Emperor Cow Meets Tomonobu Itagaki!


I have been a huge fan of Tomonobu Itagaki and his work for many years and I always wanted to meet the creative mind behind “Ninja Gaiden” and “Dead Or Alive”. A while back, I added Mr. Itagaki on Facebook and in return he added me as well. But, I always had doubts whether that account was actually real, or whether it was really him writing, or whether it was someone else who was hired to do the writing for him. As some of you may know, I had already set plans to go to Japan in November to attend the Tokyo Game Night “Playse” DOA5U tournament. So I thought to myself, “Let’s find out”. I sent him a private message saying that I was a huge fan from Saudi Arabia and would like to meet him and maybe have some sort of interview after the DOA tournament.  I sent the message with very little expectations but I thought to myself, “What the hell have I got to lose, right?”. To my surprise, in less than 10 minutes I get a response saying, “Sure, I’m free next week. Just drop by my office in the evening”. Of course, I got excited. But then I thought to myself, “well…. Shit! I guess I have to come up with some questions to ask the guy now”. And so the random yet unforgettable experience began.


Enter Valhalla!

I arrived at Valhalla Game Studios as planned and I waited in front of a couple of closed doors and a phone right next to it. I picked up the phone and said who I was to the guy at the other end of the phone and then I was greeted by officer producer Mr. Yoshifuru Okamoto. I was asked to take my shoes off and place them in a small locker and was given a pair of slippers.

Emperor Cow: Does everyone here wear slippers?

Yoshifuru Okamoto: Yeah, this is common among many Japanese companies in order to have a more relaxed and an “at home” feel. Mr. Itagaki’s office is on another floor so please come this way.

He takes me to this big room with 3 huge black sofas facing a TV screen. In front of the TV were a bunch of games and all the current gen consoles. Behind one of the sofas were 2 giant flags with the “Valhalla Game Studios” logo on them and a guitar on the side. And I was wearing slippers. The only thing on my mind at that point was the fact that I was so glad I was wearing a new pair of socks without any holes in them or a funky smell that might stink up the place.

Okamoto: Please wait here. Mr. Itagaki will arrive shortly.


Meeting Tomonobu Itagaki

Tomonobu Itagaki: Hi, I am Tomonobu Itagaki.

Cow: はじめまして、よろしくおねがいします。(Nice to meet you! It is my honor)

Itagaki: I believe you met Okamoto. He has been with me for a very long time since DOA2U.

Okamoto: Nice to meet you.

Cow: Really? Nice to meet you too!

(They both handed me their business cards)


Itagaki: Oh Japanese is OK?

Cow: Yeah it’s fine.

(The rest of the interview was carried out in Japanese for the most part)

Itagaki: So you came from Saudi Arabia? Tell me, how’s the war between the Palestinians and the Israelis? The situation in Ghaza seems very unstable. You live close to that region so you might have a better insight.

(In my head I was thinking, well that’s one way of quickly breaking the ice. LOL)

Cow: Well it’s a massacre. There are innocent people getting killed left and right, children being either orphaned or separated from their parents, schools and places of worship being bombed, and the media either hides or twists everything to suit their own agendas.

Itagaki: The media can never be trusted. The media is corrupted, governments are corrupted. You don’t happen to have family there do you?

Cow: Actually I do, and in Syria as well. There’s no decent place to live in around the world really.

Itagaki: It is true. This whole world has turned into hell. If it’s not war, it’s corruption.

You seem a little tense. Let’s take a picture! Okamoto! Get us a couple of beers will you?

(Okamoto comes back with a couple of beers for us)

Itagaki: Do you drink?

Cow: No, I don’t.

Itagaki: Ahh.. Its ok. Anyway, just hold this for the picture.

(Itagaki opens up a beer and hands it to me)

Itagaki: now sit back and relax and stick your hand out and say: “YEAAAAAAAAAAAH”

(We both do that and Okamoto snaps the shot)


Itagaki: but really your Japanese is superb! Where did you learn it?

Cow: back in Saudi Arabia.

Itagaki: was your teacher Japanese?

Cow: No, he was Egyptian.

(He bursts laughing)

Cow: His wife was Japanese though. Actually they were both my teachers for 8 years.

Itagaki: and was this part of your college studies?

Cow: No, I studied it in private. I’m actually a dentist.

Itagaki: I bet you can tell if someone has real teeth or false ones.

(We all start laughing)

Itagaki: So how long did the trip from Saudi Arabia to Japan take? It must have been very long.

Cow: well there are no direct flights to Tokyo so I had to stop by Hong Kong for a few hours. In total I would say about 18-19 hours.

Itagaki: That must have been a really tiring trip. So what have you done since you arrived?

Cow: well I was training at the game center for 2 days and attended the tournament yesterday.

Itagaki: Right, you mentioned the tournament. It was on DOA5 Ultimate, right?

Cow: yeah.

Itagaki: So how did you do?

Cow: Well My team got knocked out at top 8, so not too bad but not as good as I was aiming. Nerves got the best of me near the end. But it was a great event. There were around 150 players. It was great fun to meet and play with so many players.

Itagaki: What was the event called?

Cow: “TGN Playse”. That’s short for Tokyo Game Night.

Itagaki: And was this an official tournament?

Cow: Well it was mainly organized by the players themselves, but Shimbori and Hayashi were there.

Itagaki: So semi-official then. Okamoto, make sure you catch all the details. So which Character do you use?

Cow: Leifang.

Itagaki: Oh, that girl is very technical! Do you know why I call her that girl? It’s because she is my daughter. I love her. I love all the characters I made. They’re all my children. When I create a character, I don’t just concentrate on their moves, I care about everything from the way they look, to their personality, to their back story to the way they grow. Just like raising my own children.

Cow: She has been my main since DOA 1

Itagaki: I could tell from your Facebook profile pic which you based on the DOA 1 cover. I designed that cover.

Cow: Really?

Itagaki: Do you remember which characters were on that cover?

Cow: Well, yeah. Leifang, Kasumi and Tina


Itagaki: Well of course you’d know. (Laughs)

(In my head I thought well this is my chance to ask a few questions of my own)

Cow: You know, there was always something unique about DOA that drew me to it from the start. It wasn’t just the fighting and the mind game, the game was always pretty and always polished.  I always wanted to know, what were your main goals when designing the game? What was the thought process behind it?

Itagaki: There are four main pillars that I concentrated on when designing DOA. On two ends of the spectrum you have Casual and Pro, and on the other ends you have Sex and Violence. The main goal was to find the perfect balance between all these four pillars. The game should not be too difficult in order for casuals and new comers to enjoy it and it should not be too easy in order not to lose the pro players. It also should not be too violent in order not to scare off any of the sensitive players and it should not be too sexy in order not to turn it into an “Ero-game” (an erotic game). This is why I put a firewall on all 4 pillars, so that no one pillar overshadows the others and a perfect balance could be achieved.

Cow: You know, you just said something that has hit the spot to hard its actually painful. I love the DOA Fighting game series. I have always been a fan and to me it was always the game that played better and also looked sexier than all its competition. But that’s just it! It was always a fighting game first, and the sexiness came naturally thanks to how visually pleasing the game was “as a fighting game”.  The problem that I, as well as many players out there, have been having with DOA5 is that it lost its identity as a fighter. It started off so well at first with the “I’m a Fighter” slogan and the trailers showing really entertaining fighting. Then it is like they took a huge 180 degree turn and started to exploit the sexy side of the game to the point that it became erotic. The game lost its identity as a fighter and became an online erotic clothes shop. Even when they released some of the classical nostalgia outfits as DLC they went and exposed more under boob or side boob just in order to make them sell more. What they don’t realize is that this is hurting us as a “fighting game community” and we are being looked down upon by all the players of other fighters out there as perverts who just play an erotic game. No matter how hard we as pro players try to showcase the games depth by releasing video content or attending tournaments, they go and flood the market with more bikinis and more cleavage. They have them practically topless in the DOA5 Last Round pre-order for crying out loud. We are being taken as fools.

Itagaki: Everybody is a little perverted; even I’m a little perverted. But, it was for that very reason I created DOAX; in order to target the people who wanted something a little bit more casual and sexy but at the same time keeping that tone separate from the “fighting game” that is DOA. DOA is now a total mess.

Cow: Speaking of DOAX, I loved the casino in that game. (Laughs)

Itagaki: We put a lot of work into that casino. What game did you like the most?

Cow: Blackjack! (Laughs)

Itagaki: Blackjack is fun isn’t it? (Laughs)

Cow: It’s really addictive! But what I liked the most was that there was no time limit in the casino. I would play blackjack for hours without realizing how much time had passed.

Itagaki: Going back to DOA5, another major problem with it is that the balance now is a disaster.

Cow: You really think so? To be honest, I really think the team did a great job with the balance of the game. I feel that is one of the best areas that evolved.

Itagaki: YOU say that because you are a pro hardcore player! But I look at it from a game designer standpoint. It is almost impossible to attract new players with the way the game plays now. Look back at the older DOAs. When a new comer tries out the game for the first time, his first instinct is to just press the buttons randomly. But, those button presses usually lead to some very visually pleasing moves and even at some points lead to that beginner’s first victory. When a new player experiences this, in his mind he would think, “Hey, I think I can play this game” and would start to play it more and maybe even attract more players to play it. When you compare this to the state DOA5 is in, a new comer has virtually no chance at all. The technical gap is so huge to the point that the game will feel too awkward and this new comer will never be able to play effectively or ever get a win. A game like that would never sell. This is why they thought they can overcome this by making the game more erotic and milk you loyal players all out of your money with erotic DLC. It’s disgusting.

Cow: Hmm, I never really looked at it that way.

Itagaki: Hey, Do you know why the 2D shooting game genre kept shrinking until it eventually disappeared? A player like you would know why. It’s basically the same situation.

Cow: I suppose it’s because it was getting more and more aimed towards hardcore players.

Itagaki: Exactly. The fighting game genre is at risk of facing the same dilemma. Of course, there is a market for hardcore players. It was for that reason I created Ninja Gaiden.

Cow: Ninja Gaiden is one of my favorite games of all time. I loved that game so much! What made it stand out so much for me is that it felt like an “adventure fighting game”. I also liked Ninja Gaiden 2. I still remember that water dragon boss where you had to fight over the pool of piranhas. I swear that boss made me want to cry. (Laughs)

Itagaki: It’s like this. Think of DOA as the Pacific fleet, Ninja Gaiden as the Atlantic fleet, and DOAX as the Mediterranean fleet. Each fleet is stationed in a specific location and is placed there to protect that location with its own unique rules and regulations. Team Ninja went and took all those fleets and sent them together to the North Pole!

But turning it into an “ero-game”? Just what the hell kind of market are they targeting exactly?

Cow: Putting all that aside, I think the most thing that bothers me about the game right now is the netcode. It’s awful. It’s almost impossible to have a playable connection. It’s as if online and offline are totally different games. 90% of the time I’m raging and cursing saying “I SWEAR I READ THAT!”

Itagaki: The coding is very poor. Have you seen the coding in Ninja Gaiden 3?

Cow: don’t get me started on that game. That game was a disaster from every aspect. But to be fair, the game did improve greatly with Razor’s Edge.

Itagaki: Do you know why it improved?

Cow: Because it went back to its original roots.

Itagaki: Exactly! But even that is not a good thing. You cannot just build a game based on the same formula over and over. People will get bored. You have to expand on it and evolve it. Introduce something new to the table.

Cow: The sad thing is they actually tried to do this when they collaborated with Mr. Inafune in making Yaiba. It had a very fresh and new feel to it. It was also pretty challenging. I really enjoyed that game. It is just too bad that the fans were too hard on it because they were expecting another Ninja Gaiden, even though the game was clearly being advertised as something else.

Anyway, just make sure that the netcode is good in Devil’s Third. That is a deal breaker for me and many players out there. (Laughs)

Itagaki: Don’t worry. My team and I are working really hard on making sure that the game plays as smooth as possible. You better start recruiting clan members from now! (Laughs)

Anyway, do you have any questions you would like to ask me?

Cow: actually I had a few but there was always one that crossed my mind. Why the name Valhalla?

Itagaki: I am sure by now you heard of the story of my departure from my old job, right?

Cow: Right.

Itagaki: And you know the mythology behind Valkyries?

Cow: I do.

Itagaki: To everyone that helped build this company, it was as if we were chosen by the Valkyries after having fallen in battle. And this company became our Valhalla where we could start anew.

Cow: You have all this experience with DOA. And to my knowledge, you have a good number of staff that worked on Sega’s Virtua Fighter series as well. So why don’t you make a new fighting game? Show the world how it’s done!

Itagaki: Aah, no way! If somebody told you to go back to college and study dentistry all over again would you?

Cow: Hell no. (Laughs)

Itagaki: Its the same thing. I want to move forward, try out different genres and create new games. It’s far more interesting that way.

Cow: You know? I am going to say this about myself, but I am sure many people would agree with me. You have not only set a standard for game quality to look up to, but to me your games were also console sellers. After playing DOA on the Sega Saturn to death and DOA2 after that on the Dreamcast, I purchased an Xbox for the soul purpose of playing DOA3, then when I heard that the Japanese version was updated I went and bought a Japanese Xbox with DOA3.1, then I Bought a 360 for DOA4. To be honest I had no interest in buying a Wii U at all. But When I heard Devil’s Third was going to be a Wii U exclusive, I went straight to the store and bought one. (Laughs)

Itagaki: Thank you. I am really honored to hear this.

Cow: The funny thing is, even though I have an Xbox One, a PS4 and now a Wii U, I am having the most fun with the Wii U. The Xbox One and the PS4 are too obsessed with their graphical presentation to the point that the game content becomes either too short or too weak at the expense of the graphics.

Itagaki: That is because Nintendo still understands what it means to make a game. So what are your favorite games on the Wii U right now?

Cow: You’re going to laugh. Pikmin 3! (Laughs) and Bayonetta 2.

Itagaki: Just wait for Devil’s Third! It’s really shaping up to be a fun game.

Cow: I can’t wait. You know I feel very fortunate for being able to come and meet you in person.

Itagaki: Actually, you are lucky. Okamoto and I were just talking a while back about getting an interview with a player for our website. Your timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Isn’t that right Okamoto?

Okamoto: Yah

(Actually Okamoto was taking down notes of the interview the whole time)

Itagaki: So how many days do you have left in Japan?

Cow: 5 days more.

Itagaki: What do you plan on doing?

Cow: Probably camp at the game center. It is not very often I get the chance to play a game I love offline and at a high level without worrying about lag.

Itagaki: You addict! Go and do some tourism! At least for one day! Now is a great time for sightseeing. Don’t waste your whole time at the game center.

Cow: I’ll try not to. (Laughs)

Itagaki: Anyway, We better get back to work. It was a pleasure to meet you. Please drop by and visit us if you ever come and visit Japan again.

Cow: Of course! Thanks for great time! And I hope to see you again!

And there you have it.

In the end I didn’t really know who was interviewing who exactly. And there were some sensitive issues which I could not share with you guys. But, this has got to be one of the most bizarre and unforgettable gaming experiences I’ve ever had. I hope you guys had a fun read.


33 thoughts on “Emperor Cow Meets Tomonobu Itagaki!”

  1. Honestly, if they stop with the costumes you might as well kiss DOA good bye. It is all about money at the end of the day. If the costumes are the reason this game is still being updated, people should stop complaining & stop being insecure.

  2. I don’t see how them having a comeback at 50 or 30 changes your problem with you and your opponent “basically having the same amount of life”, even in your scenario of you having 60% and the opponent having 10%. Perhaps you can further clarify.

  3. I don’t see how them having a comeback at 50 or 30 changes your problem with you and your opponent “basically having the same amount of life”, even in your scenario of you having 60% and the opponent having 10%. Perhaps you can further clarify.

  4. Are we sure this guy made DoA3.1? because his philosophy is like the complete opposite of what made DoA3.1 amazing but explains everything why DoA4 was pure garbage.

  5. I spoke with the team at the launch event about the final PB requirements. My comments were that it was over nerfed from the alpha build. Remember that the progress of it was [Any time during the round as many times as you want] > [Any time during the round once you reached 50% life as many times as you want] > [Any time during the round once you reached 50% life only one time per round]. Personally, they should have released it as [Any time during the round only one time per round]. It’s the fact you gain it at 50% which makes people feel it’s a come-back mechanic. Sadly, it was too late to make such a change and I don’t ever see them making such a huge system change for any version of DOA5.

  6. I like Erik Argetsinger DoA5AE version of the game. If the sidestep was actually a sidestep I would probably stop getting bopped so much -_-

    There is a small reward for blocking so you have a better reason to hit the buttons. And because the crushes aren’t yolo like in DoA4 strings dominate except against Gen Fu because he touches you and that might be the round on some thug shit.

    Because sidestep doesn’t work, there is 300 health, and big characters are generally slow they virtually auto lose. They can’t step your strings, you can’t block and punish (cause strings) and you’re slow so the only thing you can do is make those manly reads.

    Save us DoA5 : LR :v

  7. I think the PB/PL is solid in theory, but I don’t like the fact that its a revenge mechanic. Revenge mechanics just reward the shitty player.

    Wouldn’t actually mind a version of the game that had meter you had to build though. I mean the game has enough crazy elements they could do some stuff with it. Got ninjas, bird demons and cyborgs with magic. Could give Leon an EX shoulder with stupid priority. Bass with a chargeup catch throw that has minor armor and grabs people in both crouching and standing. All kinds of broken possibilities with that.

  8. I think it’s more that it’s a really strong comeback factor that you can’t really just dismay because it’s a “mid punch, or kick hold” + some characters have guaranteed setups into a CB so you have to take that into account too. And even if holding a CB is easy for the most part, even in high level play it’s happened solely through a very good mind game someone is playing in order to get that off, and once they do your life is pretty much over from that one comeback factor.

  9. Well in the situation you described itd be very appart that your opponent would go for a burst and power blow/launcher so you could just hold it. I agree that throw punishment doesnt do enough damage but if they lowered the life theyd have to nerf alot of characters damage. Genfu and others do way too much for 240 as it stands. And im fine with the ground game since genfu has ways around wake up kicks in open space and on walls. Plus i think the community is finally using hard knock downs more as a way around the wake up kick.

  10. Power Blow is a + on block comeback factor that does 80-100 pts depending on if there is a wall. It should be unsafe like it was in the beginning of development. Critical burst is ok but because of power blow and power launcher it becomes silly. I have a 60% life lead on you and you have 10% left but because you have power blow/launcher and I don’t and you land one hit you can kill me. So me having 60% and you have 10% doesn’t mean anything cause we essentially have the same amount of life.

    Also I would decrease the life bar back to 240 pts. 300 is really dumb and because its at 300. Unsafe attacks are just a slap on the wrist when you punish them.

    I would also fix sidestep so strings don’t retract after steppin the initial hit of the string. Sidestep is basically just a parry that parries all hit levels other than tracking attacks so you have to keep sidesteppin to step strings or wait for a specific part of the string which is a guess in itself. Just the entire design of this game I don’t like it. Don’t want to hurt feelings about the game but I just don’t like it.

    The best thing about the game however is how they nerfed the hold but they need to decrease the damage back to what it was in vanilla. Holds still deal too much damage.

    Also they really need to fix the ground game.

  11. It adds another huge layer for new-comers that isn’t just cut and dry imo. On top of that they get into this notion that a critical burst is almost what you want to always strive for getting in terms of getting huge damage, coupled with the power blow etc. When you look at it from a just starting the game as someone whose never played DoA before perspective it’s actually quite deep already. On top of them having to understand what stuns go into what and when they can use their critical burst etc. That’s how I feel anyways.

  12. I actually agree with a lot about what he said, gameplay changes wise he wasn’t really talking much about DoA5 being ruined in that way but as a game design of itself is what I think he’s most disappointed about with the series. As for his comment about new players not knowing what to do with their moves etc, you can actually kind of see that with how a new player picks it up, considering how vastly different the stun game is coupled with power blows and power launchers etc. It’s actually a lot to take in compared to when I first started getting into DoA competitively starting off on DOAD a lot of it was pretty straightforward, granted I know Itagaki didn’t make DOAD lol, though I do know Nintendo was working with TN at the time to make the game on the 3DS etc. Don’t know lol. Could just be me.

  13. I like the burst because it adds another mind game element to the stun game. And most of the time you can react to them. But i can understand why you wouldnt like them. Im just glad we have guaranteed damage now. Especially on a wall. knocking someone into a wall and having to guess was stupid. Or they could slow escape and youd get nothing. Lmao

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