Nioh Interview: Director Talks Story, Gameplay, Beta Takeaways and Differences with Dark Souls

Recently at TGS 2016, Koei Tecmo revealed that Team Ninja’s Nioh will be getting a worldwide release on February 9 for PlayStation 4. The game is making a name for itself for having brutally difficult-however rewarding-combat. Ultimately, putting the player up against powerful foes and making them weigh the best strategies in order to make it out of the battle alive.

There has been games of this genre before, but DualShockers had a chat with Director Fumihiko Yasuda to talk about what sets the game apart and what stands out about Nioh’s story and gameplay.

We also touch on the game’s lengthy 12 years in development and the results of its two demos. And no, if you were wondering, the protagonist William isn’t inspired by Geralt of Rivia.

Azario: What motivates the protagonist of Nioh to fight against the demons and specters?

Fumihiko Yasuda: The story starts with the protagonist, William Adams, chasing his enemy to Japan, with evil Yokai getting in his way. William fights for his own survival as well as for Hanzo Hattori, a ninja helping William follow his enemy, and who is counting on William for his techniques as a Yokai hunter.

A: Not very much has been said about Nioh’s plot, is there anything that we could know about the game in terms of story?

FY: The story is not exactly a true story, since there are Yokai and spiritual characters throughout the game, but the game is set in Japan during the 1600s and includes the Battle of Sekigahara, which is known as the most massive war in Japanese history. By aligning the plot with those historical events, we want the player to enjoy this type of “historical fantasy” from the protagonist’s viewpoint.

A: What inspired the design of the main protagonist?

FY: The concept of having a blonde haired, blue eyed protagonist (a character based on William Adams, a historical figure) playing a role in the Warring States period of Japanese history has not changed since the game’s inception over 10 years ago, but the character profile has changed from a pirate to an Irish Englishman and finally to his present design. Game of Thrones has been an inspiration for the design of the main character as well as for others.

A: Nioh has been compared to games such as Dark Souls. What sets Nioh apart from these types of games?

FY: For starters, the protagonist of Nioh is a samurai. Because this is an action-centric game with that type of influence, we wanted to incorporate samurai-inspired elements into its design, such as a unique approach of “contrasting stillness and motion” born from the spiritual interaction between the player and the enemy. Hack-and-slash elements will also be a big difference, particularly regarding weapons such as katanas and spears, and Japanese armor.

A: Nioh has been in development since 2004. When the game was first announced, it was rumored to be based upon an unfinished script written by director Akira Kurosawa titled “Oni.” Since Team Ninja took over, has the game moved away from its original roots, or are there still Kurosawa-influenced story elements within the game?

FY: The story is an original narrative based on William Adams’ history. However, it is true that the battle actions and artistic elements are strongly influenced by masterpieces such as Yojimbo and Seven Samurai from Akira Kurosawa.

A: What motivated the team to continue to develop this game and not just cancel the project all together?

FY: Basically, there has always been a strong will from Koei founder and Nioh’s general producer Kou Shibusawa “to complete the mission of creating Nioh” for the past 10 years. And with the presence of Masocore games growing in the market, it was determined to continue the development of Nioh by Team NINJA, which has experience in entertaining core gamers worldwide, and has the capability to execute Nioh’s challenging game concept.

A: Earlier this year, Team Ninja put out a limited time demo for Nioh, and 850,000 people downloaded and tested it. Afterwards, a survey was taken for players in the America, in Europe, and Asia. The results showed 91% of players in the Americas found that the demo overall was either very good or good. In Asia, however, 59% percent of players found that the overall game was very good or good. With exception of “graphics and atmosphere”, there was a clear difference in results. How did this influence the title going forward towards the final product?

FY: As you point out, there was a significant difference between Western and Asian player feedback, but it was not strong enough to affect the concept or development direction. Numbers count, but looking into specific comments, players’ remarks on irrational camera work or problematic controls were common in all regions so we put priority on those solutions. As a result, we could see that the feedback for the Beta demo ended up having fewer differences between the regions than it first appeared.

A: How was the process of implementing player feedback into the game conducted? Is there anything that players asked for after the Alpha Demo that you just couldn’t do?

FY: We believe that in game development, it is not a proper approach to just implement all feedback, and we had many discussions internally involving the concept and the unimplemented elements until we could determine what to proceed with.

Something that we decided not to implement was the adoption of a seamless open world. We avoided that because we did not want to make the load time too long in a game where the character can die so many times, and it would affect the accuracy of matchmaking. If Nioh becomes a franchise, we would like to consider that as an option so long as we can keep the intensity of the game intact.

A: What did you see in the Beta Demo versus the Alpha Demo that was released in April, results wise?

FY: We are happy with the Beta results, which were overall positive, especially involving the improvements we had worked on based on the Alpha Demo feedback. In spite of the Beta having greater volume and systems than the Alpha, the majority of the players played the demo until the end, which was surprising.

As for the negative discoveries, we found out that the players will not be satisfied by increasing the difficulty with simple and artificial means such as placing multiple strong monsters in narrow spaces or adding mobs into the boss battles. We intend to bring the title to completion with care.

A: What advice would you give new players who will jump into the game without playing the demos?

FY: Nioh is a tough game, and we strongly recommend this title to those who love challenging games. For those of you who do not prefer challenging games, we can assure that you’ll feel your skills and techniques improving along with a sense of achievement when you defeat a boss or a strong enemy, which will be worth the challenge. To offer a specific piece of advice, when you face a boss or a choke point without a simple solution to overcome, carefully analyzing the situation will offer hints to pave your way.

You may also wish to overcome the situation by boosting levels or armor to strengthen your character, or by trying co-op play. And to offer one more piece of advice based on my experiences watching people demo the game – I feel that the usefulness of “block” moves aren’t fully understood or utilized, so I recommend you keep that in mind when you play.

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Azario Lopez

Azario Lopez has held multiple positions in the game's media industry. At DualShockers he focuses on providing coverage for niche and indie video games in the form of news updates, reviews, and interviews.

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