Wednesday 1 October 2008

E14 Roundtable: "Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2"

In keeping with the spirit of not making things rather much longer than they need to be on this site, it was decided that the E14 Roundtable for Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, recorded on Friday 26th June 2009, would be archived and backdated. This way, you have to look for it yourself to read it, so we know you want to.
Rob: May I first say welcome to E14, Blake. We look forward to seeing some great stuff from you.

Blake: Oooh…

Rob: Sorry, have I put too much pressure on you? Anyway, the subject of the day is Tecmo Koei and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. We were very kindly invited to the event by Tecmo Koei, and we are very grateful for that opportunity.

Blake: Yeah, we will be keen to keep a good relationship there, and thanks to Ben at Tecmo Koei for inviting us. We might need business cards as well, by the way.

Rob: Noted. So, Tecmo Koei: The first part of the presentation today was talking about the merger itself, and we heard from various higher-ups regarding the merger of the two companies.

Blake: SCEE was there as well.

Rob: Yeah, there was a big Sony presence there. Understandable, really, being as they have the exclusive license for Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. One of the main features of the press conference with regards to Tecmo Koei was emphasis on the high amounts of expansion in the European gaming market. Do you think that’s something that’s come along in the past few years?

Blake: Absolutely, of course it’s been in place since before the Tecmo Koei merger. Japan and the East have started to notice that Europe’s becoming a much larger scene. It was Kenji Matsubara that mentioned that the UK has become the second largest games purchaser worldwide.

Rob: I can absolutely believe that. Coming from a video games retail background, I’ve seen quite a bit of evidence that the UK has been growing at a tremendous rate.

Blake: Exactly. Particularly with the most recent generation of consoles, with the Wii reaching out to the casual gamer, it’s beginning to show that video games are starting to outsell other media such as DVDs and books.

Rob: Cool. Well, obviously, Tecmo is known for Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive

Blake: Kessen, but more in Japan. They did have some games in the early stages of the PS2’s lifespan as well.

Rob: Yeah, whereas Koei is mainly known for Dynasty Warriors as a primary franchise. They’ve done some other stuff of note, including Operation Winback for the PS2 and N64 back in the day.

Blake: I remember that game! They’ve always been a more Eastern-favoured developer, with Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors among their main focuses. Tecmo, it has to be said, has always favoured a more Western-targeted approach, particularly with games like Dead Or Alive and Ninja Gaiden.

Rob: Now, something that came up in the conference that surprised me: It’s been 9 years since the PS2 came out! That makes me feel fucking old!

Blake: Well yeah, I find it increasingly hard to believe that the Playstation came out 14 years ago.

Rob: It’s incredible to think, really. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a gamer since I was about 9 or 10 and it still shocks me to hear that!

Blake: Absolutely. I’ve been into games pretty much my whole life, but I’ve probably been playing avidly since I was a little bit older. Even as a toddler I still enjoyed the Spectrum!

Rob: Ok, so we got a few announcements out of there about Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 that have been confirmed now. It’s coming out in the Fall of 2009, with an official release date coming in late July. It’s retailing at £44.99 (59.99 euros).

Blake: I wouldn’t be surprised if that price came down, if only because of the influence of online retailers like Amazon undercutting the other retailers.

Rob: I’d agree, I’d say that’s fairly likely. The other thing that is quite important is that there will be a trailer and a playable demo on the Playstation Network in September.

Blake: It’s worth mentioning as well that this is the first game to be released under the new Tecmo Koei Europe Ltd brand.

Rob: That is worth mentioning, you’re right. We heard from Yusuke Hayashi, the producer at Team Ninja. He was bloody good at that game.

Blake: Yeah, annoyingly so, though he did get his arse handed to him by the level’s boss. But then, didn’t we all?
Rob: Indeed we did. He established that there would be an online co-op mode in the game.

Blake: Yeah, not much was announced about the online co-op mode at this time, which concerns me a little bit to be honest. It’s supposed to be out in three months.

Rob: So do you think it’ll be a cut-down version of the game?

Blake: Yeah, he mentioned that it wouldn’t be the entire campaign, so I imagine it’ll be a skimmed-down campaign or arena-based. He did mention online leader boards as well.
One thing that’s a particular bugbear of mine is that while I do enjoy the new online co-op modes, it’s coming at the expense of split-screen multiplayer.

Rob: That’s true, particularly when developing first-person shooters. There seems to be a trend towards making split-screen less of a priority if they do make the mode available.
Blake: Yeah, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that if they left the mode in, but there seems to be a growing trend towards taking the mode out completely.

Rob: Yeah, I agree. I think the irony is that they’ve tried to emphasise the social aspect of multiplayer with the online mode, but at the same time have taken away the option to have friends over to play games in split-screen.

Anyway, they confirmed that there will be 4 playable characters in the game, 3 female characters. One is a new character to the console franchise, but appeared in the game Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword on Nintendo DS, her name is Momiji.

Blake: Yeah, she’s armed with some sort of pole-sword type thing. I’ll play Bushido Blade later to find out the name of it…

Rob: So, they opened the floor up to questions. There were some understandable concerns regarding difficulty, which makes sense considering that even the producer had trouble breezing through it. The answer he gave was that the game was meant to be challenging, is that something you’d agree with having played the game?

Blake: Yeah. While I hate the moniker of ‘hardcore gamer’, I do play quite a bit, and I still feel that the game was a good challenge. Apart from the boss, which all of us seemed to find quite difficult at times, it never felt punishing in its difficulty or disheartening.

Rob: Storylines were also a question raised. It was said that while the other characters will have their own sub-stories and levels specifically for them, the main focus of the story will still focus on Ryu.

Blake: That makes sense, it’s awfully similar to the original Ninja Gaiden Sigma, which had the main focus on Ryu, but had sub-levels featuring the girl with the big axe whose name escapes me (editor’s note: her name’s Rachel). However, she’s in the trailer, which will be on the site along with this article, so she’ll be in the game in some form.

Rob: Downloadable content was a focus of the questions as well, one which people were curious about. While the main game will be their focus, the downloadable content will be available, but not the focus at this time.

Blake: In Ninja Gaiden Sigma, the DLC took the form of extra costumes and battle arenas that allowed you to either play as Ryu or the girl with the axe. They mentioned they’d be looking for the fans’ input on the game, which they always have to say really to allay people’s fears. No way of knowing for sure until the final game is released. However, they do obviously have to look more at that sort of thing, bearing in mind that games cost about as much as movies to make nowadays.

Rob: Absolutely. The production values are much higher on games than they used to be, and although they don’t have to shift as many units as DVDs, they still have to sell a fair few. It would make sense to please the fans, as well as attract new fans to the franchise. Ok, so one person asked about save-point issues. Is that something you’ve noticed in previous versions?
Blake: In Ninja Gaiden Sigma, although I didn’t have a huge amount of experience in that game, I found the checkpoints to be quite well-spaced, although there was the odd one that seemed a bit too far from the previous point. If there were any issues from the original Ninja Gaiden on Xbox, which I know you’ve played Rob, they seem to have been somewhat addressed.

Rob: Finally, one thing they mentioned as far as the Xbox 360 goes is that there aren’t any plans to release the content on Sigma 2 as DLC for the Xbox 360 version. Do you think that’s a good thing?

Blake: Absolutely. I think that as the original Ninja Gaiden 2 was an exclusive title on Xbox 360, I think it’s like making a Director’s Cut version which is good to please the PS3 fans. It makes them feel like they’re getting some sort of compensation for the amount of time they’ve been waiting for it. How did you rate the graphics?

Rob: It’s very smooth running; it’s a very good looking game no doubt. I wouldn’t say it was drastically better than Ninja Gaiden 2, or probably even Ninja Gaiden Sigma. Nothing that couldn’t have been done on Xbox 360 really.

Now, we got a chance to play the game. We probably got about half an hour between us, right?

Blake: Yeah, we got to play as 2 out of the 3 characters available in the play test, Ryu and the new girl Momiji. I found that the combat was very close to the original Ninja Gaiden Sigma, you still have all the finishing moves and high-flying attacks, magic that you charged with the Six-Axis controller. All in all, an impressive game. The only thing I would say is that there wasn’t a huge amount of new equipment and skills, it seems very similar to previous games in that respect.

Rob: Ok, so we’ve mentioned graphics, how did you rate the sound and music?

Blake: I thought it was fairly standard action game fare from Japan, sword clashes and cries of pain and such. The music was fairly standard, bit of ambient music with a bit of an action movie tinge. The game’s still devilishly fast in terms of combat, one of the few games you’ll find that’s as fast as Devil May Cry.

Rob: Indeed. Do you feel that speed hurts the game, and that there are some issues with camera controls, bearing in mind that the camera has come under fire in previous games?

Blake: Yeah, there was a particular mode where you can press a button to give you a hint of where to go next. However, this doesn’t always work well, as when the objective was below me, it just highlighted a random part of the floor. I worked it out, but you mentioned that you noticed the camera going a bit mental at that point.

Rob: Do you think that the toned-down level of violence makes a noticeable difference in the game?

Blake: Not really, no. The only thing I noticed was that with the power of the PS3, they really have enough processing power to allow limbs and dead bodies to hang around more, which was a feature present in the original Sigma game. The limbs went missing, but they just became stumps. In the original game, if you did a decapitation the head would roll off and be visible. All in all though, I thought it was a really enjoyable game. The flaws I’ve noticed are only really visible to me because I’m a big fan of games like this.

Rob: How do you think it will do on our E14 rating scale, bearing in mind that the violence may drop it a point?

Blake: I think it will do well. It’s a very competent game, and would probably do well at rivalling its closest rival in my opinion, the Devil May Cry series. While the violence has been toned down, the game has always been about flashy high-speed combat anyway really.

Rob: Well, I think we can wrap it up there. This has been Blake Harmer and Rob Wade for E14. Once again, we’d like to thank Tecmo Koei for allowing us the chance to have a play with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and we’ll keep you posted on developments in the future. Thanks for reading.