Slicing, dicing, slashing, shinobi…and seppuku?
Over the past few months, we’ve seen hints of the new-look Ryu Hayabusa in Ninja Gaiden 3—the so-called “Japanese dark hero” that Team Ninja promises to unleash in the wake of the outspoken Tomonobu Itagaki’s 2008 departure. But the developer recently unveiled a new element in this shinobi slasher: competitive multiplayer ninja action. Amidst all the slicing and dicing, what stuck out to me wasn’t the ninja-on-ninja action, though—it was the option to “die with honor” when you’re at the brink of death.
That’s right—Ninja Gaiden 3 allows you to commit seppuku.
This, obviously, is quite the recipe for a culture clash, as seppuku was ingrained in Japanese culture through the 19th century. Westerners have typically held very different views on not just suicide in general, but self-inflicted death on the battlefield in particular. In fact, history documents several early Western visitors to Japan who were shocked at the gory sight of Japanese ritual suicide.
Thankfully, Ninja Gaiden 3’s battlefield seppuku won’t be quite so dramatic and bloody as to cause a refined 19th-century English nobleman to recoil in horror. While you won’t get any specific bonuses from a successful suicide other than denying your opponent a point in battle, Team Ninja leader Yosuke Hayashi says that his team didn’t approach the concept lightly—they actively sought out Western opinions to ensure that these segments were handled with care.
“Being Japanese developers, we had a certain image of what seppuku is, and a certain feel for what that entails,” Hayashi says. “We just really didn’t know what that would be like for Westerners—how much they knew and if they could get it or how they would feel about it, so we actually asked as many people as we could how they felt about it. The response we got was actually very interesting—they didn’t seem to be offended or take it too seriously. So, I think the Japanese side of things was a lot more worried about how it could be interpreted. For the Westerners, it came as a sort of light side action that you can do without a whole lot of baggage there.”
One of the other big changes fans will see comes with Ninja Gaiden 3’s narrative, penned by NES Ninja Gaiden scenario writer Masato Kato. After months of solely showing off the game’s London stage, Team Ninja recently unveiled a second area: Dubai. Or, rather, the extreme outskirts of Dubai in the Rub’ al-Khali desert on the Arabian peninsula (also recently seen in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, of course). Here, Hayabusa confronts bazooka-wielding off-roaders and cloaked Ezio Auditore lookalikes who cast literal brick walls of protection against oncoming attacks—a definite step up in challenge from the London stage’s mostly mindless drones.
Also seen in this sequence is Hayabusa’s new right-hand woman, Mizuki McCloud, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Irene Lew, the CIA operative who performed the same role in the NES classics. In fact, the resemblance was so striking to me that I made sure to confirm that, yes, they definitely aren’t the same person (even though Irene did technically appear in Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden II under an alias, it doesn’t appear that Team Ninja feels completely beholden to his narrative anymore, especially with Kato now onboard).
“She’s a member of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in the Special Security Unit, which is sort of like a clandestine operation in the Japanese military,” Hayashi says. “She’s there to provide backup for Hayabusa in all the missions; she herself will play a key role in the story, and those events will be clear once you actually play the game.”
These elements definitely give Ninja Gaiden 3 the vibe of the NES versions with a current-gen coat of paint, and after several hands-on sessions over the past few months, it’s clear this transitional entry will definitely split fans down the middle. For people like myself who grew up with Ninja Gaiden on the NES and never totally embraced Itagaki’s sometimes self-indulgent vision of the franchise, this transition might be easier to swallow—particularly with a credible Ninja Gaiden veteran like Kato involved. But for players who’ve taken to Itagaki’s interpretation of Ninja Gaiden, it’s clear they view this as a dumbing down of the intense challenge and hardcore action for which the series has become known in recent years. Hayashi understands that sentiment but is confident his team will eventually win over that segment of the audience.
“If people want to play an Itagaki game, they’re more than welcome to play a game that he creates from here on out,” he says. “We have no ill will toward that. For Ninja Gaiden series fans, we’re confident we’ve made a game that will appease them. If they’re worried about Ninja Gaiden without Itagaki, we want them to play the game. If it feels like Ninja Gaiden, and if it’s something they enjoy, then we did our job. And we think that, right now, we have a game that lives up to the series.”