Cognition Dissemination: A Reformed Team Ninja

Like anyone who takes the gaming hobby seriously (perhaps too seriously), there are always plenty of upcoming titles I’m looking forward to. Just the same, the potential quality of some titles is a big concern, as you never want a game you’re anticipating to turn out disappointing. A key title among those is Nioh, the newest action game from Team Ninja, due for release worldwide this week. Despite how good it’s looked from trailers, and how well it played from the Alpha and Beta demos, I still felt there was a chance the final product wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny throughout its duration.

The problem is how inconsistent Team Ninja has been in nearly the last decade. Ninja Gaiden designer Tomonobu Itagaki left the company immediately after Ninja Gaiden II released for Xbox 360 in 2008, and took a significant amount of staff members with him. Team Ninja, however, wanted to remain in the business of developing games as they were, and had to hire new staff. It was already tough for the Itagaki-less version of the company to live down their reputation after Ninja Gaiden fans were divided over the quality of the enhanced “Sigma” versions of the first two titles. But dislike for the company rocketed after Ninja Gaiden III released, one of the worst games in Tecmo’s history. While the enhanced “Razor’s Edge” version of NGIII was an improvement, it was still flawed to the core.

Despite problems with NG, Dead or Alive 5 and its enhanced progeny turned out well. The new Team Ninja was only struggling with action games, and desperately needed new staff and team leadership to make up for shortfall left by those who departed. That, or they were screwed over by corporate heads who thought a watered-down title like NGIII was what most of the gaming audience wanted. The truth is likely between those two points.

That’s why it was easy to be concerned for Nioh, as there was little way to tell if Team Ninja had learned all the right lessons after hearing the criticism from the last NG game. That is, until the Alpha released, and the game felt excellent to control. But it wasn’t without its issues, like its early unfriendliness and the annoying weapon durability system, though both were fixed for the Beta. It became apparent that the demos were born from the development team’s strong desire to get this game right, to create a project that would save their unfortunate reputation.

Fortunately, they’ve pulled it off, according to critics and those who’ve received early copies. Anyone who thought the new Team Ninja would never pull off another good action game was thankfully off the mark, as the final game maintains the tight pacing and tough-but-fair encounters throughout most of its duration. It had to be something special if Sony decided to pick it up for publishing in western territories, though it’s still handled by Koei Tecmo in Japan. This should help with its sales if Sony plans on giving it a good advertising campaign to go with it, though I’ve yet to see any TV ads for it.

But what projects will Team Ninja work on beyond Nioh? Don’t expect them to return to Ninja Gaiden with their newfound confidence and creativity abilities, at least not yet. The franchise will remain in the shadows for a little while longer, according to Team Ninja creative director Tom Lee, though he acknowledged the franchise is still important for them. It’s been nearly half a decade since the original NG3 released, so they’re making sure not to bring it back until that game (and Razor’s Edge, to a lesser extent) has been erased from everyone’s minds.

That, and Ninja Gaiden won’t be as relevant in today’s gaming climate. It’s been a while since so-called “character action” games have sold well, and other franchises in the action subgenre like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta are also taking a rest. And the mere existence of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z didn’t help NG’s reputation, despite that not being from Team Ninja themselves. Meanwhile, From Software’s Souls games are still hot properties, so it’s understandable that Team Ninja’s developers wanted to take more inspiration from an action-based series that’s currently popular worldwide.

If Nioh sells well, expect the developer to pursue successors in the near future instead of going back to their old popular franchise. It’s also possible the company is preparing a new Dead or Alive, since DoA5 not only showed how they’re still capable of making fighting games, but that they also know how to release them for a profit. (That’s through releasing retail and free-to-play versions simultaneously.) And, uh, maybe they’ll make another fanservice-laden Xtreme Beach Volleyball game.

In the meantime, I hope everyone who’s picking up Nioh this week enjoys the experience, and that enough people discover it for Koei Tecmo’s sake. Given their recent sales, they could use a break.

Leave a Reply