What is it about seeing a samurai warrior bent slightly forward, hand clasped at the end of their sword, feet firmly rooted to the ground, poised and ready to annihilate their foes that's so alluring? Perhaps it's how ancient the traditions behind such images are. Perhaps it's how mysterious samurais really are for modern folk. Or perhaps it's simply because they were the most badass-looking warriors to have ever existed.
Regardless of the answer, my love for Japanese culture was perhaps ignited by my love of samurai warriors, and I'm sure I'm not alone. The stories of their exploits, missions and honor continue to inspire action films, horrors, westerns and other film genres to this day. But it's rare we get the opportunity to feel as mighty as a samurai in the video game world.
Sure, there've been more Dynasty Warriors games than years I've lived — that's how it feels, anyway. But I'm not talking about hammering the Square button and watching some dude backflip his foes into oblivion. I'm talking about the kind of combat that samurais actually engaged in. And for once, dear friends, it seems like a game wants to replicate those bouts in the most authentic way possible... well, sort of. That game is...
Nioh, The True Samurai Action Game You've Always Wanted
Before we go on, I recommend you take a look at the latest trailer for Nioh below. Just so we're on the same page, here.
A Real Samurai Story
I know what you're thinking (aside from that looks fu&%$ng awesome), "Hmm, a samurai game starring a white dude? Really?" But Nioh is based on a few things, namely a true story. Let's break it down.
William Adams was born in England in 1564 and was the first man of his nation to reach the island of Japan. While there, he became a key adviser to the shogun Tokugawa Leyasu (essentially the head of Japan's "government") who eventually appointed him as the first Western samurai, of which there were very few. This man is the protagonist in Nioh.
In the game, Adams is the son of a Japanese lord and a western woman. We follow him on his journey to Japan and see him eventually awarded with the title of samurai. But Nioh is also based on an unfinished script by Akira Kurosawa, a man revered as one of the greatest directors of all time; the man behind Seven Samurai, arguably one of the best films ever made.
With all of this history behind it, Nioh aims to create a deep and enticing world that blends history and Japanese folklore with a bit of gaming madness. It's firmly rooted in history, but that doesn't mean that it needs to stay there.
With Some 16th Century Demons Thrown In
Nioh takes place during a time of great strife for Japan. States within the country were fighting for dominance and the land was torn apart by waring factions and samurai warriors. You'll be plunged into the midst of this madness, but you won't just be pitched against human soldiers. There are plenty of Japanese demonic forces for you to tackle. These are called the Yokai. Some of them are really pretty.
But you won't be simply combating these spiritual and demonic forces, the protagonist has the ability to use these powers against his foes. As only a game designer could, the creators have taken some serious liberties with the Shinto religion and made Adams' devotion to God a powerful weapon. The samurai were indeed strong believers in animism, but that in no way granted them the ability to absorb enemies' souls into their bodies via little glowing orbs their corpses left behind. Games, everyone!
So Adams posses the ability to wield spiritual powers in battle, such as conjuring an eagle, a wolf, a bull or some glowing sharks (!) to strengthen the force of his attacks. These spirit animals will help you get the upper hand on the more challenging enemies. Which, believe me, there are a shed ton of. This game boasts some extreme difficulty...
And An Historically-Inspired Combat System
Have you ever heard of ki? It was believed to be the samurai's energy force, which actually inspired "the force" for George Lucas' Star Wars. But the developers wanted to include that in the game in an action-adventure sort of way. So your character actually becomes jaded by fights and will need to take time to recover. You actually won't be able to attack sometimes Adams becomes so tired, which creates a rather intriguing flow to combat, a flow that needs to monitored by the player. Trust me, it's really hard. Or just try it for yourself. There's a demo out right now :O
Team Ninja, the developers behind the project, released a demo for Nioh some months ago for the PS4. It was on a time limit and is no longer available, but the game has a beta demo available for download right now. You can try it out for yourself until Tuesday, September 6. But try keep all of these details in mind when going into the game.
Nioh kind of plays like a more brutal Dark Souls at times, or perhaps a more action-orientated take on FromSoftware's acclaimed series. But understanding the rich cultural history that Nioh draws from will help you really embody the samurai you've always dreamt of being. Now, go out there and slay some demons, friends. You deserve it.