After 12 years in and out of development hell, you could forgive Team Ninja for wanting to make sure Nioh is the best it can be. The team has already released an alpha and a beta this year towards exactly those ends, and if recent comments from director Fumihiko Yasuda are any indication, the game may wind up with a third demo before its release in February. Though I won’t deny, it would be fun to play more pre-release, another return before launch feels like too much.
Really, most games don’t get this much public scrutiny beforehand, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. Feedback, in prudent hands, makes for better games in the end. But once you play Nioh, you know how it works. And if you’ve played Nioh, you’ve already discovered how damn good it is, and probably decided you don’t want to see too much of it before getting your hands on the final version. There’s every indication that the development team is delivering something special, because, from all that I’ve seen, they really are — much more than just Souls with a katana.
As it stands, what’s been released in the alpha and beta so far has been massive, with full-sized levels and intimidating bosses for a number of stages, with yet another, a snowy stage ruled over by an ice demoness, unveiled at Tokyo Game Show. The developers say that Nioh is big, but can it be that huge that we’ve barely scratched the surface with everything they’ve shown?
Certainly with the pacing that a hard, devious game tends to have, that could be true. Besting the Onryoki at the end of the alpha’s seaside village area took over eight hours, adjusting for the painstaking pace of exploring the environment without wanting to get rushed by a pack of murderous bandits or errant Yokai; playing the stage again in the beta, I cleared it in 40 minutes. (Souls games are somewhat infamous for this; it’s not so much about the size of a game versus the time it takes you to merely survive traversing it.)
To be clear, I’m not at all casting doubt here. I’ve loved every second I played of Nioh’s alpha and beta and already have a strong suspicion it will easily be one of the best offerings of 2017. Not to be outdone, Team Ninja has created something that can truly stand on its own within the genre, and the sheer amount of polish already poured into it is staggering. Its combat is vicious, tight, and responsive. Team Ninja has more than proven the quality inherent here.
Still, at the risk of ending up with an Uncharted 4 situation, I’d hope Team Ninja doesn’t show too much of its hand before their big moment. If the developers wanted to just release a third demo of the previous areas to get more people interested, that would be a different story, and in that case, more power to them. Nioh should get into the hands of as many people as possible.
In any case, it’s also perhaps most important to remember that too much feedback can also be a detriment. While Yasuda has said the team is implementing changes that they personally feel need to be there like how the beta adjusted the range in which enemies will keep chasing you it’s also easy to mar an original vision by attempting to cater to fans too much. At some point you just have to trust your gut. And after a rocky decade-plus dev cycle, Nioh deserves every success.
Photos via Koei Tecmo