So it came as something of a surprise when the Japanese studio delivered not one, but two original action games this year in the fantasy slasher genre Wo Long: Fallen Dynastyand another Sony outstanding in Rise of Ronin.
The first is intriguing for several reasons. First, it combines the talents of Nioh director Fumihiko Yasuda and Bloodborne producer Masaaki Yamagiwa, in a style Soulsborne defines as “Masocore,” a little-mentioned subgenre. usually associated with 2D platformers.
And unlike many of Team Ninja’s recent releases, Wo Long comes out on Xbox – as a Day One Game Pass release, no less (although the chances of Nioh appearing on the platform still sound slim).
VGC recently spoke with Yasuda and Yamagiva on Gamescom 2022where the pair discussed their thoughts on the Soulsbor – sorry, “Masocore” genre and how they intend to balance the new franchises with the classic series.
Wo Long Fallen Dynasty Reveal Trailer
Team Ninja is known for its action games, but for this project Mr. Yamagiwa brings experience from Soulsborne games like Bloodborne. How does Wo Long’s mix benefit from this experience?
Yamaguchi: There are a few things I feel I have carried over from my experience working on Bloodborne. But we also want to note that these are all points that Team Ninja holds very close to its heart and considers them very important in all of its games.
First, make sure the difficulty is right and set it up in the game so that the difficulty is something that will be scary to the player. You know, with “Masocore” games like Wolong and Bloodborne, there’s this sense of success of accomplishment when you overcome really hard obstacles or really hard challenges or enemies. So that’s something that’s also very, very important.
But we also want to make sure the feel of the game is right, and the setting is very important. Going back to the difficulty, we want to make sure the player knows when they’ve made a mistake and doesn’t feel like the game is unfair, right? We want to make sure the player knows where they went wrong or hit a snag and can learn from it, and the game itself feels fair, but you still learn from your mistakes as you go along.
In the Soulsborne genre, Elden Ring is clearly dominating the conversation this year. Was it too late for you to take any influence from this release?
Yasuda: We played the game and thought Elden Ring did a great job of creating a seamless world experience. But for Wo Long, we’re not looking to make this an open-world experience. Instead, we’re trying to focus on what we think we do very well here at Team Ninja, which is making mission-based action games with a lot of intensity concentrated in those stages you’ll be fighting through.
So it’s kind of a focus that we have here as opposed to big, spread out areas. There’s really going to be a lot going on in every mission you take on; lots of action, lots of enemies, lots of stuff to really sink into. That’s what we want to focus on going forward with the development of Wo Long, focusing on what we think we do really well here and making sure it all comes across in the game.
So you think there’s still a lot of life left to repeat in a linear Soulsborne-style game, even in a post-Elden Ring world?
Yamaguchi: Yes, we think there is still a lot of opportunity to do new things in a more mission-based format and structure. And you know, one thing we’re looking to do with Wo Long here is the morality system. The morale system works by taking on a strong enemy and then having a morale rank that will go up as you defeat more enemies.
So you can look at the map and think, what routes do I want to take based on my current morale level? And, for example, you can take down a big enemy, your morale will increase and you will be stronger. And if you die, there’s this balance of going down and going up, right? So you can think that I want to take this one path with no enemies to keep my morale where it is to stay strong. Or maybe I want to face some strong enemies on another path and try to increase it even more.
So there’s a sense of gamble and a sense of your own strategy in trying to find which way you want to do it. There are so many different paths and different options for your strategy based on this moral system. As I mentioned, you can get it by defeating enemies, you can capture parts of the map by defeating the enemies in the area, things like that.
And as your rank continues to rise, you also gain access to magic that we call magic spells. So for example, if you reach a certain level of morale, you can now use X or Y type of magic. And that will also affect when you want to try to raise that level, do you want to maintain it? Will this magic be something that will be vital to you? It’s all part of this ongoing strategy that you come up with on the fly as you go through the stage.
So there really is a lot going on here. And it won’t be like any other game before it in that regard. This is the original thing we offer here.
“We’re trying to focus on what we think we do really well here at Team Ninja, which is making mission-based action games with a lot of intensity concentrated in those stages that you’re going to fight through.”
The team has clearly thought about how to make this game unique in its genre. Do you think these types of games are now at risk of becoming obsolete without this kind of innovation?
Yasuda: The team here at Team Ninja believes that there is still a lot of potential and opportunity for the Masocore genre as a whole. So there is still life in it, there are still things that can be done. I would also say that Team Ninja’s job is also to continue to work really hard to make these new games in this genre that show that there’s still life in the genre and show that there’s so much that you can do from a game point of view.
But I would also note that there are many new Masocore games, many of which were even announced here on Gamescom, and because of that, on the consumer side, they could potentially tire of the genre with so many new titles coming out. But to go back to what I said earlier, that’s kind of the developers’ job, right?
I feel like it’s our job to continue to deliver games like Wo Long that will show that potential, and there’s still so much you can do in the genre because I think there are things that you can only feel or that are easier to feel in this genre. There are things that are very much attuned to this genre and bring feelings or emotions out of the play. This is a very important genre. But there’s always that possibility that not everyone is working hard to create more diverse experiences in this genre, so it’s a give and take.
You teased multiplayer elements for Wo Long. What can you tell us about your plans?
Yamaguchi: You can expect online multiplayer content. That’s about as much as we can tell.
Team Ninja has many classic game IPs under its umbrella. With this history, is it difficult for you to create original titles like Wo Long while also trying to satisfy the many fans who want to see the return of old series like Ninja Gaiden?
Yasuda: Overall, we are very happy that there are so many fans of these existing IPs, and since there is a large fan base out there, we are eager to please those fans. We’re so happy that people are big fans of our existing series and so it feels like we want to create a new entry in this series.
But a lot of it has to do with balancing that desire to make these new games for these big fan bases that some of these existing IPs have, along with seeing what kind of resources there are in the development team: to see what skills the current members of Team Ninja have and then decide from there if it will work for a certain series. Will this work for an existing IP? Or would that be more appropriate for a new IP?
We are really happy that there are so many fans and we want to make a new title for these existing series. But it all comes down to seeing if it’s an opportunity and if there’s a skill set on the team to take advantage of it.
Yasuda-san mentioned earlier this year that he would like to bring good news to Ninja Gaiden fans in the future, perhaps with a new title. With what you mentioned about resource balancing, would you consider outsourcing a new game? Or perhaps to a younger team internally? Or would you rather deal with each new installment?
Yasuda: We’re not announcing anything, but both of these ideas sound like great plans and are possibilities in a way. Both are very, very reasonable ideas for a potential sequel to any series, not just Ninja Gaiden. But what I’m trying to say is that if we were to theoretically work with another company on a new Ninja Gaiden title, we would have to make sure that it would be a title that fans would really enjoy and exceed their expectations.
It’s not just about “hey, let’s just do this”: all the pieces have to fit, and it has to be the right team… either a younger team internally or another company that really has to fit Ninja’s pedigree Gaiden.
“We feel that there is a greater presence of the Xbox platform in Japan: we definitely see it here. We think Game Pass helps introduce many more people to the Xbox platform.”
Wo Long will be an Xbox Game Pass release from day one. Does that change your mindset at all as a creator, knowing that a huge audience of new players is likely to try out the game at launch?
Yasuda: We are very happy that so many players will have the chance to experience a Team Ninja title potentially for the first time with Wo Long. But just because it’s on Game Pass, we haven’t changed “XYZ”… That’s not really something we’ve done on the dev team side. We just want to make Wo Long the best game possible and hope that fans can play it or new users can play it and enjoy it. We don’t want to change it for a specific audience or anything like that.
But what we think is a really big positive about having the game on Game Pass is that with so many new players trying it out, it will help the online community grow potentially and then there will be a lot more players who for people to be able to play online or play together in the multiplayer aspects of the game. So we really hope that this will keep the community in a really good place and flourish.
Spinning from that, Xbox seems to be doing a little better than expected in your home country of Japan compared to its predecessor, a market in which it has traditionally struggled. Did that surprise you?
Yasuda: We feel that there is a greater presence of the Xbox platform in Japan: we definitely see that here. We think Game Pass helps a lot more people get to know the Xbox platform – a lot more people come and play games and be a part of it.
However, from our perspective, just from a numbers perspective, Japan seems pretty dominated by Nintendo consoles and Switching. But yeah, we definitely feel in Japan that Xbox is definitely trying to get a bigger foothold with the current platform.
We’ve asked this before, but now that you seem to be moving closer to Xbox, we’ll ask again: Is there any chance the Nioh series will come to the platform in the future? Or does Sony’s involvement in publishing rule that out?
Yasuda: There is nothing to note in this regard. Currently, there is not a very high probability that there will be Nioh on Xbox platforms, but we hope that Xbox fans will enjoy Wo Long and look forward to this game’s release. That’s probably all we can say for now.