Ninja Gaiden is one of the most challenging games on the NES, combining fast-paced action, a fantastic soundtrack and brutal difficulty to make players work hard for their success. In some respects it was also a trendsetter, with cutscenes and cinematic moments that were ahead of their time.
Speaking to Polygon, game director Hideo Yoshizawa explained that cinematic scenes were essentially added for fun, even though it's hard to appreciate how influential they were in this age where we take such ideas for granted. These scenes were planned and sketched out, naturally, with the concept image below being rather eye-catching.
Discussing the famous difficulty of the game, Yoshizawa-san insists that the player being pushed to the start of a level when losing a life wasn't intended.
I wanted to put players back to the middle of the stage. But one of the programmers lied to me and said he'd do that, then ended up putting them back to the beginning.
As for those of us that can't beat this title, it seems we may be getting our strategy all wrong - when you get an item, use it right away.
We developed the game with the intent that the player should use items shortly after they get them, and if they do that, the game isn't that hard because the items are designed to help with certain enemies. But there are certain players who don't use items right away and want to save them for the end. And after the game came out, we realized if you do that, you pretty much can't win. It becomes a very difficult game.
Composer Keiji Yamagishi naturally had an important role, with a humorous small detail being that he "worked hard to make sure I made one of the first Famicom games that featured a drum roll in it". Nowadays Yamagishi-san is working on music albums that blend chiptune and real instruments, to represent a "futuristic emotional chiptunes world." The first album, Retro-Active Pt. 1 can be pre-ordered right now - part 2 and a physical CD version are also planned for this year.
You can have a listen to the available preview tracks below and share your thoughts on the original NES Ninja Gaiden in the comments section.