Ninja Gaiden: The Essential Interview

We visit Team Ninja to meet once again with one of our fave game creators, Tomonobu Itagaki, and members of his team Yoshifuru Okamoto and Yutaka Saito, to discuss Ninja Gaiden 2 AND Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword for DS.

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Kikizo: Do you think there will be any problems with having such a violent game on the DS system, as it is so popular with such a wide audience?

Itagaki: In the past all of my games have been traditionally rated "Mature" in the US, and I think the PEGI rating is 16+ for Europe, so I understand your concerns. But this is the first game we've ever done at Team Ninja where we're developing it to fit within the "E for Everyone" classification. So I don't think you have anything to worry about there.

Kikizo: Do you have any worries though, in the industry, about the kind of de-facto censorship that's been going on? I don't know if you heard about things like the Manhunt 2 thing, or Capcom self-censoring some of their games in Japan, like Dead Rising. No More Heroes as well by Grasshopper; he said the Japanese version would be toned down.

Itagaki: My response will be kind of long. Is that alright?

Kikizo: If you have time, I have time.

Itagaki: First of all, it's very difficult to classify what people find offensive or what people find to be too violent only in words - in rules and regulations. That's the first point. The second point is, that being said, I don't believe the adage that the artist should be able to express whatever he wants is necessarily applicable in this case, because we're creating entertainment. And entertainment shouldn't include things that make people feel uncomfortable or extremely upset. The third point would be that people out there that want to create something that is very far removed from societal norms and the moral sensibilities of the general public... These kinds of creators are unlucky. They're unfortunate, and I don't want to be grouped in with that group of people. Taking that all into account I think, going back to my first point, despite how difficult it is to put issues like morality and violence and things like that into specific rules and regulations, the fact that different regions around the world are attempting to do that as we speak, I think that's something that's good for the industry.

The problem with trying to quantify sensibilities in terms of violence is that it's of course dependent on the individual, right? So let's say you cut a guy's head clean off; some people might think of that as being excessively violent. But say from a Japanese perspective, when you decapitate someone you're killing them instantly. So from a Japanese perspective, with the sword, when you decapitate somebody you're basically giving them a very quick and easy death. Then you have a situation on the other hand, where you cut someone's belly open, maybe a one-and-a-half-inch or two-inch cut to the belly, and this is not instant death. And then this person's entrails are going to be in their lap. They won't die instantly; they're going to die very slowly and in great pain. They won't be able to survive. They're not going to be able to go back to their families or whatever. This is what a skilled swordsman would do if he was really upset with somebody. He wouldn't kill them instantly; he would make sure that they suffered. It could take up to ten hours to die in that fashion. So the question is, from option A) decapitation, or option B) a belly slit, which is more violent? Which is more extreme? This is something that I think would depend on the individual.

Itagaki's swords. Don't ask dumb questions or you know what happens.

To repeat myself, I think it's good that there are organizations out there in different countries that are trying to quantify - to say - "this is considered to be more violent than that." However the Japanese rating system is a little bit backwards in this regard. They still haven't caught up with the rest of the world in that fact that they don't specifically outline the guidelines for each rating to the developers. In trying to rate a game, that is almost a form of chaos in the sense that there is no way to tell what the rating will be until you actually submit the game. Knowing that ultimately it's going to be up to the ratings boards itself to give a rating, I still think that there should be a specific set of guidelines that a developer can follow in order to target a specific rating. And if this is in place, then I'm all for the ratings system. Unfortunately this isn't the case in Japan yet.

In the instance of what I talked about earlier, about cutting someone's belly open and letting their bowels out, this is something that you see often in comics or in movies, but you don't see it in games. And personally I think that's something that shouldn't be allowed in games. I think there's a very clear distinction between decapitation and something like that. However, I can certainly understand when people would say "Why is it okay to have that in movies and comic books but not in video games?" So once again, I think it's important that all of these agencies around the world are creating distinct guidelines and distinct rules and regulations for all this, because it gives an idea of how far we can take it. And the fact of the matter is that now we're able to go a little bit farther with the violence just because we know more now, with these regulations around the world, how far you can go within a certain rating classification, so I think we're heading in the right direction.

In closing, I'd just like to say that this may be an issue with me not quite understanding the English vocabulary, but I don't feel like I'm being censored in the strictest sense of the word. There are distinct guidelines for most of the countries in the world, and we have to follow those guidelines when we make our product. And the people who write those guidelines want the same thing that we do, which is to further this medium as an entertainment medium, and to further broaden the industry. I understand that from a player's perspective, it might look like there are these organizations out there that are keeping the creators from creating what they want to, but I never feel like I'm being censored in the strictest sense.

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