Nioh (Japanese: 仁王 Hepburn: Niō?, "benevolent king") is an action role-playing video game developed by Team Ninja for the PlayStation 4. It was released worldwide in February 2017, and was published by Koei Tecmo in Japan and Sony Interactive Entertainment internationally. Gameplay revolves around navigating levels and defeating monsters that have infested an area. Nioh takes place in the early 1600s during a fictionalized version of the Sengoku period, when Japan was in the midst of civil war prior to the ascension of the Tokugawa shogunate. A sailor named William, in pursuit of an enemy, arrives in Japan and is enlisted by Hattori Hanzo, servant to Tokugawa Ieyasu, in defeating yōkai that are flourishing in the chaos of war.
Beginning development in 2004 as a multimedia project based on an unfinished Akira Kurosawa script, it went through multiple revisions over the following eight years as general producer Kou Shibusawa was dissatisfied with the result. Team Ninja was given the project, and the subsequent development lasted four years. The story was based on the life of historic Western samurai William Adams, although it was embellished with supernatural elements. First announced in the year it began development, information became sporadic until 2015, when it was reintroduced as a PlayStation 4 exclusive. Alpha and beta demos were released during 2016, to both gauge public reaction to the title and make adjustments based on feedback. Initially scheduled for a 2016 release, the adjustments pushed the release into the following year. Upon release, Nioh received critical acclaim, with most critics favorably comparing it to the Souls series.
Nioh is an action role-playing game set in Japan during the year 1600, with players taking the role of a European samurai named William. The player guides William on missions through enclosed environments fighting both human enemies and supernatural beings called yokai: missions are self-contained, hold alternate routes William can navigate, and selected from a menu rather than reached by navigating an open world. While navigating environments, William can find various collectables both in crates scattered through the environment and in other places within the environments such as fallen soldiers. These collectables include Amrita, the game's experience points (EXP); gold, the in-game currency; new weapons and armor, and consumable items such as bombs. Weapons and armor found in the environment can be taken to a blacksmith, who are able to buy it from William or can break it down into base material. Shrines scattered through levels act as checkpoints, allowing players to save progress, replenish health and raise William's experience level through accrued EXP: doing this respawns all normal enemies within an area. Skill points acquired in combat are assigned at shrines.
Fighting is based around hack and slash combat, with William being able to attack enemies and block their attacks in turn. William can run, dodge, and sprint with these and combat actions draining his Ki stamina bar. When his Ki has been depleted, William is left vulnerable to attack. If timed right, William is able to replenish lost Ki with an action called "Ki pulse". The Ki pulse also grants status buffs onto William, and dispels patches of miasma generated by yokai and other supernatural enemies which rapidly saps Ki. Defeated enemies drop loot, which includes money and weapons. The speed at which William can move through levels depends on the weight of his equipped armor; the heavier it is, the faster his Ki will drain. If William dies, all the EXP acquired up to that point is left where he fell, and he must travel back to retrieve it, but if he dies again and therefore failing to reach it, the amount of EXP dropped is lost and the spirit animal is automatically recovered. 
William has access to multiple types of melee weapons: these include single and dual swords, axes, polearms and kusarigama. In addition to melee weapons, William has access to ranged weapons such as a bow, a rifle, and a hand cannon. The more each weapon is used, the stronger and more effective it becomes. In combat, William can change between three Stances with melee weapons, with each stance having different effects; High Stance causes higher damage while lowering defense, Low Stance allows for quick attacks and better defense, while Middle Stance balances elements of the other two Stances. These Stances also consume different amounts of Ki depending on their attack strength. William can also summon Guardian Spirits, animals which combine his health and Ki into a single meter with added stat boosts such as increasing attack power or defense. Each Guardian Spirit boosts different stats, and can only be switched out at shrines. Guardian Spirits are also lost when William dies, but they can be summoned to him at a shrine at the cost of his lost EXP. In addition to normal enemies, William can summon Revenants, hostile ghosts based on other fallen players, to battle and gain experience, money and items. A cooperative multiplayer allows for other players to be summoned to help in battles.
William's character growth is governed by EXP. Some statistical points can be assigned to William's character following the game's opening mission, and during the main game stat points can be assigned to William's attributes, which range from increased physical strength to heightened speed. Stat points are split between three skill trees: "Samurai" for weapon skill trees for standard melee combat, "Ninja" for distance weapons such as shurikens and poisons, and "Onmyo" which link to the creation of talismans, consumable items which grant temporary stat boosts. If William finds and guides Kodama to the Shrines within each mission, he can purchase otherwise inaccessible bonus material such as items and weapons. Offerings of items can be made at the shrine in exchange for EXP. Additional buffs can be granted using Prestige Points, which are acquired by fulfilling certain tasks within levels such as dealing a certain amount of damage or killing a number of enemies with one weapon type.
Setting and characters
Nioh is set in 1600 within a fictionalised dark fantasy version of the late Sengoku period, a time when the clans of Japan were at war prior to the unification under the Tokugawa shogunate and the beginning of the Edo period. Amidst the fighting and high death toll, yokai have appeared and begun wreaking havoc across the land: major yokai threats that appear in the game include Hinoenma, Jorōgumo, and a Yuki-onna born from the spirit of the wife of Oda Nobunaga following the Honnō-ji incident.
The game's main protagonist is William (Ben Peel), a blonde-haired Irishman who arrives in Japan in pursuit of an enemy. While there, he crosses paths with Tokugawa Ieyasu (Masachika Ichimura) and his ninja servant Hattori Hanzo (Toshiyuki Morikawa), forming an alliance against both William's enemy and the yokai infesting Japan. William is trained in combat by Yagyū Munetoshi, Hōzōin In'ei and Marume Nagayoshi. The main antagonist is Edward Kelley (Hiroyuki Kinoshita/Nicholas Boulton), a Westerner driving the conflict using his dark alchemical abilities under the order of John Dee (Timothy Watson), chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I.
William also crosses paths with numerous historical figures from the period: these include Ieyasu's allies Ii Naomasa (Jun Fukuyama) and Honda Tadakatsu (Tesshō Genda); daimyo Kuroda Yoshitaka (Yōhei Tadano) and his son Kuroda Nagamasa (Hiroshi Tsuchida); Ieyasu's main rival Ishida Mitsunari (Takahiro Sakurai) and his allies Shima Sakon (Keiji Fujiwara) and Ōtani Yoshitsugu (Kenyuu Horiuchi); Tachibana Ginchiyo (Shizuka Itō), head of the Tachibana clan, and her husband Muneshige (Eiji Hanawa); hostile mercenary Suzuki Magoichi (Yasuyuki Kase); Yasuke (Richie Campbell), a former favored vassal of Nobunaga; and Tenkai (Takayuki Sugō), a monk of the Tiantai Buddhist sect and master manipulator of yin and yang magic. Original characters include Okatsu (Emi Takei), a female ninja in Hanzō's clan who holds a dislike for William; and Fuku (Risa Shimizu), Tenkai's disciple.
The game opens with a narration by William describing Amrita, a mystical golden stone found in abundance in Japan that is sought by the government of Queen Elizabeth I to secure victory over Spain. William is held in the Tower of London, but breaks out with the help of his Spirit Guardian Saoirse, a being born from the prayers of his home village who saved him from death when he was a boy and now prevents him from dying. William corners Edward Kelley, who is seeking Japan's Amrita. Capturing Saoirse with his own Ouroboros spirit, Kelley uses her to find Japan, with William going in pursuit. Landing in Japan in 1600, he fights Oni that are ravaging the area, catching the attention of Hanzo Hattori—Hattori offers to help find Kelley in exchange for fighting Oni. On one of his first missions, William is joined by a Nekomata spirit, who tells him that the delicate balance between good and evil spirits has been disrupted by the past century of war in Japan. William saves Kuroda Nagamasa from a yokai, earning him favor from Tokugawa Ieyasu. Alongside William's exploits, Ieyasu's bid for power enrages Mitsunari and those close to him, who decide to launch an offensive with Kelley's alchemy as their secret weapon.
William aids Ieyasu in fighting powerful yokai, despite learning from Okatsu that he murdered many of his family in a ruthless bid for power—Okatsu is one of Ieyasu's illegitimate daughters, and became a ninja to escape him. Kelley continues to plague William, including impersonating Tachibana Muneshige in an attempt to undermine Muneshige's wife Ginchiyo; resurrecting the wife of Oda Nobunaga, Princess Nō, as a yokai; and draining an Amrita seal keeping evil spirits from ravaging Kyoto. William succeeds in stopping the spirits with help from Tenkai and the Nekomata, who sacrifices itself to give Tenkai time to restore the seal. A later encounter sees William saving Okatsu from Kelley's control, then escaping with her when Ieyasu arrives and Kelley attacks, though Ieyasu is willing to let Okatsu die. Events come to a head during the Battle of Sekigahara, where William faces off against first Ōtani Yoshitsugu—who uses Kelley's alchemy to empower his weakened body—and Shima Sakon. With Sakon defeated and Mitsunari's army routed by Ieyasu's forces, Kelley convinces Mitsunari to allow a ritual that merges three hundred of his soldiers into a Gashadokuro that William only defeats with help from Hattori and Tenkai. Ieyasu has William pursue Mitsunari, fighting him when Kelley transforms him into a yokai-hybrid before returning him to human form, resulting in his capture by Ieyasu's forces.
William heads to confront Kelley in Nobunaga's reconstructed castle, being subdued Nobunaga's resurrected form before Nobunaga rebels against Kelley's control. Cornered and defeated, Kelley uses Ouroboros and Saoirse's energy to resurrect Yamata no Orochi. William defeats it, then learns from the dying Kelley that he was gathering Amrita and sending it back to England for his master John Dee. Having reclaimed Saoirse, William decides to disappear, allowing Hattori to avoid killing him on Ieyasu's orders and report him dead. This saddens Okatsu, who had begun to care for him and thought him different from other samurai. Following Mitsunari's execution, Ieyasu establishes his family's rule, setting the Edo period in motion as an era ruled by humans and hiding the truth of the yokai and William's involvement. Three years later, William returns to England and confronts Dee, who offers him a partnership to guide England towards world conquest following the death of Elizabeth I. William defeats Dee, blinding him and thus neutering his magical abilities. After receiving a vision of Hattori's death at the Siege of Osaka, William decides to return to Japan.
Nioh was developed by Team Ninja, a division of the game's publisher Koei Tecmo who had previously developed the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive series. It is co-directed by Fumihiko Yasuda and Yosuke Hayashi, and co-produced by Kou Shibusawa and Hisashi Koinuma. The opening movie was directed by Shinji Higuchi, whose work included Shin Godzilla. The cinematic director for the game in general was Makoto Kamiya, who had previously supervised special effects for Death Note: Light Up the New World and the film version of I Am a Hero. The music was composed by Yugo Kanno, whose previous work included the Bayside Shakedown television film series. The concept for the game was created by Shibusawa, who throughout development held a passionate vision for the project, which was in turn affecting its development.
The original version of Nioh was based on Oni, an unfinished script by Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. According to Yasuda, this initial version "just crashed", and the team had to start all over again. The only elements to survive into the final version were the setting, the protagonist being a blonde-haired foreigner, and the basic scenario concept: the narrative was otherwise changed into an original story based around the life of William Adams, a European who became a samurai serving Ieyasu, and the events of the Sengoku period. While the original Kurosawa script was dropped in favor of an original story, artistic elements and battle movements were inspired by other Kurosawa pictures such as Yojimbo and Seven Samurai. Development on the title first began in 2004, when it was designed as a traditional Japanese role-playing game. It was being developed internally by Koei, four years prior to its 2008 merger with Tecmo. Development of this initial version ran from 2004 to 2008, lasting approximately four years before all work up to that point was scrapped. The role-playing version was scrapped by Shibusawa as it did not have enough fun elements within it. Production was rebooted and transferred to Omega Force, a division of Koei Tecmo, and shifted in genre to a fast-paced action game similar to their Dynasty Warriors series. This version was also scrapped, again due to Shibusawa being dissatisfied with the project's direction.
Team Ninja were first brought on in 2010 to help develop the action gameplay. It was at this stage that the title began evolving into an action role-playing game. When first presented with the project by the Koei staff, Team Ninja were skeptical about the project, unsure of its Western protagonist and setting, wondering if it was intended to be another Dynasty Warriors-styled game. Development was fully transferred to Team Ninja in 2012, with subsequent production lasting around four years. Up to this stage, only the basic concepts had been finalized, but when Team Ninja began full development the project solidified into being a full action title. Team Ninja's staff handled the gameplay aspects, while earlier staff from the original Koei team handled the scenario. The alpha version was completed in August 2012. Rather than outsourcing an engine or carrying an engine over from one of their other properties, the game engine for Nioh was built from scratch. In total, the project was in development for between twelve and thirteen years.
While a Western main character was settled upon for the final game, the initial concept had a native Samurai as the main protagonist in an original story. As the Koei staff had a history of developing historical titles such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga's Ambition, they decided to base it on historical events. While it was planned for an international release, the team did not try to dilute the Japanese elements for Western players, instead focusing on quality gameplay. The Sengoku period was chosen as the game's setting due to it being a fertile period in Japanese history for an action title. Shibusawa was also fascinated by Adams' exploits, and the story came to be based on the major events in his life and iterations within Japan, then an isolated nation. They also added fantastic elements such as yokai. A major influence on the story was James Clavell's 1975 novel Shōgun, which focused on a fictional English samurai based on the real-life Adams. The character of William was initially conceived as a Western pirate who became a samurai, then shifted into his current form. While the majority of the cast spoke Japanese, William spoke English. Initially, William had been fluent in Japanese and characters like Ieyasu had spoken lines in English, but this was seen as unrealistic even within the team's fantastic take on the setting, so they adjusted it. It also represented how William could communicate well with others despite a language barrier. The overall theme of the game was the cycle of life and death, which was represented by both William and the enemy yokai. The game's singular focus on death contrasted sharply with Team Ninja's earlier works, which had also incorporated mild erotic elements.
When Team Ninja were first involved with the project, they performed lots of trial and error testing to find a gameplay style best suited to the game's tone. When the project was given to Team Ninja, Shibusawa told them "to complete the mission of creating Nioh". The decision to give the project to Team Ninja was heavily influenced by the success of Dark Souls and other similar titles, dubbed by some as "Masocore" due to their difficult, yet rewarding action gameplay. Many at Team Ninja were fans of the Souls series, and credited their surge in popularity with saving Nioh from possible cancellation and allowing progress for development of the game. Other influences included Bloodborne, Ninja Gaiden, Onimusha and Diablo. The main aim for the developers was to emulate the tough gameplay of both the Souls series and their earlier work on Ninja Gaiden while also making it accessible, fair and rewarding for players. While the combat was extensively influenced by Souls games, Team Ninja's use of loot was more heavily influenced by the Diablo series, as they wanted combat to revolve around player skill rather than gear acquired through combat. The gameplay incorporated elements of samurai combat from popular culture. Historical accuracy when it came to weapons, armor and fighting styles dominated the gameplay design, which resulted in shields not being added as they were not used in combat by samurai. Each boss, from yokai to human enemies, had their own appearances and tactics. The yokai were all drawn from Japanese folklore, although their designs underwent slight alterations from their original forms. A recurring element for the yokai bosses was how they were designed: first they decided the initial form and impression, then the developers added an element which would catch players off guard: for instance, if a yokai appeared beautiful, they would become ugly at some point during the battle.
Nioh was first announced by original developer Koei in 2004 under its working title "Oni". In addition to the game, which was slated for a 2006 release, a feature film directed by Kurosawa's son Hisao Kurosawa would be produced alongside and inspire the game: the entire project's budget was estimated as being three billion yen. The movie tie-in was eventually cancelled in 2005 due to unspecified production problems, with the game becoming a standalone project. Nioh was first shown off in a trailer at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo, where it was announced as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. At the time, the title was romanized as "Ni-Oh". Initially slated for a 2006 release, Nioh missed its announced release date, and no update on the game was issued until 2009, when Koei Tecmo stated that the title was still in development. Similar updates would be issued over the following six years. The game, now retitled slightly as Nioh, was reintroduced at the 2015 Tokyo Game Show as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, with a scheduled launch in Japan in 2016. It was later announced for an international release at the PlayStation Experience event in December of that year, also in 2016. A manga based on the character and setting, called Nioh: The Golden Samurai (仁王～金色の侍～ Niō: Kin'iro no Samurai?), was written by Yosuke Katayama and began serialization in Weekly Shōnen Magazine starting in May 2016.
Initially planned for October 2016, the game was delayed to make final adjustments based on player feedback from demos. The localization was a high priority for Koei Tecmo due to the worldwide release date. The game was announced for a worldwide release in February 2017. While Koei Tecmo published the game in Japan, Sony Interactive Entertainment handled publishing duties in mainland Asia, North America and Europe. This was to distribute the game to as wide an audience as possible. It was released in North America on 7 February, in Europe 8 February, and in Japan on 9 February. Two editions were created: the standard edition featuring the full game, and a Digital Deluxe Edition featuring an additional weapon pack, PS4 theme and season pass. Pre-order bonuses were additional costumes, based respectively on Japanese temple guardian statues and the samurai Sanada Yukimura. The game was also among those that supported the PlayStation 4 Pro model, with graphical enhancements enabling a smooth framerate.
A demo version of the game, dubbed the "alpha demo", was released on PlayStation Network (PSN) on 26 April 2016. The demo was available until 5 May, and completing the demo unlocked access to a free downloadable content (DLC) pack dubbed "Mark of the Conqueror". This demo was released so Team Ninja could receive feedback from a future online survey to improve the game's mechanics. The demo was downloaded by 850,000 people worldwide, and feedback was positive overall aside from recurring complaints about its lack of tutorials, high difficulty and awkward control scheme. Based on this, the team made a number of changes and tweaks to the gameplay. A second "beta" demo released from 23 August to 6 September. It featured new stages, additional weapons and revamped gameplay based on the feedback from the alpha demo. Like the alpha demo, downloading the beta demo gave free access to DLC content, this time a pack dubbed "Mark of the Warrior" alongside the original "Mark of the Conqueror" pack. They again undertook a survey of players, and made numerous adjustments and additions to the game based on this feedback. The game's delay from 2016 to 2017 was caused by these adjustments. A third demo, called "Last Chance Trial", was made available from 20 to 23 January in North America and Europe. It gave access to both prior DLC and a final reward for the full game. An official soundtrack, featuring all 45 pieces of music from the game, was released in Japan on February 15.
Nioh received "generally favorable" reviews, according to video game review aggregator Metacritic. Most critics praised the combat, difficulty, setting, use of Japanese folklore, and aesthetics as high points, as well as giving players the option to choose different graphical modes, while the game's story and inventory management were met with some criticism.
Nioh opened at number 2 in the UK sales charts. Retailers Amazon and Walmart sold all their stock of Nioh within the first week of release. It shipped 75,477 copies in its first week in Japan, entering the charts at number 2. On February 24, 2017 Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja announced that Nioh had shipped one million units worldwide within its first two weeks of sale. The numbers included retail shipments and digital sales.
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