openly expressed a desire to acquire an Asian game developer, “in particular a Japanese studio”, on multiple occasions.
According to a November 2020 Bloomberg report, Xbox is continuing discussions with Japanese game developers ‘big and small’ as it continues its search for studio acquisitions in the country, with several Japanese companies privately indicating that they had been approached by Microsoft about buying their businesses.
Microsoft is making renewed efforts in Japan with its latest console launch. Xbox Series X and S launched day-and-date with other territories on November 10 (compared to a year later with its previous console) and Xbox boss Phil Spencer has said it intends to better cater to Japanese players this console generation.