On Nioh: Nobody Ever Make RPGs About Feudal Japan

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I didn’t get a PlayStation 4 until after the original alpha demo for Team Ninja’s Nioh had expired, and also couldn’t get in on the beta demo in time, so this “Last Chance Trial” was the first time I got to check the game out. Aside from the quality of the game itself, I just need to say I’m glad somebody based a deep role playing game on feudal Japan.

Maybe there’s some other obscure feudal Japan RPG out there I haven’t heard of with a Hardcore Gaming 101 article on it or something, but Nioh is the first really prominent game I can think of that mixes this Japanese mythology with the kinds of traditional action role playing elements it does. One big draw of RPGs which the Souls series exemplifies well is how they tend to develop and convey worlds by combining vast amounts of playable scenery with a back ground made of a deep bestiary, characters with their own histories, and items with their own details to read about. It’s just that most of them do this with Tolkien-inspired settings with some outlieres in science fiction or post-apocalyptic settings.

Medieval-somewhere-other-than-Europe is too rare in my opinion. Maybe a lot of RPGs might incorporate some monsters, weapons, or characters implied to be from “foreign lands,” but the setting that looks like 12th century England is usually assumed to be the default one. I know there’s a whole secret world of Chinese-developed RPGs based on a mix of Chinese history and mythology. I know there was recently an African-developed action RPG. How was that ancient Rome-themed RPG Gladius for the Gamecube, PlayStation 2, and original Xbox? Nioh however is a heavily promoted game where the gear you sort through consists of katanas and shurikens. It’s a game where the item descriptions and character dialogue alludes to a culture entirely foreign to myself and probably anyone reading this. The enemies are of a whole different flavor from anything you might see in a Souls game or Dragon Age. I just really appreciate that freshness Nioh has.

The game itself? If you didn’t get a chance to play it, to me it feels like some kind of balance of 60 percent Souls (the framework), 20 percent Ninja Gaiden (the combat pacing), and 10 percent Diablo (the way gear ends up feeling).  I’m surprised at how much Team Ninja seems to understand what makes SoulsSouls.

Sure there’s the combat based on stamina management, the deep equipment and stat system, and of course the punitive death and experience recovery system. That’s just the superficial stuff though. I’m impressed Team Ninja also understood the intricate level design and enemy encounters designed to surprise players that really set the Souls games apart. All that’s in Nioh, and the result is that it has that same kind of never-let-your-guard-down feeling.

Oh this game definitely has some more modern amenities compared to SoulsNioh isn’t as austere with what information it shows players. When you start a new game in Souls, after an opening cut scene you’re simply in the world, and all information about the game is conveyed in a way that feels consistent with the workings of that world. Nioh just gives you a standard map with missions, mission briefings, and all other kinds of menus in it. Oh, and it has a radar with a waypoint marker. That’s probably fine for most people.

In this day and age Nioh is probably going to come off as a well-above-average action RPG. I’ve heard some critics are already calling it a return to form for Team Ninja’s reputation in the character action game world. I’m just interested in a game that can explore a setting like feudal Japan with the kind of depth RPGs tend to.

BULLETS:

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