Will Nioh Be a Breakaway Success?

Developer Tecmo Koei concluded their latest beta demo for NiOh on September 4th, and I had an opportunity to spend extensive time with it, starting with the previous Alpha earlier in the spring. In this hands-on preview, I’ll detail the pros, cons, and hopefully changes leading up to the Februrary 2017 release date.

I can spoil a majority of this article for you by saying that I’m incredibly excited for this game to finally release. The fantasy-based feudal Japanese setting is one of my favorite aesthetic settings, evidenced with the name of this site. This setting includes samurai, ninja, magic (onmyu), oni, and other mythological creatures in addition to the architecture and attire worn during the Edo/Meji era. The setting sets a foundation for wild, inventive, and beautiful game design, reminding me exactly why I love the beloved franchises Nioh derives itself from like Onimusha. Hopefully Nioh finds great success so we can finally see Capcom wise up and either remaster, reboot, or continue Onimusha. In that same sentiment, I almost don’t want them to, because it’ll feel like they’re riding on the success of a new franchise that dared to go where Capcom is so desperately afraid to do.

William vs TrollAesthetically, the one gripe I have with Nioh is with regards to the main character. This isn’t to say that William isn’t a worthwhile character to explore, but rather I’m confused as to why Team Ninja decided to go with a white male Geralt knock off as the main driving force for this narrative. Interestingly, the game incorporates many characters that are based on real people throughout history, and William did exist in a much different way than he does in this game, so I find value in basing the characters off of real non-fictional characters, but couldn’t the same have been said for someone from another country? Couldn’t the player just be a created character, and William existed as an NPC similarly to many of the other characters in the story?

It may have been a more interesting character design if the designers decided to go in a different route, as we already have countless games with a white male protagonist. While this is not necessarily an issue, I’d prefer to even see a system set in place to change William’s physical appearance to match whatever the player sees fit, so the player is at least selecting the visual elements if they can’t select the last name, similar to what Bioware so beautifully pulled off with Mass Effect by giving all players the last name “Sheppard.”

Another reason I’m excited for this game is the relatively deep combat. The game plays like a fast-paced mixture between the previously mentioned Onimusha, Dark Souls, & Ninja Gaiden, and I consider that a definite pro. Combat is fluid and responsive, and the sound design accompanying the combat is brutal, visceral, and smart. The combat here takes many of the things I absolutely love about all three of these games and combines them. You have the ability to chain your moves together with stance switching, which gives you an option of high, mid, and low stances to execute different types of attacks, depending on the weapon you have selected. With a standard katana, the high stance allows you the option of powerful broad, but slower, limited strokes, while the mid stance allows the flexibility of speed with balanced damage, and great combo potential. The low stance grants you much more mobility and combo opportunities, in both your dodging and attacking abilities. It’s a really well thought out combo system that rewards experimentation with satisfying and beautiful animations.

William vs Oni

I’m gonna need a bigger sword…

Conversely, the two things that bug me about the combat tie in to some of the things that make this game feel like a “Souls” game. While having a stamina system (ki) ensures that people can’t abuse the game like a traditional hack and slash and spam the same effective combo over and over again, it also means that the feeling of being similar to Onimusha and Ninja Gaiden gets taken away, and it almost clones Dark Souls. At the same time, when your stamina is depleted in this game, you’re completely vulnerable for an opponent to inflict massive damage on William. This is one of the top complaints the community has had regarding the gameplay. Team Ninja has issued a statement based on feedback from players across both public testing phases, noting that the punishment for running out of ki has been reduced from the completely unforgiving disadvantage you were placed in.

Another positive (which can also be interpreted as a negative) is that the game has been in development for an incredibly long time. It was announced back in 2004 and has since undergone massive redesigns before it was finally made into what it is today. The original premise had the game playing very similar to a Warriors game, where a character faces off against massive hordes of enemies. Many make the argument that that this game has been in development for entirely too long, and we shouldn’t accept that it has taken it this long to release. To an extent, I can agree with that. Many could also argue that it’s absurd that the game experienced a delay this year as well, despite the supposed launch at the end of this year, which was now pushed to February 2017. My stance on the delays being necessary still stands however, as the game we have vs what was shown or discussed regarding the game are very different, and the game we have now is awesome. This is indeed one of those scenarios where the delay has helped shape this game into something much more interesting than it would have been without.  

3079857-nioh_screenshot12I feel as though there is a lot riding on if this game will be successful or not. Nioh has been in development for ages and there aren’t too many current games that rely heavily on Japanese lore the way Nioh does. In order for the game to be considered a breakaway success, it will likely need to sell at least 2 million units. If it isn’t successful, it may signal to developers that they shouldn’t pursue games like this, which I feel would be a mistake. What about you? Are you excited for this game?