I’m sitting down with the director and designer of Akai Katana Shin at CAVE’s Shinjuku headquarters, and during the interview I’m overcome with curiosity as to just where the hell this studio gets its creative ideas from. The humble house of bullet hell has always had a penchant for attaching bizarre premises to its shoot’em ups, but Akai Katana’s scenario takes the cake.
Hiroyuki Kimura (l) and Hideki Nomura (r)
“It was really hard for me to come up with a totally new concept for Akai Katana
,” recalls Hideki Nomura, who was behind the world setting and character design for the 2010 arcade original. Before then, this meek and polite designer was responsible for Mushihime-sama Futari
and Espgaluda II
. “The order that came down from the management was just to create a game where huge ninjas fought against huge battleships. That was it.”
Yeah, simple enough, right? No pressure. For a studio like CAVE however, requests like these are an everyday occurrence. “Yes, that’s a normal day at work,” Nomura laughs with a bit of a sigh. “If you don’t do things that are completely abnormal at CAVE... well, someone will get mad at you. Here, being normal is wrong.”
The jolly, spiky-haired director of the upcoming Xbox 360 and PlayStation Vita port, Hiroyuki Kimura, points out the idiosyncrasies of the World War II-based shooter and jokingly adds, “Having a giant ninja do battle against a giant battleship that has been summoned by another giant ninja looks normal and natural in this game though! That’s what’s so funny. This kind of skill is something we pride ourselves on!”
Nomura’s design challenge was to somehow merge the two concepts - ninjas and screen-filling battleships - together in a way that would be interesting. What he had settled on was the idea of a fighter plane blasting through historical scenes, with a ninja spirit that comes out of the cockpit to take on battleship-summoning bosses.
“That’s what it settled down to, but before that there were lots of different ideas that I came up with,” he adds. “One was a cowboy that flies across the sky riding a huge gun. In a way, it was a similar sort of idea to that film, Cowboys and Aliens
! That was rejected with all the other ones, but I didn’t get down about it. I just tried harder and came up with the world setting that we now have for Akai Katana
With all of his previous works involving fantasy settings, Nomura was keen to create something different. He throws out the phrase ‘wa mono,‘ which refers to a feeling or atmosphere that is distinctly Japanese, to describe his approach. But rather than straightforward ninjas in a typical Edo period, it was decided that a modern Japanese setting would be used.
“When I first started out with the WWII concept I didn’t really know how it was going to turn out. But as we went along the development process, it turned into something very weird,” Nomura says with a chuckle. Kimura explains that, although things get crazy in the game’s premise, the studio tried hard to maintain a sombre message of the consequences of war within it.
In a similar way that Akai Katana
fuses two concepts together, Kimura and Nomura’s personalities also seem to be quite different. The jovial director, with his heavy metal-inspired chinstrap beard and suit jacket, is casual and outgoing while the thoughtful designer is as relaxed as you would expect a typical game developer to be - dressed up with a smart-casual shirt over the top of a t-shirt sporting a cool cartoon character.
Noticing this, I asked if animation was a particularly big influence on Nomura’s work, given his anime-style work in past CAVE titles. “Not so much traditional anime or even anime in general,” he muses. “Obviously one of the things I looked at for Akai Katana
was general Japanese things. Ninja cartoons, old fighter crafts and things like that. I also picked up on things that seemed stylish and cool to me. I also looked at a large number of movies for inspiration.”