Over the last few years, Team NINJA and Koei Tecmo released the superlative Nioh 2 on PS5 and PC, the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection on all platforms, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty on home consoles and PC, and announced Rise of the Ronin with PlayStation Studios for PS5. I’ve been a huge fan of the studio for a while now and consider Nioh 2 its best game by far even today. I enjoyed my time with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty last year and with the Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Complete Edition releasing this week, I spoke to Masakazu Hirayama who is the Producer/Director for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and Team NINJA Department Manager about quite a few topics including what players should expect from Rise of the Ronin, the possibility of Team NINJA returning to Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden, the demand for a physical release, and more.
TouchArcade (TA): Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Team NINJA.
Masakazu Hirayama (MH): I am Masakazu Hirayama, and currently the Producer/Director of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.
I work under Fumihiko Yasuda, Head of Team NINJA, and am the Department Manager of a department that primarily produces console titles.
TA: How did you get into the games industry and eventually into Team NINJA?
MH: I joined Team NINJA right after finishing graduate school. I started as a game designer in the NINJA GAIDEN 3: Razor’s Edge team, then worked on the DEAD OR ALIVE series, the DISSIDIA FINAL FANTASY series, and as director on the Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty main game, which brings us to the present.
TA: What does a day in your life look like at Team NINJA?
MH: It depends on the timing of the title(s) I am in charge of, but in our fiscal 2023, we had the Wo Long DLCs, so I mostly spent half a day in meetings for various projects, and the rest of my time trying the game to check the gameplay and development progress.
TA: As Department Manager at Team NINJA, can you tell us how many projects the studio is working on at once usually?
MH: It depends on the timing and varies in intensity, but around 3 titles at once.
The image below is from Rise of the Ronin from Team NINJA and PlayStation Studios
TA: After Rise of the Ronin which is being handled by Team NINJA, Koei Tecmo, and PlayStation Studios, is there any plan for Team NINJA to return to its classic franchises like NINJA GAIDEN and DEAD OR ALIVE?
MH: While we have no plans at the moment, the NINJA GAIDEN and DEAD OR ALIVE are IPs that are important to us, so we are always considering the possibility.
TA: Team NINJA has done quite a few interesting projects in recent years with external partners like Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin with Square Enix and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 with Nintendo. How does the studio approach these projects compared to internal titles for Koei Tecmo?
MH: There is no major difference in the basic production process compared to our internal titles. We develop our titles by aligning what each of our partners value and the ideas and direction we have in mind at each stage of the production process, such as the planning stage, prototype stage, and manufacturing stage.
When we develop titles in partnership, we also learn a lot from the expertise of our partners, so I feel that this has led to the growth of our current team.
The image below is from Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin from Team NINJA and Square Enix
TA: Now I’d like to focus on Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. I ended up liking it a lot when I played it on PS5, Xbox Series X, and Steam Deck. How was it working on so many consoles and PC simultaneously compared to when shipping Nioh and Nioh 2 which was just PlayStation before doing a PC release later?
MH: To be honest, I think it was tough for the development team, but I am truly happy that this new IP is being enjoyed by players on a wide variety of platforms.
TA: Are there plans to bring Wo Long to any future consoles as well, or has the team moved on now with the Complete Edition being available?
MH: At this point, we have no plans to expand to new platforms.
TA: What do you think of more games focusing on parrying as a core mechanic?
MH: Action games let players enjoy tactical aspects, so I think that the game mechanics in which your strategy will change depending on the enemy’s attack is something that will remain, even if it takes different shapes or formats.
TA: When I played Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, I saw a lot of things I’d love to see improved in a sequel, and wondered if we would ever see a Nioh to Nioh 2 level jump in quality and polish with a potential Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty sequel. Can you comment on what you’d like to do if you had a chance to make a sequel?
MH: We have no plans for a sequel at this stage, as our focus in fiscal 2023 was on the DLCs and updates. On top of that, I feel that the historic period after the one set in Wo Long has its own unique attraction as the era of strategists, and we have a desire to depict it with action and in a story, so we’d like to take on this challenge if the opportunity arises.
TA: Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has seen multiple updates with new features and content in addition to paid DLC. We also had some interesting collaborations. With all the content now available and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Complete Edition out now, how do you feel about the state of the game?
MH: During the year following the release of the main game, we made improvements through a wide range of updates, including adjustments related to battles, additional features to make it easier to play, and fixed stability issues. As a result, we are satisfied with the state of the game and decided to release this Complete Edition. Since it includes all three additional DLCs and collaboration DLCs and has an extensive volume of gameplay, I hope it encourages people who haven’t played the game yet to give it a try.
TA: While I loved the boss fights despite getting very frustrated with two of them, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s soundtrack has stuck with me since launch. How did Team NINJA end up working with Kenichiro Suehiro who had never done video game music before?
MH: Thank you! Together with the sound director, we considered composers who could broaden the image of this title and contacted Kenichiro Suehiro. The wonderful music he provided exceeded our expectations and created a perfect atmosphere for the world of Wo Long.
The image above is from Nioh 2.
TA: With Nioh and Nioh 2, I liked the games enough to buy the standard edition digitally and physically, and then got the complete editions digitally and physically to support the releases to have the complete games on disc with all DLC included. I wanted to express disappointment in the lack of a physical release for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Complete Edition even in Japan. I would have happily imported it. I hope the team considers doing one even if it is later.
MH: I appreciate your comment. Currently, there are no plans to release a physical version of the Complete Edition, but we may consider it if there is demand.
TA: Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is Steam Deck Verified. I wanted to ask how the team approached working on the game for Steam Deck, if any additional work was done on the development side. I liked it quite a bit on Steam Deck despite the visual cutbacks compared to the current consoles.
MH: To meet today’s diverse offering of platforms, and so that more people can play it, we made the game Steam Deck compatible. The additional work we did was things such as changing the initial font size of subtitles to match the screen size of Steam Deck and other platform-specific features.
TA: Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has nice DualSense functionality. This is something I even loved in The Nioh Collection on PS5. How does Team NINJA approach platform-specific functions like this and PS5 Activity Cards?
MH: We assigned dedicated staff to each platform to implement DualSense and other specific functions, and to optimize and adapt the game to each platform.
TA: How important has player feedback been while working on the DLC and updates for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty?
MH: We looked through the comments on a daily basis as an important indicator for updates. And we consider the DLC content and updates, And every day we kept track of and updated our data about what players are enjoying and what they are dissatisfied with, and used that when considering the DLC and updates. We have continued this from the first demo, and we feel that it has been a year of working together with every single player.
TA: When Nioh released back in 2017, I loved it, despite some issues it had. Nioh 2 basically fixed every problem I had with the original, and is one of the best games I’ve played in many years. I hope Team NINJA gives a potential sequel to Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty the same treatment because the three kingdoms setting and dark fantasy were superb to experience in-game.
MH: Thank you very much! We currently have no plans for a sequel, but if the opportunity arises for us to take on such a challenge, we want to consider a sequel that will meet your and everyone’s expectations.
TA: Are there plans to further improve Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s PC port or implement newer features?
MH: After the release of the Complete Edition, we will fix bugs and other issues as necessary, but there are currently no plans for a major update.
TA: Is there a chance we will see Nioh and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty collaboration content for Rise of the Ronin? I also want to know what Nioh and Wo Long fans should look forward to in Rise of the Ronin.
MH: There is no information on collaborations at this time. Well, Rise of the Ronin is a title that reflects the positives and addresses the negatives of previous Team NINJA titles including the Nioh series and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, so we believe it will be a title that fans of each of these titles will thoroughly enjoy. We hope that all fans will look forward to this upcoming title.
The image below is from Armored Core VI Fires of Rubicon from FromSoftware and Bandai Namco Entertainment
TA: Last year was a great year for games across platforms. What did you enjoy playing during your free time in 2023?
MH: It was a year that I played a wide range of games regardless of genre. In action and action RPGs alone, I played a wide variety of games, including Lies of P, which we collaborated with, Hi-Fi RUSH, ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON, and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, so I received a lot of inspiration a developer this past year.
TA: What are you currently playing and enjoying?
MH: Currently, I’m mainly playing Baldur’s Gate 3 (which was released in Japan on December 21st, 2023). I am impressed by the overwhelming amount of freedom, including the branching narrative.
The image below is from Baldur’s Gate 3 from Larian Studios
TA: Do you have a message for the Team NINJA fans reading this interview and what they should expect from you and the studio in 2024?
MH: Thank you to everyone who has played Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty over the long period of almost a year since its launch. If there are some of you who haven’t played it yet, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Complete Edition will be released on February 6th and will include all three additional DLCs and collaboration content so we hope you will give it a try.
Lastly, Rise of the Ronin, which is developed by Team NINJA and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, will finally be released on March 22. After journeying through the Three Kingdoms period of China, we hope you will enjoy the world of Bakumatsu era Japan!
I’d like to thank Masakazu Hirayama from Team NINJA, Koei Tecmo, and Marc Bianchi from ONE PR Studio for their time and help with this interview.