GameCore (GC): OK, Sebastien, let's get down to what most "Naruto" fans like us want to know. As the producer of this Xbox 360 exclusive title, how important was it to let the player have the ability to explore the entire village of Konoha?
Sebastien Puel (SP): Well, our team is made of 90 people and 90 percent of them were fans of "Naruto" even before starting on the project. Working with the Xbox 360, part of a new generation of consoles, has allowed us to fulfill a dream that we've all had since the game's conception. For the first time ever, we've recreated the true Naruto universe and as a result, we've also recreated a living and breathing Konoha. In "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja" fans and gamers can visit places like the Hokage's house, the University, Naruto's house, the ramen shop and a ton more places we want to keep as surprises. The best part is they're real places that are entirely open, not just backgrounds.
Konoha in "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja" is made of hundreds of buildings, all climbable and explorable. Since the beginning, we had hoped that players would not only enjoy all the different types of gameplay opportunities within the city, but that players would also take the time to just wander the village, explore new and hidden places, discover a patio or find a new rooftop each time they come back to the city. To be honest, it still happens to me even after playing the game hundreds of hours! There are times when I'm walking down the streets and still discover things I did not know about ... in our own game!
GC: Wow, we can't believe that you're still finding new things. So, then, what engine was used to drive the game?
SP: We based "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja's" engine on a Ubisoft engine called Jade. All of the team knew it very well from working with it on games like "King Kong" or "Prince of Persia." We used Jade as a strong starting platform and added a ton of custom upgrades to support all of the new features in "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja." At this point, "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja's" engine has become an entirely new engine. It has very little in common with the original engine. In fact, we're calling the new engine Fox, as the nine-tailed fox.
GC: That's great, Jade has transformed to a Fox. I wonder if it has nine tails. (Note: the Nine-Tailed Fox is an important character in the "Naruto" storyline. Naruto is a young ninja who encases the spirit of the violent Nine-Tailed Fox demon that destroyed his village before his birth.) Now you said 90 percent of the team is Naruto fans. Does the team allow the player to see and understand this pivotal story point during the game?
SP: Yes! This is actually the starting point of the game's story. We wanted to tell the real story of Naruto. In the beginning Naruto (the player) is hated by the people of Konoha, without knowing exactly why. Progressively, Naruto (the player) comes to understand the reason for being rejected. Through his actions in the village, he will eventually be acknowledged by the population and respected as a ninja. That's really the basis of the game and what everything else is based on.
There will also be turning points in the Fox-Naruto relationship/storyline. Such as the fight with Haku, when Naruto will start to realize the power of the Nine-Tailed Fox or when Naruto trains with Jiraya and learns to master this power.
We wanted this underlying Naruto/Nine-Tailed Fox relationship to be the central point of the game and you'll really get a chance to experience it from Naruto's perspective.
GC: Now those who are not familiar with the story line will see and understand what Naruto has to deal with. Sebastien, I can see Jerry would like to ask a few questions of his own, but I still have a few more after he's done. Jerry, he's all yours.
Great. Thanks, Alberto. First of all, I'd like to say that it's nice to meet you and I am a big fan of the "Naruto" series (anime and manga). Now Sebastien, were you able to get the English voice actors from the cartoon to participate in the game?
SP: Yes. The U.S. voice actors are used in "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja," just like the anime.
GC: Awesome! It's that attention to detail that many gamers, like myself, really appreciate. Do the events in the game take place before or after the Chuunin exam? (Note: The Chuunin Exam is what advances ninja in the story from one of four ranks to the second rank.)
SP: Before and after. "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja" covers the story arc from the beginning of the anime all the way to the fight against Gaara.
GC: Wow. So that's practically the first 80 episodes of the show! You definitely have your work cut out for you. So far from what we've seen, you guys have put a lot of effort into the recreation of the Leaf Village, are there any parts or locations in game that are not in Konoha?
SP: Yes, there are parts outside the city. Actually, the "outside of Konoha" portion is even bigger than Konoha. We recreated several important places like the Land of Waves and even added original all new places that we created and designed in partnership with the creators of the series. The world of "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja" is huge and everything is very detailed. To travel such a big world you will have to use what we call the "Tree Sequences," fast-action gameplay sequences where you'll race through forests, jumping from branch to branch to get to other locations.
GC: Just like in the show, I'm pretty sure these sequences will look very familiar to longtime fans. Since the "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja" covers such a huge span of time during his journey, Naruto meets many different allies and enemies. How many playable characters are in the game?
SP: I can't comment on the exact number right now because it's still a surprise. However, what's really important to us is that, unlike other fighting games, each character in "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja" has his or her own set of jutsu (specialized ninja techniques), attacks and animations. No two characters' moves or fighting styles are exactly the same. So players will have the opportunity to master each character. In our game, mastering Gaara doesn't mean that you will be a good fighter with Kiba for instance. You'll have to understand each characters strengths and weaknesses.
GC: Acquiring new techniques (jutsu) are a major focal point in the anime and manga, is this something we can expect to see in "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja" as well?
SP: Of course! This is something we unveiled a while ago that fans really appreciate. To trigger each individual technique you'll have to learn and successfully execute Hand Seals by using the two sticks on your controller. The faster you can trigger them, the better you will become. Each Hand Seal you execute with your controller's sticks will unleash a different attack or type of gameplay depending on the character. The best part is after you successfully execute a Hand Seal you'll trigger an interactive special-move mini-game. So after you perform a special attack, you won't just sit and watch a pre-recorded video or cinematic, you'll actually participate and make the move happen from start to finish!
GC: Roughly how long can we expect it would take to complete "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja"?
SP: A player rushing through the game without completing secondary missions could probably finish the game in 12 to 15 hours. But to really complete the story mode and all the missions, it's certainly much more than 20 hours. Keep in mind, in addition to single player Story Mode, you also have Versus Mode Single Player (Tournament), Versus Mode Two Player and Online Mode. So that's even more. This game offers a quite a lot!
GC: You mentioned Versus Mode Two Player and online, so I'm guessing that "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja" features Xbox LIVE support?
SP: Of course! It's an Xbox 360 exclusive title after all. There will be a versus mode online and worldwide Naruto fighter rankings!
GC: Great! Now for the most important question: when can we expect it to hit store shelves?
SP: It's almost here, end of October 2007. Not very far away!
GC: Thanks for your time Sebastien! As we are huge "Naruto" fans, we can honestly say that so far this is the best looking and most in-depth "Naruto" game we have seen.
SP: Thank you very much. I had the chance to work with highly professional and extremely passionate people. The team put their hearts and souls into making a "Naruto" game they would be proud of. We can't wait until fans get the chance to play the game and find out for themselves!
GC: I do have one more question. Knowing it is still early to even think about a sequel, do you foresee having the ability to visit other villages and traverse them like you do now?
SP: Right now, we are concentrating on "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja." But if there is a sequel, there are other villages to be discovered in the world of Naruto. It's a dream I hope could come true. It'd be so much fun.
GC: Again, thank you very much Sebastien. We can't wait to get our hands on the game when it comes out for the Xbox 360 on Oct. 30, 2007. This game is rated "T for Teen." Look out for the review, which will be coming soon!