As Team Ninja seeks redemption, let's crack the lid open and see what Nioh has to offer.
First unveiled as Ni-Oh more than a decade ago, Nioh is a tough-as-nails action RPG from Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo. Citing Dark Souls and Bloodborne as inspirations, the creative team behind the game have described their RPG as a “masocore” game — that is, a combination of “masochistic” and “hardcore.”
“Nioh was influenced by [the] Bloodborne and Souls series. For RPG/hack ‘n slash elements, especially the looting system, we looked to Diablo as well as Borderlands. As for samurai depiction, we took hints from movies such Lone Wolf and Cub by Kenji Misumi and Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa, as well as numerous Japanese period pieces.”
Nioh largely takes place in feudal Japan -- the fictionalized version of the Sengoku period, to be exact -- where a sailor known as William, the game's protagonist, is tasked with defeating supernatural entities called the Yokai. The story of William is said to be loosely based on the historic western samurai William Adams -- a European credited as the first western explorer to reach Japan -- albeit with added supernatural and dark fantasy elements.
Like Dark Souls, essentially. That's the easy answer. Delve a little deeper beneath the surface and you'll find that Nioh's gameplay is a little more nuanced, given William can adopt three different stances that in turn affect what you specialize in.
Those familiar with the blocking/locking on gameplay loop of the Souls series will no doubt take to Nioh like a duck to water, but toss in the addition of Guardian Spirits and Team Ninja's RPG certainly brings a lot of new elements to the table.
The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV aren't the only games to have spent upwards of ten years in the limelight. In tracing Nioh's turbulent production back to its origins, you'll discover that the game was first announced back in 2004, though a lack of progress and internal strife led then-Producer Kou Shibusawa to hand over the project to Team Ninja.
It wasn't until 2015 that Nioh was reintroduced as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, and though Shibusawa and Co. initially envisioned Nioh as a multimedia project, the dev team quietly doubled down on developing the game itself and nothing more.
On the prolonged development, General Producer Kou Shibusawa said:
“Ten years have passed since Nioh was originally announced. Even during all that time though, gamers would always ask about it at events like E3 and Gamescom. We always felt support from the gamers around the world for this title.
“Now, finally, Nioh — a game created with the entire power of Koei Tecmo — will be released in 2016. In appreciation to all the fans who have waited so long, and in order to have gamers everywhere try Nioh as soon as possible, we will release the Alpha Demo this month. We hope you enjoy overcoming the challenges in this masocore take on samurai action — Nioh.”
Back in 2004, Nioh began life as a wildly ambitious multimedia project, one based on an unfinished script by legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo).
Sadly, a lack of tangible progress put paid to any multimedia ambitions, and when Nioh was overhauled circa 2010, plans for a tie-in feature film were ultimately scrapped.
“While Nioh is a challenging game, if you carefully pay attention to the movements of your enemies, you’ll be able to find chances for an opening. And don’t be afraid to seek help from other players online from our great community, as there’s always someone out there who can offer guidance. Nioh is really about self-improvement. And in an era of games where there’s less lasting “death” in action titles, I want you to feel like you’ve genuinely accomplished something once you’ve completed it.”
Those who completed Nioh's Alpha demo last year will be entitled to The Mark of the Conqueror DLC from the PlayStation Store, which will include exclusive in-game content when Nioh launches later this year.
Here's an overview of what that tech test entailed:
“Upon coming ashore a small island near the village of Usuki, in the first stage the player encounters the remains of a fishing village set aflame by a mysterious invasion. In the following stage, demonic beings from the Yokai realm run rampant in Dazaifu, which has controlled western regions since ancient times.”
Released last May and only available for a limited time, the Nioh demo for PlayStation 4 was downloaded over 850,000 times worldwide.
Bouncing off this, and as development wore on, Team Ninja hatched plans for a second demo, with this one in particular heralding a shift from Alpha to Beta phase.
“Following the overwhelming success of the Alpha Demo in April—as well as the community’s generous feedback—the Nioh Beta Demo will incorporate a number of gameplay changes made with fans in mind, which will be immediately noticeable upon their return to the village of Usuki. This first stage of the demo will offer new challenges and the opportunity to once again fight for the mysterious Mark of the Conqueror DLC. Warriors who conquered Usuki and procured the DLC during the Alpha Demo won’t be left wanting, however, as they will receive a set of weapons and more starting money. These champions will also have the opportunity to play through the new Nakatsu stage without having to clear Usuki again.
“The new Nakatsu stage leads protagonist William along a treacherous mountain path to a deep cave, where he must prevail against human and supernatural enemies alike—including the seductive Hinoenma, a dangerous Yokai under the guise of a beautiful woman. Defeating the Nakatsu stage will award players with the Mark of the Strong DLC, which will be available when the game launches.”
After amassing a truckload of fan feedback from both demo builds, Team Ninja zeroed in on several areas in need of improvement.
For reference, this list was published in mid-September.
• Fine tune the game balance and pace
• Adjust RPG elements such as player growth and armor parameters
• Further improvements to clarify the interface and make it easier to use
• Implement a training stage for tutorials on basic controls and core game actions.
■ Action & Controls
• Revise the TPS controls
• Add and adjust samurai skills
• Adjust the player damage/defeat
• Adjust the methods and performance of lowering the enemy stamina
• Adjust the weight and agility of armor
■ Level Design/Stages
• Adjust position of enemies including the Twilight Missions
• Adjust enemy detection issues
• Adjust collision such as dropping edges
• Adjust strength and attack power of enemies
• Adjust the AI tracking ability and groupthink
• Add Boss attack variations in the Twilight Missions
• Revise superarmor (stagger/no stagger) and homing abilities
• Expand the maximum number of items (overall and per item)
• Adjust the amount of armor items dropped
• Expand the functions of the Blacksmith, adjust the requirements of Re-Forge and Soul Match
• Implement items when player level is reset
• Revise each type of reward
• Improve each type of interface and usability
• Expand the tutorial
• Improve camera behavior in areas of bad visibility and inclines
• Add the ON/OFF option for camera autocorrect
• Adjust Revenant drops
• Improve the enemy attack behavior during co-op play
• Fix enemy transparency bugs
• Allow movies to be skipped after the Boss is obliterated in co-op play
• Stabilize the frame rate of image optimization
• Fix various problems and bugs
Nioh will boast PS4 Pro support at launch. Below, you'll find all of the available settings to fine-tine the experience as you see fit.
Movie Mode – Stable 3840×2160 resolution at 30fps.
Action Mode – Stable 1920×1080 resolution at 60fps.
Movie Mode – Stable 1920×1080 resolution with high quality anti-aliasing at 30fps.
Action Mode – Stable 1920×1080 resolution at 60fps.
You can also play Nioh on a standard PS4 in 30fps, 30+fps, or 60fps:
PS4 Nioh Options
Movie Mode – This mode focuses on resolution over frame rate, offering beautiful high resolution graphics with stable 30fps.
Action Mode – Here the emphasis is on frame rate, providing a stable 60fps.
Movie Mode (Variable Frame Rate) – This option provides high resolution graphics with a variable frame rate that may go over 30fps.
As promised, Nioh runs at 60fps across both PS4 and PS4 Pro. Just be wary of dips in resolution when playing on the latter console.
Here is Digital Foundry's tech analysis in full.
Ninja Gaiden will make a comeback, but only when the timing is right. That's the resounding message currently coming out of Team Ninja and Nioh Game Director Fumihiko Yasuda:
“Maybe I can say that Nioh is a gateway into the next chapter for Ninja Gaiden. [Ninja Gaiden] is a very important, if not the most important franchise, for us. But at this point I think this franchise needs to be in the shadows for a while until we bring it back. There will be a time, and when the time is right, we will bring it back.”
Bundling together three pieces of DLC “containing extra missions and story," Team Ninja has so far kept the Nioh Season Pass under lock and key.
If the Japanese Season Pass is any indication, it'll also include additional yokai, boss characters, and equipment.
“Based on that we’re going to have more feedback and we’re going to take that into account for the release version. The way that we’ve been developing this game is that we keep taking in user feedback and keep improving and expanding on the game. Even post-release our hope is to continue to do so.”
According to Team Ninja, Nioh's digital download size clocks in at 39.3GB, and you need to have just under 12GB downloaded to start the game.
No word yet on whether there will be a day one update, but we'll keep you posted.
At press time, Team Ninja is yet to announce any form of physical Collector's Edition -- and is unlikely to do so, given how close we are to launch.
But don't fret; there's a Digital Deluxe Edition ($79.99) that bundles together an additional weapon pack featuring five armaments, a PS4 Avatar, along with that aforementioned Season Pass.
Comprised of 47 digital accolades in total -- including that all-important Platinum -- you can find the official Nioh Trophy list right here.
While the embargo lifted earlier this week, our Nioh review still needs a little more time in the oven due to us receiving the copy late. Tyler Treese will be taking point for PSLS.