Yesterday Tomonobu Itagaki, the eccentric but brilliant genius behind the recent Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive games, was in the news. A year later after his lawsuit-riddled departure from former employer Tecmo, it seems that Itagaki is returning to gaming along with several of his old TEAM NINJA crew. No word yet on what exactly Itagaki and friends are going to be up to.
Whatever Itagaki's up to, it is good to see him back. Sure, he's eccentric, and to some daft. He has a mouth and attitude that can rankle observers and obviously the victims of his criticisms. And he has perhaps the most unhealthy hatred for the Tekken fighting game series that I've ever seen (Top 5 Hated Games? All Tekken. Though that hasn't stopped the internets from digging up old Spanish gaming mags from more than ten years ago that allege otherwise about Itagaki's tastes).
But one thing's for sure, the perpetually-sunglassed Itagaki was never unafraid to shake the status quo and challenge the medium, and in an industry that sure loves safe and tepid (think McShooters, armies of focus groups, and the ESRB's whopping twenty-five AO ratings in all its history.), he did just that. Whereas most designers happily toss challenge and creative risk out the window in appeasement to casuals, Itagaki reveled in it, raising Ninja Gaiden's skill bar to a Zen-like grace that does feel very good when you DO finally have it down. Wheras the insular Japanese sector suffers too often from rigidity and oppressive introspection, Itagaki takes it head-on, using episodes like his being the first Japanese developer ever to visit Game Informer, thirteen years after the magazine launched, to decry what he feels is behind the Japanese gaming scene's stagnation and waning influence.
And like many of his games themselves, it's a complicated thing with Itagaki's positions. To some, the dismissal of TEAM NINJA's efforts for Ninja Gaiden Sigma seems needlessly imperious and haughty. To others, he's rightfully upset that Sigma does little for the original five year-old Ninja Gaiden release, of whose quality and details Itagaki had slaved over, other than bring it to the PS3 and provide some underwhelming extra content. Perhaps its both; aggressive boasting and a passion for evolution and quality, all in one, which, now that I think about it, sound quintessentially gamer.
One thing about Itagaki we can all agree, though: he is a quote factory. Hell, even the latest 1UP interview has a few winners in there. And so here are some of the best, for your reading pleasure. Some prescient. Some absurd. A lot of them Tekken hate. But all Itagaki.
On the difficulty of Ninja Gaiden (Xbox): "...gamers who think that Ninja Gaiden is too hard are losers - there are always winners and losers - just fight your best fight!"
On quick-time events: "I've never played a good game where the developers put a big icon of the button you're supposed to press onscreen."
When pressed for new announcements for then-in-development Ninja Gaiden II: "I’d like to show everybody some of the new stuff that we’ve been working on in the near future. The only problem with that is that when the other developers see what we’re doing, they’re going to lose all of their motivation to create any game in the same genre, because there’s no way they can beat it."
On the developers of Namco's Tekken 5: "First they put in all of these half-finished 'features', then they take them right out again...I don't know if it's because they're impatient, or because they lack the ability, but no matter the reason those guys are a pretty weird bunch."
On whether he's looking forward to Tekken 6, coming this year: "It sucks. I don't know what you're talking about."
On how he'd improve Tekken 4: [Erm...too many to list, just read the article. The man sure hates his Tekken.]
On his "favorite thing" about the Tekken series: "The only good thing about Tekken is the title--it's short." [Yep. Hates his Tekken.]
On Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball's appeal as a Wii release: "Part of the appeal of the DOA series is wanting to touch and knowing you can, so..."
On Xbox 360 vs. PS3: "I think Xbox 360 is the best game console on the earth...PS3 has too complicated of architecture."
On Koei's flagship series, Dynasty Warriors: "Unfortunately, I have absolutely no interest in the Dynasty Warrior franchise. In fact, I prefer that old American TV show, Dynasty. I used to watch it when I was a student."
On whether or not he has any hard feelings toward Tecmo: "I believe I created a certain era in Tecmo's history, and I hold pride in that fact. So, if I were to speak negatively of Tecmo, it would be the same as me disrespecting myself."
On which character from the Dead or Alive series best represents him: "There is no one character in DOA that represents me, or what I believe in….I just make games. However, some of the script reflects my attitude, basically my aggression, which can be seen in the character's fortitude and challenge. For example, Kasumi often says 'you can never defeat me!", or Lei Fang will say "no matter how many times you try, you still can't defeat me.', or Helena will say "whatever you do can't affect me" - these reflect my attitude as a producer. "
And finally, on swine flu: "I would be surprised if the virus had the guts to get in my way. In terms of floating particles, I'm more annoyed by the dust that gets on my Digital SLR imager."