Tomonobu Itagaki

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Tomonobu Itagaki
板垣 伴信
Itagaki Thumbs Up MNT.jpg
Tomonobu Itagaki in 2004
Born (1967-04-01) April 1, 1967 (age 53)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation Video game designer

Tomonobu Itagaki (板垣 伴信, Itagaki Tomonobu) (born April 1, 1967) is a Japanese video game designer best known for creating the Dead or Alive series and also reviving the Ninja Gaiden franchise in 2004. Joining Tecmo in 1992, Itagaki produced two video game franchises that were commercial successes and earned him several promotions; he headed Tecmo's development team, Team Ninja, and sat on the executive board. He left the company after 16 years of service, filing a lawsuit against it for withholding bonus pay. His new team at Valhalla Game Studios, comprising other Team Ninja members, worked on a new game, Devil's Third . [1]


Personal life

Born and raised in Tokyo, Tomonobu Itagaki graduated from Waseda University Senior High School in March 1985. He enrolled in Waseda University and graduated from its School of Law in 1992. [2]

Itagaki is married and has a daughter, [3] whom he has mentioned as one of the primary influences on his projects, [4] including developing Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword for the Nintendo DS, [5] and a constant gaming partner in games like the Halo series. [6] Itagaki has in his office a set of katana Japanese swords his father made for him, [7] which he tends to take out to show to his visitors. As he wishes to stop people from reading his expressions during gambling-type games, he is always seen wearing sunglasses, a habit that has become his trademark in the video game community. [7]


Itagaki joined Tecmo in 1992 as a graphics programmer, and initially worked on the Super Famicom version of the American football video game, Super Tecmo Bowl . His career breakthrough came in 1996 with his first Dead or Alive game, a game based on Sega Model 2 hardware ( Virtua Fighter ) created in response to Tecmo management's request. [7] He was mentored by Yoshiaki Inose (of Solomon's Key , Bomb Jack , Rygar and original Ninja Gaiden fame) and Akihiko Shimoji ( Tecmo Bowl ) in his early years at Tecmo, and was impressed by them to include fun as a necessary component in his projects. [8]

His rise through the company had been steady since then. He was appointed as the head of the third creative department in April 2001. [2] He then assumed the post of Team Ninja Leader in July 2001. [9] Tecmo appointed him as an Executive Officer in June 2004. He later assumed the position of General Manager of the high-end production department in February, 2006. His Executive Officer position was however taken away in August the same year, due to him being accused of sexual harassment. He was later judged innocent by a Tokyo district court in June 2007. [10]

The release of Dead or Alive 2 had greatly increased the series popularity, as well as Itagaki's. He had sought to create fighting games with details he felt were lacking in other games. In the later iterations, Itagaki has built the story of the games around themes of family - Kasumi and Ayane in Dead or Alive 3 , and Helena in Dead or Alive 4 . [11] To date, the series has gone through four iterations with various enhanced editions. A fifth iteration, Dead or Alive 5 , was made in his absence and released in September 2012. Dead or Alive 5 received two additional releases of the base title; Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate , which released in September 2013, a year after the original release. The second and final iteration of the game was titled Dead or Alive 5 Last Round and released in February 2015. Given the success of Dead or Alive 5, Team Ninja created a sequel, also without Itagaki's inclusion, and Dead or Alive 6 released in March 2019 and is currently the latest release in the franchise.

In the Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball series, Itagaki brought together the girls of Dead or Alive onto an island. The player is to foster good relationship between the girls to create a harmonious winning beach volleyball duo. In the second iteration of the series, the focus is shifted by expanding the number of activities the player can have the girls take part in. He explains the core of the game as a paradise where the player can watch the girls they 'love' enjoy simple activities. [3] [12]

Ninja Gaiden was Itagaki's effort to develop a game centered on violent gameplay, [13] with super ninja Ryu Hayabusa as the protagonist. Capitalizing on the brand name of the earlier NES series, Itagaki developed a critically acclaimed action-adventure game for the Xbox which also had an international online tournament held for it. He continued work on it to release Ninja Gaiden Black as the opus of his Ninja Gaiden work. He continued the series on the Nintendo DS with Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword , partly due to a promise made to his daughter. [5] At the same time, he brought the series' next chapter onto the Xbox 360 as Ninja Gaiden II .

Itagaki claims to be one of the very few in the Japanese video game industry to establish communications with the Western world. [14] He suggests other Japanese developers should do like-wise and be aware of the gaming tastes outside Japan, [3] so as to be able to reverse the Japanese gaming industry slump of 2005. [7]

On June 2, 2008, just before the release of Ninja Gaiden II for the Xbox 360, Itagaki announced that he was resigning from Tecmo and was suing the company for withholding a bonus promised for his previous works. He was also suing Tecmo's president Yoshimi Yasuda for damages based on "unreasonable and disingenuous statements" made in front of Itagaki's colleagues. [15] In an interview with, Itagaki has revealed that he is working on a project with former members of Team Ninja under a new studio, Valhalla Game Studios. [16] The title in question, Devil's Third , was revealed shortly before E3 2010.

In January 2021, Itagaki announced that he has established a new game studio, Itagaki Games, and stated that he would be interested in working with Microsoft again. [17]


Tecmo Super Bowl 1990Graphic Engineer
Dead or Alive 1996Producer and Director
Dead or Alive 2 2000Producer and Director
Dead or Alive 3 2001Producer and Director
Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball 2003Game Designer and Producer
Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly 2003Special Adviser
Ninja Gaiden 2004Producer and Director
Dead or Alive Ultimate 2004Producer and Director
Ninja Gaiden Black 2005Producer
Dead or Alive 4 2005Producer and Director
Dead or Alive: Xtreme 2 2006Executive Producer
Super Swing Golf 2006Adviser
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword 2008Executive Producer
Ninja Gaiden II 2008Producer, Director
Devil's Third 2015Director
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time 2020Supreme Advisor

Design approach

Game design philosophy

Itagaki believes a good game should be an integrated product of good graphics, interactivity, and playability. [18] He also places a high priority on ensuring his games are interactive with the player's actions and respond quickly to the player's inputs. [19] It is this opinion which led to his derogatory statements on Heavenly Sword . [20] He finds the payoff for the game's button-prompting sequences to be less fulfilling than that of Genji: Dawn of the Samurai 's (whose Kamui sequences he calls dumb, but entertaining). [21] Likewise, he cited Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Final Fantasy X as games lacking the interactivity appealing to him. [3]

Itagaki professes a liking for simplicity of inputs, he states too many inputs would result in the loss of the gaming experience. [22] As such, he respects Sega-AM2 for their work on Virtua Fighter 4 . [3] Likewise, he deplores implementing scenarios to show off technology just for the sake of it, sarcastically asking what is the point of cutting down "thousand heads of cabbages on screen." [23] In his integration mindset, everything (graphics, controllers, interactiveness, responsiveness, etc.) has its place, even CG pre-rendered cutscenes which he says can deliver a better cinematic experience of some scenes than doing them in real-time. [24]

Opinions on hardware

As a game developer, Itagaki has defined his philosophy as being able to extract the strengths of a game machine, and integrate them together to develop games to a level no one else can reach. He defines a game developer's satisfaction with a game machine as dependent upon these criteria. [25] With this philosophy, he continually expresses happiness in developing on the Xbox 360, proclaiming it to be more 'software friendly' than the PlayStation 3. [26] [27] Furthermore, he admires the Nintendo Wii's dedication to innovation, which he holds in high regard for the spirit of gaming. [21] Itagaki claimed that he wanted to develop his games for what he viewed as the Xbox 360 the most powerful console on the market at the time of design. [27]

Itagaki has also spoken of his handheld philosophy which goes for responsiveness and physical interaction, instead of raw hardware power. [19] As such, Itagaki refuses to make a handheld game for the PlayStation Portable (PSP), stating it goes against the design philosophy of being a handheld device. He says a game created, based on the specifications of the PSP, would be more suited for a true home console. [28] This view is reflected in his statements on why Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword as a handheld game has to be designed to take advantage of the Nintendo DS' touchpad rather than conventional inputs which would have rendered it a typical game.

Pet projects

Itagaki classifies his projects into core projects (for business and technical excellence purposes), and those purely for self-fulfillment. The Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball series and Dead or Alive: Code Chronos fall into the latter. The Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball games are just meant for simple fun, and to fulfill a 'love' for the female characters, letting the player nurture and watch the girls partaking in simple joys. Even though he admits to there being sexual content in the game, Itagaki refuses to create scenarios which he feels are vulgar for his 'daughters', a term he uses to call the female characters. [12] Code Chronos falls into the same category of development, developed as Itagaki's hobby for style. [5]

Work ethics

Itagaki is thorough with his games, working on them from start to release, and even post release to correct what he feels are deficiencies, and polish them up to their full potential. He has shown this in his project developments, such as pushing back the release of Dead or Alive 4 just to polish the game based on feedback of top Japanese Dead or Alive players recruited to test it out. [6] For Ninja Gaiden , he wanted to leave the best and the ultimate action game on the Xbox before moving on to the Xbox 360, thus he reworked the game and integrated the additional downloadable content to produce Ninja Gaiden Black . [11] [26] With Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, he chose to patch an easy-cash exploit rather than leaving it alone and ruminating over the consequences. [21]

Itagaki creates his game characters by immersing himself in their roles and the games. This is a reason why he objects to the suggestion of Kasumi in the Ninja Gaiden universe, saying her 'soft' nature is conflicting with the 'hard-edged' nature of the game whereas Ayane perfectly fits in. [7] It is this role immersion which helps him to develop and exclude guns from the moveset of the Spartan named Nicole in Dead or Alive 4 . [6] However, immersing himself in the games' atmosphere has also failed him at times. The Butt Battle, and Tug-of-War of Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 were heavily panned on the basis of minigame design. Itagaki defended those games as nostalgia comedic pieces, meant to make the player remember the celebrity games played on Japanese television. [21]

In 2006, various gaming sites reported that an unnamed female former Tecmo employee had filed a sexual harassment suit against Itagaki. [29] [30] [31] She claimed that Itagaki had made several unwanted sexual advances on her since 2003. While Itagaki admitted to kissing her, he claimed that whatever had gone between them had been consensual. Tecmo's ensuing investigation reached the conclusion that "the allegations in question were a result of the former employee's desire to vent frustration over her own personal affair, and not indicative of sexual harassment." [32] [33] [34] Tecmo has also demoted Itagaki and the accuser for their mingling of "personal affairs with their corporate responsibilities". Meanwhile, the court has found Itagaki innocent of the charges. [35]

Frank personality

Itagaki values frank and "to the point" attitudes, believing anything else would allow "quibbles and sectionalists" to come in and derail the train of thought. His frank attitude is also in line with his admitted aggression, taking criticisms as challenges to overcome instead of something to mope over. [14] This relates to his desire for challenges, producing games like Ninja Gaiden which are acknowledged as 'hard' by the gaming industry, [23] and to push himself to produce games which can contend as the best games of the genre. [4] [19] [36] He openly claims to be the sole creative force behind his projects, as well as being able to convey his plan clearly for the team to understand. He bemoans that the Japanese are starting to forget the basic concepts, closing off their minds to outside criticisms. [7]

Itagaki has consistently given harsh opinions on Namco's Tekken games, mainly due to his grudge against the company for its insulting radio commercial on his Dead or Alive game. He has stated he never forgets an insult to his family, and will retaliate with "nuclear missiles more than 100 times for that". [3] This along with what he views as Tekken's stagnation in the fighting game genre (starting from Tekken 4 ), led him to condemn the Tekken series, placing it as his top five hated games, [18] in spite of him stating Tekken , Tekken 2 , and Tekken 3 were good games which his family enjoyed. [3]

Related Research Articles

Ninja Gaiden is a series of video games by Tecmo featuring the ninja Ryu Hayabusa as its protagonist. The series was originally known as Ninja Ryukenden in Japan. The word "gaiden" in the North American Ninja Gaiden title means “tale” in Japanese. The original arcade version, first two Nintendo Entertainment System games and Game Boy game were released as Shadow Warriors in PAL regions. As of 2008, the series has shipped over 7.7 million copies.

Ryu Hayabusa

Ryu Hayabusa is a fictional character who serves as the main protagonist of Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden action-adventure video game series, in addition to featuring as a player character in the Dead or Alive fighting game franchise by Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja where he serves as the protagonist in Dead or Alive 2. He is a dragon-human hybrid who wields an ancestral weapon called the Dragon Sword, and is the leader of the Hayabusa ninja clan. One of Tecmo's most enduring characters, Ryu has appeared on official series merchandise as well as the feature film DOA: Dead or Alive, and has made many crossover appearances in other games. He has received public and critical reception as one of the most iconic ninjas in video games.

Dead or Alive (DOA) is a media franchise based on a fighting video game series produced by Tecmo and developed by Team Ninja. It is primarily composed of fast-paced 3D fighting games that begun with the original Dead or Alive in 1996. DOA is the creation of Tomonobu Itagaki, who has since left the company and is no longer working on the series, which continues without him. Dead or Alive has been praised for its impressive fighting system, graphics, and interactive environments. In addition to its fast-paced countering-based play system, the franchise is also known for its female characters. This aspect of the series' popularity led to the creation of the spin-off game Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball and its sequels, where the females and their sex appeal play a more focal role than it does in the core Dead or Alive series. A live action film adaptation DOA: Dead or Alive was released in 2006.

Hitomi (<i>Dead or Alive</i>) Dead or Alive character

Hitomi is a player character in the Dead or Alive series of fighting games by Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo. She was introduced in Dead or Alive 3 in 2001, replacing Ein/Hayate as the regular karate martial artist in the character roster. Hitomi is of Japanese and German descent, and she regularly enters the Dead or Alive fighting tournaments either to test her skills against other martial artists, or out of personal reasons. The character has been well received by game critics for her sex appeal and personality.

Kasumi (<i>Dead or Alive</i>) Dead or Alive character

Kasumi is a fictional character and the protagonist of the Dead or Alive fighting game series by Team Ninja and Tecmo. Kasumi has served as the lead character of the Dead or Alive franchise since its premiere in 1996. She was a main character in the first and fifth games of the series and in the film DOA: Dead or Alive.

<i>Dead or Alive Ultimate</i>

Dead or Alive Ultimate is a compilation fighting game developed by Team Ninja and released by Tecmo for the Xbox in 2004. It is a collection of the two previous games in the series, 1996's Dead or Alive and 1999's Dead or Alive 2. It marks the only game in the series to date to be a compilation. DOA Ultimate contains a high-resolution edition of the Sega Saturn version of Dead or Alive, and an enhanced remake of DOA2 which utilized the Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball graphics engine and offered Dead or Alive 3 game mechanics, new game content, online multiplayer capabilities, and the inclusion of Hitomi as a playable character.

Tecmo Co., Ltd., was a Japanese video game corporation founded in 1967. It had its headquarters in Kudankita, Chiyoda, Tokyo. Its subsidiary, Tecmo Inc, was located in Torrance, California.

Team Ninja Japanese video game developer

Team Ninja is a Japanese video game developer, book publisher, and a division of Koei Tecmo, founded in 1995 as a part of Tecmo. It was formerly led by Tomonobu Itagaki, later by Yosuke Hayashi, and is best known for the Ninja Gaiden action-adventure game series and the Dead or Alive fighting game series.

<i>Dead or Alive</i> (video game)

Dead or Alive is a 1996 fighting game by Tecmo and the first entry in Team Ninja's long-running Dead or Alive series. It was released first in arcades, followed by home ports for the Sega Saturn in Japan, and later for the PlayStation in all regions.

<i>Dead or Alive Xtreme 2</i>

Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 is a 2006 video game for the Xbox 360 game console. Developed by Team Ninja, it is the sequel to Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. The title expands upon the activities available in the original, supplementing beach volleyball with additional beach-related minigames.

Ayane is a video game character in the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden series by Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo. She debuted as a hidden character in the PlayStation version of the fighting game Dead or Alive in 1998, and has appeared in all of its sequels and spin-offs so far, including as the main protagonist of Dead or Alive 3. In the games, Ayane is a teenage master of ninjutsu and is characterised by her complex relationship with her half-sister Kasumi, the lead character of the Dead or Alive series.

<i>Ninja Gaiden 3</i> 2012 video game developed by Team Ninja

Ninja Gaiden 3 is an action-adventure hack and slash video game developed by Team Ninja and published by Tecmo Koei. It is the sequel to Ninja Gaiden II and was released worldwide for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 in March 2012. An updated version titled Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge was released later that year, originally published by Nintendo for the Wii U.

<i>Ninja Gaiden</i> (2004 video game) 2004 video game developed by Team Ninja for the Xbox

Ninja Gaiden is an action-adventure game developed by Team Ninja for Xbox, released by Tecmo in 2004. Players control Ryu Hayabusa, a master ninja, in his quest to recover a stolen sword and avenge the slaughter of his clan. It was inspired by Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden series, and is set in the same continuity as Team Ninja's Dead or Alive fighting games.

<i>Ninja Gaiden II</i> 2008 video game developed by Team Ninja

Ninja Gaiden II is a hack and slash action-adventure video game developed by Team Ninja and published by Microsoft Game Studios. It is the sequel to the 2004 title Ninja Gaiden and was released worldwide for the Xbox 360 in June 2008. A reimagined and heavily altered version, titled Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 was released for the PlayStation 3 later in 2009, and was published by Tecmo Koei, followed by Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus for the PlayStation Vita in 2013.

<i>Dead or Alive 5</i> 2012 Fighting video game

Dead or Alive 5 is a fighting video game in the Dead or Alive series, developed by Team Ninja and released by Tecmo Koei simultaneously for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2012. It is the first Dead or Alive game to have a multi-platform release since Dead or Alive 2 as well as the series' first installment that was released for the PlayStation 3.

<i>Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword</i> 2008 video game for the Nintendo DS

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is a 2008 action-adventure video game released for the Nintendo DS, developed by Team Ninja and published by Tecmo. A main installment in the Ninja Gaiden series, it features the Dragon Ninja, Ryu Hayabusa, as the protagonist. The game is the first portable video game title in the series to be developed by Team Ninja and the first game developed by this company to be released for the Nintendo system. Dragon Sword is set between Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II.

Koei Tecmo Japanese video game holding company

Koei Tecmo Holdings Co., Ltd. is a Japanese video game and anime holding company created in 2009 by the merger of Koei and Tecmo. Koei Tecmo Holdings owns several companies, the biggest one of those being its flagship game developer and publisher Koei Tecmo Games that was founded in 1978 as Koei.

<i>Dead or Alive Paradise</i>

Dead or Alive Paradise is a 2010 video game developed by Project Venus and published by Tecmo Koei for the PlayStation Portable as part of the Dead or Alive series. Paradise is a port and a remake of 2006's Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 for the Xbox 360, expanding upon the activities available in the original which consisted of mainly beach-related minigames.

Momiji (<i>Ninja Gaiden</i>) Video game character from the Ninja Gaiden series

Momiji (紅葉) is a fictional character from the Ninja Gaiden series of video games by Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo. She is a ninja shrine maiden and an apprentice and team mate of the series' protagonist Ryu Hayabusa, who was introduced as a supporting playable character in 2008's action game Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. Momiji later returned in this role in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, and is also available in Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate/Last Round, Dead or Alive 6, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper/Ultimate, and Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. She becomes the one of the two main protagonists of the upcoming Ninja Gaiden 4. In most of her appearances, Momiji is voiced by Yūko Minaguchi in Japanese and by Kate Higgins in English. Her character has been generally well received by the series' fans and game critics.

Rachel (<i>Ninja Gaiden</i>) Ninja Gaiden video game character

Rachel is fictional character from the Ninja Gaiden series of video games by Team Ninja and Tecmo. She was introduced in the 2004 action game Ninja Gaiden, where she is a demon/human hybrid who serves as a supporting non-playable character and an ally of the protagonist Ryu Hayabusa. Rachel is playable in Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, as well as in Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate, Dead or Alive 5 Last Round, and Dead or Alive 6, and as a guest character in Musou Orochi 2 Special and Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper. The character has been mostly well received, especially noted for her sex appeal.


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