Games

Happy Birthday, Hideaki Itsuno! A Tribute to a Gaming Great


On August 25, 2022, Capcom mainstay and absolute Legend Hideaki Itsuno is 52 years old. ESTNN wants to congratulate and pay tribute to one of the best video game directors in the world.


Itsuno’s Awakening

Hideaki Itsuno is a certified legend and hero of the industry. Not only has he been one of the cornerstones of Capcom for over 30 years, and his name is on some of the greatest action titles in all gaming. He joined Capcom in 1994 because he was of fighting games and it was just an easy commute, even though he was more a fan of Capcom’s rival in fighting games SNK. The revelation that Itsuno got his starting in fighting games also explains why the man’s focus is on smooth gameplay.

Mro really got his start as a planner on the Street Fighter prequel, Street Fighter Alpha. In Japanese game development, a planner wears a lot of hats, from calling the shots on design decisions all the way to team management. And it’s impressive that just a year into the business, Itsuno got to work on one of Capcom’s crown jewels. After that, Itsuno became one of Capcom’s go-to directors/planners for fighting games and was responsible for some all-time classics like the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure fighting game and Capcom vs. SNK.

But fate would have it that Itsuno would find himself trying to fix a mess that would end up cementing his legacy. You see, initially, Itsuno was about to work on his dream game. An RPG based on his love for Dungeons&Dragons and the ideas for that game would be taken by other staff at Capcom and birth the insanely successful Monster Hunter franchise. Instead, he was brought on to fix the sequel to Hideki Kamiya’s Devil May Cry. Devil May Cry 2 was greenlit for development before the development of the first game had concluded.

Now, the story of Devil May Cry 2’s development is a very complicated one. But to cut it short, the team working on it was mostly composed of developers who had never worked on console games before. Their expertise was solely in arcade games. And while the original Devil May Cry was well received, Devil May Cry 2 couldn’t follow up on that success because the team focused on the aspects they thought defined Devil May Cry and not what fans ended up loving.

But six months before release, Hideaki Itsuno was brought on to bring the game to a shippable state. They shipped, but it left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. So Itsuno and his team requested the Capcom higher-ups to greenlight a prequel to the original Devil May Cry instead so they could redeem themselves in the eyes of the fans.

And oh man did they ever. Say what you want about Devil May Cry 3, but even 16 years after its initial release, it still is the bar of quality any action game should strive for. And it is a bar that only a few titles reach. Yes, the game is that good. Who would imagine that a team whose expertise lies in fighting games with responsive gameplay that can entertain for hundreds of hours could make a fun and focused single-player experience? Devil May Cry 3 was just as cool as its protagonist Dante and was so successful that a sequel for the upcoming next generation of consoles was ordered.

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A Dream and long Silence

In 2008, Devil May Cry 4 was released to some fanfare but ultimately failed to meet sales expectations by Capcom. By 2008 the industry was vastly different from the environment that Devil May Cry 3 was released in. Which led Capcom to put the series on ice and eventually hand it over to Ninja Theory to put a western spin on the franchise. This was a blessing in disguise however because it allowed Itsuno to finally make the game of his dreams, Dragon’s Dogma.

Now, my love for Dragon’s Dogma is already well documented. But I think it also outlines exactly what makes Itsuno such a great director. Dragons Dogma tries to emulate the experience of going on a lengthy Dungeons&Dragons campaign. Which includes hoofing through fast landscapes full of goblins, wolves, and bandits. And while other titles of its era tried to be convenient and handholding, Dragon’s Dogma tried to go at it the same way Devil May Cry did before.

With gameplay that allowed players to mix and match the styles they liked. And instead of relying on an online coop, you get AI companions who are intentionally flawed to simulate playing with other players. And it’s a title that’s a diamond in the rough. While it might be vastly different from Skyrim, which was released a year before and gave many the impression that that’s what an open-world RPG should be like, Dragon’s Dogma was intentionally weird. And the dramatic irony here is that Dragon’s Dogma never managed to receive the same hype and reverence as Dark Souls a year prior.

This led Itsuno to take a break from any bigger titles, focusing on directing re-releases of his older titles and helping with the development of the Devil May Cry spin-off DmC: Devil May Cry, which was also released to little fanfare.

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Bang, Bang, Bang, Pull My Devil Trigger

Then followed the dark ages, years, and years of no news on a new game by Itsuno and his team. But after the success of Devil May Cry 4’s Special Edition, there were the beginnings of a spur. Like the voice actors posting images of doing motion capture. Ominous tweets by Itsuno himself, and of course the occasional leak or two. But there was no confirmation yet. Until that fateful day at E3 2018 on the Xbox Showcase.

DMC IS BACK! Yelled a 48-year-old Hideaki Itsuno with the excitement of a fourth grader and it was exhilarating. In a time when games got super serious and Capcom was on an upswing yet again, our guardian angel of smooth, smoking sexy style action returned with a trailer that still makes me sob to this day. Just look at it… faking us out by being all serious only to explode into the kind of unbridled action the series is known for.

Devil May Cry 5 was released in 2019 to amazing reviews and ended up shipping 5 million units as reported in April this year. It was for many a return to form and the return of a kind of game many believed dead. That of the unapologetically fun, mechanically well-tuned action game that had long given way to titles that focus on wide-open areas and a deep cinematic narrative. And it’s not just Itsuno, it’s him and his team who came back swinging with the kind of game that stands at the pinnacle of its genre.

Masterworks All, Can’t go Wrong

Since then Itsuno went on to be mysterious about his next project. Even if all of us already knew what it was going to be. In an interview around the release of Devil May Cry 5, he revealed that in 2016 he told the chairman of Capcom Kenzo Tsujimoto that he wanted to make either Devil May Cry 5 or Dragon’s Dogma 2. Now we know that Dragons Dogma is Itsuno’s passion project and the first game ended up as a very good proof of concept limited by budget and the technology of the time. Itsuno also felt like Devil May Cry fans deserved at least one more swan song of the franchise.

So again we would wait… even if it was painfully obvious that something was coming we still had to wait for confirmation. And then around the Summer Gamesfest this year, massive legend Itsuno revealed they would hold a 10th-anniversary event for the initial release of Dragon’s Dogma. This was kinda weird because Capcom never much cared about Dragon’s Dogma outside the release of the Netflix Anime two years prior.

And so, Capcom released this short 12-minute video of Itsuno and his team talking about Dragon’s Dogma with the love of a caring parent. They would go on and on about the conversations they had that led to the design of some of its aspects. How they tried to retrace the myths of iconic monsters, retrace their origin, and use them to inform their design choices. And by the end, all of them ripped off their jackets and shirts and spoke eight magical words that made me cry out in joy in the middle of the night.

“Dragon’s Dogma 2 is currently in development!”

And that Itsuno’s reaction to all the birthday wishes he had received was mostly followed by him assuring people that he and his team are working hard on Dragon’s Dogma tales volumes about the man. He just loves making video games and making people smile. The innocent joy of a 52-year-old having the enthusiasm of a fourth-grader (and I mean that lovingly) is something to behold and something to draw inspiration from.

So here is to you Hideaki Itsuno, my one true love. You are a real hero of this industry and made some of my all-time favorites. Please take it easy and stay healthy, gaming would be way too boring without you. Happy Birthday and keep doing your best!

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