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1up.com Acquire InterviewEdit
Ten years ago, a small development team named Acquire released an unassuming ninja stealth game that drew favorable comparisons to fare like Metal Gear Solid. One sequel later, Acquire moved on to other projects while the Tenchu series fell into the hands of other development teams, which ended up muddying the franchise's continuity and quality with too many sequels. A decade later, Acquire's back at the helm of the series it created, and a reinvigorated Tenchu once again looks as a series to watch with the release of Tenchu: Shadow Assassins (a.k.a. Tenchu 4) in January for Wii. We spoke with director Keisuke Kanayama and Acquire president Takuma Endo to sort out where the series has been -- and where it's going.
1UP: Knowing how the series has transformed over the years, since Acquire and then K2 were doing it, what were the key elements you wanted to bring back in Tenchu 4?
Keisuke Kanayama: Looking at Tenchu 1 and 2, you had a certain amount of freedom. The environments allowed you to perform missions in certain ways, but as the series went on, that there was less freedom to finish missions or accomplish your objectives in different ways. So, with Tenchu 4, we really wanted to give the player options in how they completed their objectives. Being able to go through cities in different ways using different tools, and to explore at their own pace, depending on their play style -- that was one of the things we really wanted to put back into the series that may have been neglected.
1UP: What did you learn from the original Tenchus that you definitely wanted to change?
KK: One of the major things that we really wanted to do was to make the game accessible -- something that anyone could pick up, get the basics down, and start to play immediately. The older Tenchus or Shinobi get more and more fun as you keep playing, as you figure out how the game works, but because the controls are so complex, it becomes too hard for people who aren't really crazy about the game to get the most out of it.
So with Tenchu 4, we really tried to make it so someone could pick it up and understand it quickly, and be able to play and enjoy it. While that's not to say we tried to eliminate the depth from the game -- there's a lot of different modes and options for people who want to speed run or be really hardcore about it -- but we looked at this game as a way, with the Wii and its motion control, to allow someone to really feel like a ninja playing the game -- really attacking and blocking and hiding. The motion controls allow someone who's not super-crazy game maniac to actually enjoy the game. But we have elements for the hardcore as well, so we're trying to keep both camps happy.
1UP: How do you feel about how the mythology of the storylines changed when Acquire wasn't working on Tenchu?
KK: The Tenchu story has always had a little bit of a fantastical element, but with Tenchu 1 and 2, it was more grounded in reality. As other developers worked on the title, it became more unreal, which definitely wasn't a bad thing, but it's prompted us to give Tenchu 4 more of a grounding in reality, more of a classic Japanese story.
Also, with the other Tenchu games, a lot of characters are coming in and out, a lot of different new stories. But with 4, we looked at Rikimaru and Ayame and their relationship as ninja and we asked ourselves, "Why are these two characters ninjas? Why do they make their living killing people? What do they kill for?" With that theme in mind, we created this new story, focusing on these two characters. Of course, there are other characters that come in and out -- there are new characters too. But the story is about Rikmaru and Ayame and their experience, their journey.
1UP: The most recent Tenchu before 4, which was made by another development team, was interesting because the character was completely player created, and it was all about customizing the character as you saw fit. I think that's something that Western gamers really appreciate, the customization, as opposed to Japanese gamers who don't mind if their character's wearing the same lederhosen throughout an entire RPG. How do you feel about that trend, and does that interest you on any level?
KK: With regards to customization, I feel it's a great thing to give players the freedom to make the game the way they want it to be, including being able to identify the character more, things like that. With Tenchu 4, instead of focusing on customizing the character, we tried to give players more freedom in how they want to approach missions and how they want to go through stages so that players are able to say, "I'd like to play this way, so I'm going to go up on the rooftops." We put more emphasis on that portion of the game, rather than the customization. Maybe something will happen with that kind of customization in the future -- we'll just have to see what happens.
1UP: At the end of Tenchu 1, main character Rikimaru gets buried in an avalanche. Since Tenchu 2 was actually a prequel, and you guys stopped working on the series after Tenchu 2, you didn't really get a chance to reveal what you intended to happen him since another development team took over the series. Where does Tenchu 4's story take place in regards to those events?
Takuma Endo: Because we didn't work on Tenchu 3, the direction of the series, in terms of storyline, departed dramatically from the direction that we, Acquire, originally conceived of. We wanted to go down a different path, but we're not discounting the events that have happened in other Tenchu games. Story-wise, the game will continue one year after Tenchu 3, but we have a clear, separate direction we want to take the story into. We're not going to try and tie up all the loose ends from the Tenchu series. Instead, we're focused on crafting a solid story that that we envision as a three part series with, hopefully, Tenchu 5 and 6 to continue the story. But our overarching goal is to create a stronger, more focused theme.
1UP: So basically, Rikimaru survives at the end of Tenchu 1.
TE: It was our intention to explain that in Tenchu 3, but obviously that was out of our control. As I said earlier, we had our own ideas of where the story would go, but since it's already done, we will follow the already established Tenchu story where Rikimaru inexplicably survived.
1UP: In my mind, the events of what has happened in the Tenchu series, between Tenchu 3 and the most recent one on Xbox 360, don't qualify as canon. Like Snake's Revenge, the Metal Gear game that Kojima didn't do -- that one doesn't count. That's not part of the mythology.
TE: That's a little difficult to get into. We respect From Software, and we consider them our equals. They had their own great ideas. Ours are just different.
1UP: How did From Software approach you about coming back and renewing your participation in the Tenchu games?
TE: It actually wasn't a one-on-one meeting. Ever since Tenchu 1, Mr. [Noriyuki] Asakura has worked on the music for the entire series and he also composed the music for Way of the Samurai. He was the one who started talking with From about having us do Tenchu again... Up until then, it wasn't something we hadn't talked about. But once the conversation started, we thought it would be a really great idea.
1UP: How would you differentiate between Tenchu -- the series as you originally envisioned it -- and your Tenchu-like game Shinobido Imashime?
TE: I don't know. [Laughs] Well, we won't be making any new Shinobido games. That's one difference.
1UP: Why is that?
TE: The publisher, Spike, considers the series a failure. When we talked to them about making another Shinobido game, they gave us a definitive, "No." Instead, they wanted us to make The Way of the Samurai.
1UP: Regarding Shinobido, was that something you did because, after you stopped making Tenchu and started the Way of the Samurai, you felt you really wanted to make a Tenchu-like game? So you could get it out of your system?
TE: Actually it was. At the time, From Software was pretty upset that we were making a ninja game.
1UP: Because it was similar?
TE: Do you think they look similar?
1UP: Well, it's like Rikimaru with black hair. But I like that.
1UP: Shinobido fans are going to be disappointed when they find out there aren't going to be any more games.
TE: Send Spike lots of emails and petitions and let them know that!
1UP: I will.
TE: If the fans can show Spike how much desire there is out there, maybe they'll change their minds. But, of course, while we're making the Tenchu series, we want to focus on Tenchu.
1UP: Tenchu came out before the original Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation, which led a lot of people to compare the two as stealth games. How did you feel about being categorized in the same breath as Metal Gear Solid at the time?
TE: We were very honored. Metal Gear had been around since the NES days, and the graphics always had a 3D look, but a 2D feel. It was always based around 2D gameplay, whereas with Tenchu, we added the element of height and looking at things from different angles. It was very experimental, but these were things we had to learn from. We made mistakes, but I think one of the reasons we were received well is because we were trying something completely new. But in terms of budget, there's no way we could compete with Metal Gear.
1UP: My last question is: in the original Tenchu, Rikimaru's hair had kind of a Cesar cut going on. All the hair was pushing forward. But now it's all slicked back. What happened?
TE: [Laughs] Just following the popular trends.