In 1973's "Weird War Tales #13," writer Arnold Drake declared, "Old samurai never die!" Which is good news for fans of Takashi Okazaki's "Afro Samurai," especially if they're into video games. Though the character hasn't appeared in a new anime or manga for years, developer Redacted Studios is currently readying the release of "Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma," a third-person, hack-and-slash action game that will be released in three episodes for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC starting this September.
Developing a follow-up to a game that wasn't exactly a resounding success -- the first "Afro Samurai" game garnered an overall mediocre 65 rating according to Metacritic -- can be a tricky proposition. However, Dave Robinson, "Revenge of Kuma's" executive producer, tells CBR News that he and his crew were well aware of where they had fallen short with the original. With that in their minds, the development team has completely overhauled the gameplay mechanics for the sequel, resulting in what he promises is a much improved gaming experience for "Afro Samurai 2."
CBR News: What is the story being told in "Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma," and where does fit in with the manga, the two anime, and the previous game?
Dave Robinson: "Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma" is the successor to the original "Afro Samurai" manga, anime and game. It continues that first tragic story, but this time follows the path of Kuma just after the ill-fated fight with Afro at Mount Shumi, and thus does not tie into the "Afro Samurai Resurrection" anime.
In the game, players guide Kuma as he sets out on a path of bloody revenge against Afro for the murder of all those they loved at the Sword School, including their "little sister," Otsuru.
Takashi Okazaki wrote the original manga as well as the stories for the two anime and the first game. Is he involved in "Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma" as well?
Okazaki san has been on board from the start. After our initial proposal, he willingly gave us his insight and input about certain characters and storylines that we were proposing to include. He even agreed to allow us to add a new character to the "Afro Samurai" universe in the form of Bobbi Digital [a.k.a. RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, who's done the music for all of the "Afro Samurai" anime and games].
Who wrote the game's actual story?
We were lucky enough to partner with screenwriter Jim Defelice. He was one of the writers of the movie "American Sniper," as well as a best-selling author. He definitely understood about family tragedy and about struggling mentally with loss, so he was a great fit for this game.
What's interesting is that instead of playing as Afro, you play the game as Kuma, and you're trying to get your revenge on Afro. Now, a lot of people are going to wonder why you'd make an "Afro Samurai" game in which you don't get to be Afro.
What people don't know is that you don't just play as Kuma. You get to play as Afro as well, in flashbacks. You also get to add certain combat styles to your inventory as you defeat key enemies. For example, in the first volume, you'll be able to master Kuma, Afro, and Master styles. Since Kuma is a cyborg teddy bear, he's able to pick up chips and add them to his head to learn new fighting styles. This allows players more flexibility and keeps the combat fresh.
How closely does the action of this game resemble that of the first game?
We've definitely improved the gameplay mechanics from the first game. No one on the team was really happy with how the first game turned out. Being under corporate restraints at the time, and having to hit a specific launch date, meant that we had to rush the game out. When we started thinking about even contemplating this sequel, we took a long hard look at the reviews and made a list of all the key issues people had with the game. So we overhauled the combat mechanics and the camera, created a deep and rich storyline, added more enemies and characters for variety, and gave the game a new look, a nod to the franchise's manga roots.
In a way, "Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma" is more like a Lara Croft meets angry Batman combo where there is traversing, a little exploration, and a very satisfying combat mechanic that's easier to pick up. A lot of people criticized the first game for being too difficult, so we've made it a bit easier to grasp so gamers who are new to this series will get just as much enjoyment from playing as those who beat the first game. But fans of the original game won't be disappointed because there's still a lot of meat to the combat mechanics.
Does Kuma ever whack someone with his bear head?
Kuma is far too controlled to resort to that kind of dirty fighting. He's a well-trained assassin. Also, he uses his head to navigate and fight; his head enhances his vision, and helps with focus and precision. Why would he blind himself on purpose?
Finally, if "Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma" does well, do you have any ideas for what story you might tell in a third installment?
Right now our focus is to create the best game we can. But the episodic nature of what we are creating gives us far greater flexibility to do what you are inferring. This is similar to how comics go from issue to issue.
The first volume of "Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma" will be released for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC this September.