Set to release early next year, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z was announced late last year and other than a gameplay trailer here and there, things have remained rather quiet around this zombie slaying action title from the genius that brought the world both the Mega Man and Resident Evil series.
At this year’s Gamescom in Cologne, I sat down with Yaiba creator Keiji Inafune and Team Ninja’s Yosuke Hayashi to discuss how Ryu Hayabusa winds his way into the story. I also got a chance to ask about the possible future for the series and why Yabia isn’t just another entry into the Ninja Gaiden series.
So, first things first, what led to the decision to merge Yaiba with Ninja Gaiden?
Keiji Inafune: The initial idea was to have it connected to Ninja Gaiden. I wanted to create a ninja action game, but one with zombies in a Ninja Gaiden world. There was no thought about merging with the series, [the idea] was just there the whole time.
Yosuke Hayashi: The initial concept pitch that Team Ninja received from Inafune-san it was written that Yaiba was cut by Hayabusa. From the very beginning it’s been one of the core concepts.
Ah, that’s reassuring, but what’s the story behind why there’s an entire outbreak of zombies across the world?
KI: We can’t really say the origins of the zombies at this point, but as the game starts with the duel between [Ryu] Hayabusa and Yaiba where you see his body cut in half. Since then Yaiba is rescued by this mysterious person and outfits him with a cyborg eye and arm.
That person sends him on a mission and, while Yaiba isn’t one to always do what he’s told, he realises that this person can switch off the power to his body at any moment – so he does what he’s told. The mission shows him going to one part of Eastern Europe that’s overrun by zombies, but the reasons for that outbreak, and how that works its way into the narrative and his mission, becomes clear in the course of the story.
Did this story shape the decision behind Yaiba’s comic styling, as opposed to a more realistic vision?
KI: We were certainly looking to do something new, we were really focused on creating an art style for Yaiba that just works on its own. In looking at different art styles and visual references, one thing that really stuck with [the team] was The Walking Dead.
We hadn’t really thought of zombies and comic books as a good match, but looking at what The Walking Dead did and the success that it had – along with being a really good zombie story along with being a comic book – showed us it could be done. It was a really big hint to go for a comic book style.
Comic books also allows you to do different things. For example, we have a world of zombies and ninjas and that’s allowed to coexist in the world of comics. Also, having the amount of blood we have on screen, if you were to do that with a realistic look then it would be pretty horrific, disgusting and disturbing. But in the context of a comic book visual it becomes cool and interesting.
As a big Ninja Gaiden fan, I’m curious to know if the Ninja Gaiden Z element is canon, or is it just a spinoff from the franchise?
YH: Yaiba is really it’s own thing within the Ninja Gaiden universe. But it’s not at any particular spot in the storyline, we’re just sharing the world view instead. Obviously, Yaiba does share a connection with Ryu Hayabusa so there are elements that we do share with Ninja Gaiden – the Hayabusa in Yaiba is the same Hayabusa from the Ninja Gaiden series, that won’t ever change. There are also some other elements in the game that, if you know Ninja Gaiden, will be familiar to you.
Does this mean that Yaiba’s story and elements may well make their way into a future Ninja Gaiden game?
YH: Well, we’d love to see Yaiba and Hayabusa as the top two ninja’s in the world, and so if we can bring Yaiba into that level of appreciation then it would be a lot of fun to have that [crossover feature] in future games. But, in order to do that, we need to make Yaiba as successful [as Ninja Gaiden].
How about an appearance in the Dead or Alive series?
YH: If we can make Yaiba popular enough, and they want that, then quite possibly we would see about doing that.
As there’s a crossover in universes, does Yaiba share any more elements with Ninja Gaiden – such as gameplay mechanics like Nippon?
KI: It’s actually very different from Ninja Gaiden as we’re focusing on making it entirely its own thing and so we really didn’t want to be tied to that series. There are challenging action sections, but they’ll fit within the action Yaiba provides, not Ninja Gaiden. For example, when you’re fighting the zombies and grabbing weapons and using that metal arm of Yaiba’s, it’s a different system and set of mechanics going on compared to Ninja Gaiden.
Are there any plans to integrate a multiplayer component to Yaiba or is it purely single-player with content coming later too?
KI: We’re really focused on the single-player, so there’s no multiplayer element at all. As for downloadable content, we’re still developing the game and we’re focused on finishing it up. Therefore we’re not even thinking about what we can provide as DLC, if any at all.
Were you not tempted to bring Yaiba to next generation consoles too?
YH: Right now we’re definitely focused on releasing on current gen consoles, but we are in discussions about what if we brought it to next-gen consoles: what would we do, what features we could add etc. Those are just brainstorm discussions and there’s nothing solid there.