Sushi, sake and Dead or Alive.
The walk to the restaurant was under the cover of trees, a rare sight in the sprawling concrete jungle of Tokyo. Upon arriving, we were asked to take off our shoes and an old lady in a kimono lead us up a narrow flight of stairs to a room on the third floor. Here, two low tables ran along either side of the room, with a third, perpendicular table at the far end reserved for five special guests. We were seated, plastered with copious amounts of sake and told to tuck into a traditional Japanese starter. With our rumbling stomachs silenced, Team Ninja made their entrance, taking their seats at the end of the room. "Tonight," we were told, "you are part of the Team Ninja family." A heart warming sentiment. We chinked glasses, shouting the Japanese equivalent of cheers - 'Kampai'.
"Team Ninja has been through a storm these last several years", continued Yousuke Hayashi, the Head of the studio "We've come through that storm now though, and grown with those experiences into the studio that we are today. I've been with Team Ninja for ten years, and I can say with all conviction, that this is the strongest Team Ninja that it has ever been". Bold words from the man stepping into the shoes of Tomonobu Itagaki, but knowing the announcements that would come over the course of the evening, he beamed with confidence. Before bringing out the main course (or courses, I should say – there were about eight of them), Hayashi took the time to introduce several of the studio's new projects.
First up was a game called Ni-oh; a project that's been desperately trying to get off the ground since TGS 2006. Described as a Samurai action game, Ni-Oh is a collaboration between Team Ninja and Tecmo Koei's Kou Shibusawa. Other than announcing that Team Ninja are now in charge of the project, however, little else was revealed about the game. Hayashi quickly moved on, turning the ante up with revelations about a more familiar franchise; Dead or Alive. Dead or Alive on the 3DS – which was known about prior to this particular evening – will be known as Dead or Alive: Dimensions, and will be amongst the first fighting titles to grace to the hardware.
A break in Hayashi's speech allowed a quartet of kimino-wearing waitresses to bring round the first of our exotic main courses. Whilst I chowed down eel, raw tuna and tempura, I got chatting to program lead Yasunori Sakuda, who had joined our table for dinner. Rather than calling him by his real name, I used the rather affectionate alternative by which he's known around the studio: The Snowman. He explains that this is because he was responsible for creating the snow stage in Dead or Alive 3, and the name has stuck ever since. DOA3 was in fact The Snowman's first project with Team Ninja, after he joined exactly ten years ago.
Unsurprisingly, dinner conversation revolved around Dead or Alive, specifically the 3D offering that will be arriving on Nintendo's new handheld in the near future. Hayashi had described the project as being a 'reboot' for the franchise, a comment I decided to probe further. "The DOA series is renowned for its lovely ladies and their big breasts," I said, nervously awaiting a reaction. "Will the reboot tone that down at all? A lot of players are put off by it all..."
"Reboot has a broad definition," came the reply. "In terms of DOA: Dimensions, for me personally, I think there are some core factors that we would like to include. Really, we're going back to the original DOA, and walking players through the experiences of DOA1, 2, 3 and 4. If the users that are looking forward to DOA:D are looking for a toned down sex factor, then perhaps it's something we should take a closer look at. For me personally, I don't think it's about toning it down and then calling that a reboot. There are other elements that keep DOA DOA, and for this particular project – Dimensions, it doesn't seem that toning the sex factor is the thing that will kick off the reboot. So maybe a different project other than what Hayashi said will be committed to rebooting the Dead or Alive franchise."