Team Ninja’s Souls homage is look­ing like its best game in years

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Team Ninja Pub­lisher SIE (EU, US), Koei Tecmo (Ja­pan) For­mat PS4 Ori­gin Ja­pan Re­lease Fe­bru­ary 8


As el­e­va­tor pitches go, ‘ Dark Souls meets Ninja Gaiden’ is al­most ir­re­sistible. Es­pe­cially in Nioh’s case, since it’s the work of Team Ninja, lat­ter­day stew­ard of the Ninja Gaiden series. Yet there’s plenty of room for con­cern amid the op­ti­mism. Gaiden has, since the de­par­ture of con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure­head Tomonobu Ita­gaki, lost its way some­what. Team Ninja’s stock has fallen, the days when it was con­sid­ered among the finest de­vel­op­ers of ac­tion games on the planet long gone. Af­ter the lack­lus­tre Ninja Gaiden 3 came the for­get­table Dead Or Alive 5 and the gen­der-pol­i­tics scan­dal of Dead Or Alive Xtreme 3. As for the other half of the equa­tion? Souls clones don’t tend to go so well, as ev­i­denced by Deck13’s for­get­table 2013 ac­tion-RPG Lords Of The Fallen.

Hap­pily, there’s a tremen­dous amount to be pos­i­tive about in Nier. This is the work of the Team Ninja of old, a slick, sat­is­fy­ing, vi­o­lent ac­tion game that seeks to test the wits. Given the im­prove­ments made be­tween

Nioh’s al­pha and beta phases, its maker is will­ing to lis­ten to its fans’ feed­back, rather than sim­ply pan­der to their baser in­stincts. And while the Souls in­flu­ence runs deep in

Nioh’s DNA – bon­fire-like shrines in worlds pa­trolled by pock­ets of tough en­e­mies, cur­rency re­triev­able from your blood­stain, co-op part­ners that can be sum­moned when you’re strug­gling – there are enough new ideas here for it to stand out on its own.

Some of them do have their roots in other games, but such is the way of game de­vel­op­ment. Com­bat in­volves a three-stance sys­tem that evokes Nid­hogg and For Honor, but is a ques­tion of the speed, not the an­gle, of your at­tacks. Low stance de­liv­ers fast, light at­tacks; high the slow­est and strong­est; and mid­dle is, well, some­where be­tween the two. As in the Souls games, your ac­tions are gov­erned by a stamina bar, here styled as Ki. As you spend Ki by at­tack­ing, the bar will briefly glimmer blue; tap R1 dur­ing this phase and you’ll trig­ger a Ki Pulse, au­to­mat­i­cally re­gain­ing a chunk of me­ter in a sys­tem that re­calls Gears Of War’s ac­tive reload. The Souls games have al­ways in­volved pay­ing care­ful at­ten­tion to your stamina bar, but this takes it a step fur­ther, and adds con­se­quence to ig­nor­ing it. Should your Ki be drained, your avatar will stop and bend down to catch his breath, leav­ing him­self wide open to at­tack. The pro­tag­o­nist in ques­tion is an English sa­mu­rai, Wil­liam Adams, in a fan­tasy ver­sion of Ja­pan’s Sen­goku pe­riod in the early 17th cen­tury – an hon­est ex­pres­sion of the de­vel­oper’s in­tent to make a game that’s cul­tur­ally rel­e­vant to its home coun­try, while also ap­peal­ing in the west. While the Souls games use western me­dieval fan­tasy for their set­tings, Nioh’s is em­bed­ded deeply in Ja­panese his­tory and folk­lore. Wil­liam Adams is re­cruited by le­gendary Sen­goku ninja Hat­tori Hanzo, and charged with rid­ding the world of yokai – a handy catch-all term for ghosts, mon­sters, de­mons and spir­its – while also bat­tling with hu­man en­e­mies as he pur­sues the ninja who brought him to Ja­pan.

Based on an aban­doned Akira Kuro­sawa script, it’s as in­trigu­ing for its nar­ra­tive as it is its ac­tion, and it’s per­haps lit­tle sur­prise that Sony has picked up the pub­lish­ing rights for Nioh in Europe and the US. It’s a stan­dard­bearer for PS4 Pro, too: two modes, Ac­tion and Movie, ad­just fram­er­ate and vi­su­als to the player’s tastes, and on Pro that means a choice be­tween 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps, or 1080p with ad­vanced vis­ual ef­fects at 30fps.

Its in­flu­ences may be ob­vi­ous, and its de­vel­oper’s rep­u­ta­tion not what it used to be, but from what we’ve seen, Nioh looks like an aw­ful lot more than the sum of its parts.

While the Souls in­flu­ence runs deep, there are enough new ideas here for it to stand out

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