An attempt to appeal to Western gamers backfired.
A certain caustic-tongued British expat noted that Ninja Gaiden III seemed to be cribbing from some Western games as opposed to its notoriously difficult Japanese roots. According to developer Team Ninja, his assessment is completely correct - in trying to appeal more to a Western audience, the studio had stumbled.
"It seems like we made a Japanese hamburger for the West," Team Ninja head Yosuke Hayashi told Gamasutra. In doing so, says Hayashi, Team Ninja lost sight of its strengths and what the industry expected from a Japanese studio. "[Maybe] as a Japanese developer, we need to make good Japanese food... and that's what people are wanting from a Japanese developer."
As the Japanese industry flounders, says Hayashi, studios try to do whatever they can "just to basically stay above water," and that includes aping the West because that is seen as the most lucrative market. After hitting a wall with Ninja Gaiden, though, it was important for Team Ninja to reflect on what made it a notable developer in the first place. "We really felt that we need to emphasize our strengths as a developer and push those further, moving forward."
"I like Assassin's Creed, but that's not the only game I want to play," he says. Ubisoft has resources that Tecmo and Team Ninja simply can't bring to bear. "We can't compete directly with that, and we don't want to. That's not where we are."
But even in the face of a diminished Japanese industry, says Hayashi, it will always have a place provided it focuses on its strengths. "Maybe if the industry is going for that Hollywood blockbuster direction, we can offer something that's different," says Hayashi. "It's not like everybody wants to see Transformers every day."
"[Gameplay] will be first... We're not going to offer burgers anymore, but we're going to offer you damn good sushi."
Thanks, Yosuke Hayashi. Now I'm really hungry.