Naruto: Rise of a Ninja Producer Interview
Naruto Uzumaki, star of the hit anime and manga line from Viz and star of numerous videos games is about to get the next-gen treatment on Xbox 360 with Naruto: Rise of a Ninja. What sets Rise of a Ninja apart from it's predecessors is its' the first title to appear on the Xbox 360, was developed from the ground up as an original title and is looking to take the gamer and drop them into an action adveneture game where the fighting is intense and the world of Naruto more detailed then ever seen before.
Gamers will get to explore the Village Hidden in the Leaves as well a the lands Naruto and his team visit in the anime and manga, but in much more detail as you guide the course of out mischievous ninja. In order to get even more detail, and way more excited about the game, I was fortunate enough to have Sebastien Puel, the Producer on Naruto: Rise of a Ninja answer a slew of questions I threw his way. Puel reveals more detail about the game and even teases at content to come. It's time to learn more about Naruto: Rise of a Ninja from Ubisoft ...
Q: Storyline wise, gamers get to journey with Naruto from the very beginning as he graduates from the Ninja Academy, but just how far will the storyline take us?
The story will take us until episode 80, that's to say the fight against Gaara. We decided to cover this story arch as we wanted to give players a real feeling of progression and achievement. Episode 80 is for Naruto the first time when he realizes his own strength and valor and that he really gets acknowledged by others. He does something of crucial importance for his community – by saving the Leave Village – and we wanted the player to feel this achievement at the end of the game.
Q: So it's safe to assume the story in the sequel to RoaN will pick up right after the originals ending?
First, you are assuming here that there will be a sequel to RoaN – we are not as far right now! But to answer your question, yes, it would make sense to start a sequel from this point.
Q: Did the voice actors from the anime lend any advice on how they think their characters should act, based on their work with the anime?
Yes. We absolutely wanted to have the original actors as they have a deep knowledge of the character they are voicing for having worked on him/her for a long time. They helped a lot during the recording sessions by suggesting specific tones or lines for their characters. In the end, this helped us a lot in reaching our objective: to be as close as possible to the anime.
Q: RoaN mixes in many gameplay types from adventure segments to fights and mini-games. If you had to describe the gameplay to a newbie, what would you say?
Well, I think the main thing to understand is that we initially wanted to tell a story, to recreate Naruto's world as accurately as possible and to put players in Naruto's shoes. The different types of gameplay are a means to reach this objective. So, we ended up with what one could describe as a mix of fight, action and RPG. Those seem to be 3 quite different genres and mechanics, but in the end, I think it flows perfectly when you play the game.
Q: Which features, if any, did you not have time to get into RoaN that you'd love to get into the sequel?
The good thing is that I have no frustrations about 'cuts' in the game. What we have as a final game is pretty much what we had in mind when we started production. This said, I still believe that manga fans are lacking an online world where they can gather and share their passion. After all they are one of the most active communities on the internet but only have a few opportunities of online gaming. Naruto RoaN offers this possibility for the first time but it could certainly be deepened in further games.
Q: While crafting the story for the game did you find the rich history of the Naruto manga and anime to be more an advantage or hindrance as there is only so much wiggle room to work with?
This is definitely an advantage. Ubisoft tries to provide fun gameplay and to tell rich stories, but most importantly to make players live through immersive experiences rich in emotion. Having a good story and deep characters like Naruto definitely offers a solid ground to start from. Then of course, you have to accommodate and sometimes adapt the story a tiny bit. For instance, Naruto at the beginning of the series is not exactly a winner – though you don't want to force players to loose constantly during the 3 first hours of the game. So you have to find little tricks ... that I won't reveal here :)
Q: Are there any plans to create 'side-story' content, short and unique new adventures gamers can download to break from the path already traveled in RoaN?
There will be downloadable content. But as I told you we want to foster the community on Xbox Live, so we will go for 'competitive' type of gameplay for this downloadable content: new fighters, new arenas etc ... Maybe more content for single player will come down the road, but it is not decided at this point.
Q: How will the online action unfold in RoaN? Are we looking a more of a brawler, facing-off against your friends, or more co-op action in the story mode?
The online will be centered on the fight. We have a very solid fight system in RoaN – it is original, fast paced and very challenging to master. We want gamers from all over the world to confront in fight and get ranked. The online tournament structure is a very unique one, recreating the Chunin exam. I can't reveal much more at this point but it's really fun and addictive!
Q: Namco Bandai has had good results with Ultimate Ninja, but mixed results with Uzumaki Chronicles. It seems RoaN takes aspects portrayed in each and jacks them up to new levels. Did your team take these other titles for a spin to see how they executed on the Naruto license, or did you go full boar with your own ideas, competition be damned?
Of course we played competitors games. But working on the first Next Gen Naruto, we honestly did not look too closely to what had been done in the past. The Xbox 360 opened tons of new possibilities, like free roaming for instance that doesn't exist in any other Naruto or anime based game. So we really started from scratch, asking ourselves 'what are the key elements to recreate Naruto's world'. From there, we started to build Konoha and the world around it. I appreciate other Naruto games, but I must say I did not play them for a long time. When playing RoaN, I believe fans will find very few similarities with other Naruto games.
Q: Who's been your favorite character to work with in Rise of a Ninja? Why did they stand out among such a varied cast of characters?
The answer is pretty simple: Naruto. Even if we spent a lot of time developing the other characters for the fighting mode, we also spent a lot of time developing Naruto for the platforming, free roaming and 'comedy' parts. Naruto is an extraordinary character because he is extremely powerful and not a real hero at the same time. He is extremely strong and very weak at the same time. When you want to tell good stories, you are looking for contrasted characters! So Naruto is the perfect one!
Q: Did you have a chance to work with Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto and if so how much we he involved with the game creation?
We did not work directly with Kishimoto as he is very busy with writing the manga himself. But we worked very closely with his team – actually on a weekly basis. They have been very helpful in giving appropriate feedback – especially at the beginning of the project. Even if we are long time manga and Naruto fans, we are still a team of North American and European developers. We had to work very hard at the beginning to find the right artistic direction, type of special effects, animations, color palette ... they helped us a lot in those first months to find the real 'Naruto style'.
Q: Now that work on Naruto is just about wrapped, what other anime or comic character or team would you love to get your hands on to create a unique game?
I ... don't know. I have spent 2 years with Naruto ... it's hard to imagine working on another character tomorrow. I personally find the InuYasha world very interesting and strong. I think it would be very inspiring for a good game.
Q: Just how many Otaku are on the development/design team? How many were converted form 'studying' up on Naruto anime and manga?
I must say I have been very lucky as a producer. This studio never made an anime based game before but among the 1,500 developers of Ubisoft Montréal, a lot of them were actually manga and Naruto fans before starting the project. So I did not even 'recruit' a team, people came to me and said 'hey, I want to work on this game!'. I think 95% of the team were manga fans even before joining the project. As a result, this creates a passionate, detail oriented team, and most of all a great working atmosphere!