A few months ago, Koei-Tecmo released a demo for what many would call its Fuedal Japanese take on Dark Souls, Nioh. That should probably be enough to sell you on the concept; despite the rise in popularity (and influence) of hardcore dark fantasy RPGs since 2009’s Demon’s Souls, most major development teams haven’t doubled down on this particular sub-genre.
That the creators of the fast-paced Ninja Gaiden have made one that could rival From Software – and still has its own identity beyond the shadow of its competition – is a bit surprising, and a welcome change. The initial limited trial for the PS4 game, due out before the end of the year, showed quite a bit of promise. Consider this your PSA: if you missed out the first round, you get a second chance to try it out.
What the game looks like now comes after a decade in development, when its original concept was more in the style of Koei-Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors series. At the time, it had been inspired by an unfinished script by Akira Kurosawa (yes, that one) about a golden-haired warrior who comes to Japan, and now is based loosely on the life of William Adams, an Englishman who became a western samurai in the 17th century – though the game also draws heavily from traditional folklore.
So it’s no surprise that Nioh plays more like a samurai game. Sword fighting alternates between a deliberate speed and sizing up your enemy to sudden strikes and counter-balances. Differentiating from any other RPG of its ilk is the fact that you can switch fighting stances on the fly, which is simultaneously exciting and intimidating.
Anyone who remembers Bushido Blade can also probably guess how crucial this is to strategy. Measured against the top of its class, Nioh’s gameplay has an intensity that’s seldom seen, even in just skirmishes with common bandits. Once the yokai start showing up, all bets are off.
The demo was a quite lengthy glimpse into all this. It was also, frankly, huge. If they had the time, players could tackle two sizable areas from the main game, including boss fights, provided you could survive the relentless battles. It was also only available for a little over a week.
Players that bested the first environment were given exclusive DLC for use in the final game, but after the trial period was over, Koei-Tecmo took the servers offline to collect survey data from players. Luckily, the second demo is coming in August for the game, including a new area not seen in the first alpha demo. You’ll be able to get that DLC, too, whatever it is.
Although some initial feedback out of Japan itself actually said the game was too hard, the director assured me at E3 that the difficulty isn’t something the team is backing down on. Nioh is a challenge even for Souls vets. (There aren’t any shields in the game, either); It’s exactly what the genre needs.