Ninja Gaiden may be gone for now, but it's not forgotten by either its dedicated fans or its creators.
Still, with it having been close to four years since the last "true" entry in the series, fans have wondered at the absence of Ninja Gaiden. With traditional hardcore action games like Bayonetta struggling to sell despite critical acclaim, it's easy to wonder if Team Ninja has moved on. I posted that question to Team Ninja creative director Tom Lee, who is currently putting the finishing touches on Nioh—the studio's new samurai dungeon crawler.
Lee replied that the outfit wouldn't be able to call itself "Team Ninja" if they decided to retire Ryu Hayabusa. "Maybe I can say that Nioh is a gateway into the next chapter for Ninja Gaiden. [Ninja Gaiden] is a very important, if not the most important franchise, for us. But at this point I think this franchise needs to be in the shadows for a while until we bring it back. There will be a time, and when the time is right, we will bring it back."
It's been a while since Ninja Gaiden was last in the spotlight, but its sizable fanbase continues to hope for news of a revival. Last year, word of a new Ninja Gaiden project from composer Keiji Yamagishi sent the community into a frenzy, only for Yamagishi to clarify shortly afteward that it wasn't a game after all.
The franchise's last outing was 2014's rather unfortunate Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z—a silly splatterfest intended to make the series more mainstream. Lee actually winces when I mention it to him, "Hayabusa... zombies... cel-shaded... just throwing a bunch of different things into that. We don't wanna backpedal on our decisions, but it wasn't the right move, I think. But we learned a lot. Just like this Nioh experience, you only learn things by failure. And I don't think we could have made this game if we hadn't had the Yaiba experience."
But even before Yaiba, there were signs that the series was wobbling. Ninja Gaiden 3 debuted to poor reviews when it launched in 2012. With the franchise's idiosyncratic director Tomonobu Itagaki long gone, Team Ninja has struggled to recapture the magic of the Xbox's Ninja Gaiden, which was one of the best action games ever made. Though very different, the Dark Souls-like Nioh is their attempt to get back to their hardcore roots.
With that, Team Ninja is giving Ryu Hayabusa a well-deserved break. If Nioh does well, Ninja Gaiden may yet get a fresh start on the current generation of consoles. But until then, like its main character, Ninja Gaiden will remain in the shadows and wait until the moment is right.