Face-Off: Nioh on PS4 and PS4 Pro

The last two months have been remarkable for fans of Japanese games and with the release of Nioh for PlayStation 4, the trinity of highly anticipated, long in-development games is now complete. We’re, of course, talking about Final Fantasy 15 and The Last Guardian – two games that, along with Nioh, were first announced more than a decade ago. All three games have undergone a significant transformation since then but perhaps none more than Nioh. What we have in the end is a dark, brutally difficult action game that combines the best elements of Ninja Gaiden and Dark Souls into one remarkable package. This is, simply put, Team Ninja’s return to form.

At first glance, Nioh is a visually conservative game – one that pushes modern post-processing effects and cutting-edge rendering techniques off to the side in favour of a more reserved presentation. It won’t leave your jaw on the floor by any means, but over time, it leaves a strong impression. In many ways, it feels like an evolution of what Team Ninja started with the 2004 iteration of Ninja Gaiden – sharp, clean lines and detailed texture work combine with fast, fluid animation to great effect. Rather than relying on features such as parallax occlusion mapping, for instance, Nioh instead adds surface detail through sheer geometric density taking a page from Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne, in a sense. Large, rocky surfaces undulate convincingly while fully modeled tiles make up the ground on which you walk.

Nioh simply oozes with atmosphere thanks to stylised lighting and weather effects. The rain-swept village encountered early on fills the screen with droplets which, using a screen-space technique, take on light from surrounding torches and attacks. Texture work is solid with plenty of detail slathered across each scene while specular highlights allow for dynamic lighting to play nicely off the detailed terrain. Character models feel like an evolution of what we’ve come to know from Team Ninja with rounded edges and clean lines. You’ll run across a handful of low resolution assets here and there but the overall appearance is solid.

Nioh review

Team Ninja’s new demon-slaying samurai epic has one hell of an elevator pitch: this is Ninja Gaiden meets Dark Souls. Nioh takes the silky smooth colourful Japanese texture of Team Ninja’s storied hack-and-slash affair and merges it with the light RPG structure and methodical combat of From’s dark fantasy series. Yet mixing these two diametrically opposed takes on the third-person action game isn’t easy and Team Ninja has done a commendable if occasionally unflattering job of cribbing From Software’s most influential design tropes, all while retaining the distinctly ludicrous comic book flavour that’s always been central to the Ninja Gaiden dev’s DNA.

Nioh tells a highly embellished tale of western samurai William Adams, a real-life historical figure who arrived on Japanese shores in 1600. This folklore-heavy fable isn’t particularly well told with an abundance of convoluted exposition and cackling tattooed villains taking centre stage, but storytelling has never really been Team Ninja’s strong suit – something made especially clear when William spends hours cutting his way through demonic hordes only to arrive at a boss’ introductory cutscene where he’s inexplicably joined by a party of allies. It’s best not to think about this one too hard.

Your grey matter will instead be focusing on Nioh’s extravagant combat systems where Team Ninja’s work really shines. On the surface, the Dark Souls influence is obvious with its slowly recharging stamina meter determining your actions and a respawn mechanic offering one chance to reclaim your lost XP where you last fell. Yet Team Ninja handles the fisticuffs differently than From. Your moveset in Nioh is drastically more complicated than anything seen in Dark Souls, a complex skill tree offering throngs of unlockable manoeuvres that give each weapon type an incredible depth and flexibility. Your move list may not be quite as expansive as something like Ninja Gaiden, but it’s definitely closer to the hack-and-slash upgrade trees of yore, before stamina meters prioritised timing and energy consumption over complicated combo inputs.

Nioh director Fumihiko Yasuda on difficulty, player feedback and what’s changing

Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo’s samurai action game Nioh has had quite the development history. and finally coming to PS4 early , the historical fantasy title has changed hands several times with multiple developers re-jigging it into all sort of different beasts.

In its final iteration Team Ninja (of Ninja Gaiden fame) is at the helm and based on its public beta a few weeks back, it’s shaping up to be .

To gain further insight into how Nioh’s adapted over the years, what it’s morphing into, and how Team Ninja incorporates fan-feedback while still retaining its creative vision, we spoke to Nioh’s creative director Fumihiko Yasuda at Tokyo Game Show. That conversation, conducted via translator, went a little something like this:

Nioh is a Dark Souls imitator with soul

Ever since From Software launched its cult classic action-RPGs Demon’s Souls and its more popular multiplatform successor Dark Souls, developers far and wide have sought to replicate the runaway hit. The series’ brilliant blend of foreboding dark fantasy, elliptical narrative techniques, and a best in class combat system have created what Eurogamer contributor Rich Stanton called

Perhaps Dark Souls’ most influential effect was on how it’s shaped the third-person action game. It used to be a genre defined by its spectacle. Everyone wanted their game to be bigger, bolder and bloodier with and endless array of shimmering particle effects and dazzling decapitations. Devil May Cry gave way to Ninja Gaiden gave way to God of War gave way to Bayonetta – arguably the flashiest and swiftest series in the wild west of this eastern genre.

From Software took a different approach. Rather than chase the glitz and glamour, it decided to take third-person combat in another direction. Rather than focus on speed, it rewarded players for meticulous nerve, for keeping their cool in relatively slow, lumbering battles where one wrong button press could spell instant doom. From Software may not have invented a stamina meter – a gauge that determines your ability to strike, dodge, block and run – but it perfected it to the point that it became a mainstay in how we now think of third-person action titles.

Devil’s Third’s online multiplayer is shutting down this year

Devil’s Third, the debut effort of Ninja Gaiden creator Tomonobu Itagaki’s Valhalla Game Studios, only launched last August but it’s already shuttering its online multiplayer at the end of the year.

According to , Devil’s Third is going offline on 29th December at 4am UK time.

It’s worth noting that Devil’s Third only launched in North America last December, meaning it will have barely been out for a year before its online component is gutted.