Koei Tecmo’s Nioh has been one of the biggest surprise hits of the year, and really is the meeting of a couple different video game franchises. Nioh is made by the same team behind Ninja Gaiden, a series that’s been dormant for a few years now. With Ninja Gaiden on hiatus right, could Nioh pave the way for the future of Team Ninja’s flagship seris?
It’s been quite a few years since we got a new Ninja Gaiden title, with the last main entry being Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge in 2013. However, there was also a spinoff title called Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, that followed a brand new Ninja and featured a striking cel-shaded style. Unfortunately, neither of the two titles were received incredibly well, with Yaiba in particular being criticized for its story, gameplay, and general style. Team Ninja has been very vocal lately about where the series is at, even saying Ninja Gaiden needs to be in the shadows for a bit.
In an interview with USGamer, Team Ninja creative director Tom Lee said “Maybe I can say that Nioh is a gateway into the next chapter for Ninja Gaiden. [Ninja Gaiden] is a very important, if not the most important franchise, for us. But at this point I think this franchise needs to be in the shadows for a while until we bring it back. There will be a time, and when the time is right, we will bring it back.”
Now that brings us to Nioh, a game that’s been met with unanimous critical praise. First and foremost the game is a ‘Souls-like’ title, incorporating elements of the massively popular Dark Souls series. Things like ramped up difficulty, complex areas filled with shortcuts, and the same type of experience and death penalty system. However, Nioh easily separates itself from the pack with a host of unique features, and by weaving some elements in of Team Ninja’s own Ninja Gaiden series.
Both series that Nioh takes inspiration from are notoriously known for their difficulty, which in turn Nioh is now known for as well. Action games have certainly changed over the years and we don’t see the standard God of War or Devil May Cry style of gameplay as much anymore.
Combat in Nioh looks and feels similar to Dark Souls, but still retains the same intense speed of Ninja Gaiden, along with different options like magic and Ninjutsu. Certain elements like parrying and learning special combo moves also adhere much more to the style of Team Ninja’s other series. The speed and style of combat isn’t quite as meticulous as Dark Souls, meaning a higher emphasis on executing combos and staggering enemies. Nioh is definitely a more action-oriented title, whereas the Souls series is generally more about being meticulous and patient.
However, new elements like the three-stance system and Guardian Spirits turn Nioh into something wholly unique. Gameplay is smooth and seamless, difficult, but also rewarding. It’s not a perfect game, enemy variety in particular could use a boost, but it feels fresh and unique.
Nioh could easily pave the way for an even more challenging Ninja Gaiden series, or maybe it takes over that role as the flagship series entirely. Unlike Dark Souls, Nioh is actually segmented out into different missions, both story related and optional side missions. On top of this, there are also Twilight Missions, which are more difficult and remixed versions of those that you’ve already played through.
This setup could definitely work for a Ninja Gaiden game, applied into a modern aesthetic of course. Maybe the next Ninja Gaiden focuses on one specific city, seeing Ryu Hayabusa pick his way through one mission at a time. The Twilight system would also allow for more adaptive difficulty, rather than having players just choose their difficulty level at the start. The high-risk and high-reward gameplay of Nioh would feel right at home in Ninja Gaiden.
Even adopting more of Nioh’s systems could create an interesting Ninja Gaiden experience. The stance system could add more tactical flair into combat, making players adjust their weapon in addition to meticulously timing their attacks, combos, and blocks. Letting players choose which weapons they want to improve Ryu’s skills on would provide more diverse gameplay options from the get-go, instead of gradually unlocking them through the game.
Ninja Gaiden was definitely a fairly “hardcore” series, in part due to its difficulty. Although the Souls series is also difficult it’s attracted a diverse crowd of fans, and Nioh could help Team Ninja breach a western audience even more with their titles. We’ll have to wait and see sales figures for the new title, of course, but there’s no denying the popularity of this genre.
In truth, Nioh feels like a natural advancement of the Ninja Gaiden formula, with some Souls style sprinkled in. It’s definitely an immensely challenging game, which will no doubt appeal to fans in both camps. Even though Ninja Gaiden’s combat is flashier and more focused on chaining combos, all the pieces seem to be in place for a new title done in the style of Nioh.
Nioh was first announced as a multimedia project in 2004, transitioning to a video game sometime between then and 2015, when it was re-announced. During those same years Ninja Gaiden took some missteps, resulting in a couple of lackluster titles. Nioh is something fresh, and a blueprint for Team Ninja to use going forward. Based on the developer’s recent comments, it seems likely that’s what we’ll see. Now, it’s just a matter of time.