Interview With Shinobi Developers

Noriyoshi Ohba and Takashi Uriu of Overworks discuss the PS2 revival of Sega's classic ninja series. How will it hold up to the 3D treatment?

Few companies try to please their fans more than Sega, and the software outfit didn?t disappoint at this year?s Electronic Entertainment Expo. With Crazy Taxi 3, ToeJam & Earl III, Panzer Dragoon Orta and a half dozen or so new sports titles out on the show floor, Sega?s booth was completely packed the whole show, both around the pavilion and inside the little enclave they had reserved for employees and media.

One of the show?s more pleasant surprises was Shinobi for the PlayStation 2, the newest game from the developers at Overworks. Sega only had a one-stage demo available on the floor, but what was there was already amazing: Hotsuma, the red and black-emblazoned hero of the game, slashed and teleported his way through a path leading to a medieval Japanese castle, chopping up evil ninjas and demented dogs along the way. It?s still a long way off, but Shinobi is already standing out among a suddenly ?crowded market for new ninja games.

The Shinobi design team is headed by Noriyoshi Ohba and Takashi Uriu, both of which have worked on the series since its arcade inception over 15 years ago. We managed to snag a couple minutes with the duo yesterday to find out what the game will look like once it?s gotten the full next-gen 3D graphical treatment.

GamePro: It?s been quite a few years since the last game in the Shinobi series. What was the impetus for bringing it back?
Noriyoshi Ohba: Well, I?ve been working on the Shinobi series pretty much from its beginnings back in the 1980s, but recently I?ve been too involved with other projects to get back to making a new one. That?s why we [Overworks] didn?t make any new Shinobi game for the Saturn or Dreamcast [Shinobi Legions for the Saturn was created by an outside developer]. It wasn?t until just this last year that I had some time and thought I?d tackle the series again.
Takashi Uriu: This initiative on our part started just as Sega was going multiplatform, so we also had the idea to take a big-name title from the past and do something brand new with it on next-generation systems. That?s how Shinobi got started.
GP: What made you choose the PlayStation 2 for the project?
O: The PS2 was the first console from this generation we were able to get our hands on, so it was kind of the natural choice for us. It?s also the most popular system on the market by a longshot; obviously that was a factor as well.
U: I also had some PS2 development experience with the Sakura Taisen series, so I was already pretty well-versed with what the system can do. It wasn?t a hard decision to make at all.

GP: The new Shinobi will be the first 100-percent 3D game in the series. Are you finding it hard to retain the old Shinobi flavor in the process?
O: Well, the big difference between a 2D Shinobi and a 3D one is the way the hero attacks enemies. In the old games, most players just fired off shurikens at enemies from far away. That?d be way too hard in 3D, so we have something like an auto-targeting system for shurikens this time. When you throw one, it?ll automatically hit an enemy as long as you?re in the right general direction; it?d be near impossible to hit anyone otherwise. Even so, you?ll probably use your sword far more often than shurikens in the new game.
U: The basic moves you have, the double shuriken jumps and so on, are essentially unchanged from the old games. Shinobi has always had this reputation for being very challenging, and to be honest I think most action games are way too easy nowadays (laughs), so I?d like to revive some of the challenge the genre used to have. If you?ve played the old Shinobi games, there?ll be a lot of nostalgia-filled moments for you here.

GP: The bosses in Shinobi games are mostly huge beasts or machines that take up the entire screen. The demo on the floor didn?t show any bosses, but what sort of enemies do you have in mind for the PS2 game?
O: Oh, they?ll be filling up the screen here, too. They?ll mostly be bigger than the screen, even. (laughs) We?ll be borrowing a lot from Japanese mythology and culture, as before, so you can expect to run into a large amount of different ninja-based and mystical enemies.
U: We?ll also have ninja magic, just like the originals, but we haven?t decided what types of magic will make the final cut quite yet. There?ll probably be lightning-based attacks, fire-based attacks, that sort of thing.

GP: Is the game set in the modern age again?
U: Yes. There?ll be a very long, kind of tragic story included in the game. We?re trying to avoid the typical "seek this secret item, then take it over to this guy" kind of story here; you'll see much more complex interpersonal relationships here.
GP: Do you only control one person through the entire game?
O: Right. The main character, Hotsuma, the guy from the demo, is the person you'll be controlling the entire game.

GP: The "ninja" genre is experiencing something of a boom recently. Just at this E3 alone we've seen Ninja Gaiden from Tecmo and The Last Ninja from Simon & Schuster Interactive. What do you think about the competition you're seeing all of a sudden?
O: Oh, well, Ninja Gaiden, who knows what that'll be like? (laughs)
U: I know I'm not alone here when I think to myself that ninjas can make a game cooler all by themselves. If you have a lot of ninjas in your game, more people will be interested. I'm glad that we're getting some competition, actually; I'm hoping the other games will bring some new perspective into the genre. Still, we're the originals here (laughs), so we're just going to do what we believe in.

GP: What E3 titles have caught your attention so far?
O: Oh, lots and lots. There's a ton of stuff that I'd like to play if I can get the time, but in the end it's gotta be Zelda. (laughs)
U: What's the name of that Old West game from Capcom? Red Dead Revolver? I think that looked really cool. It's kind of a shame we didn't get to see more of Devil May Cry 2, though.
GP: Well, we'd better let you go try out some more E3 games, then. Thanks a lot for your time!
U: Thanks.
O: No problem.

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