I asked director Fumihiko Yasuda (who also did design work on Sigma 2) about why such a ... friendly mode would appear in such a typically unfriendly series.
"We really wanted to flesh out the story this time around," Yasuda said, "so we wanted people to enjoy that story and get used to the game as it is. In the past the games were really hardcore and we couldn't get players to stay with us and complete the game." Team Ninja is "redefining" Hayabusa's image, and wants people to experience that whole story without dying over and over again or throwing the game into the disposal in frustration.
Team Ninja is working to make a more relatable Ryu in this game, despite his distinctly unrelatable ability to jump off a building and land sword-first on an unsuspecting mercenary. "When he has that mask on, he's a ninja," he said. "When you take that mask off, he's not a ninja anymore. He's a human like all of us. To leave that aspect out doesn't make sense. We wanted to show that human under the mask. Who is this guy, why he does things."
Despite the overtures toward grounding Ryu, he's still a guy who climbs up buildings by sticking knives into the walls, and the impossible, outlandish abilities attendant to his profession won't be muted. "He's a ninja," Yasuda confirmed. "We're not going to hide that, and we have maintained that kind of cool style to the game. We don't want to take that away from Ninja Gaiden, because that is one of the defining factors of what the series is."
The "Hero Mode" is optional as well, allowing you to play the game with the same blistering difficulty you've come to expect and dread. "At the same time," Yasuda said, "we've got the super hard difficulty mode. We're keeping the hardcore aspect of the game anyway, we're just trying to get the players who have never had a go at Ninja Gaiden to come check it out."