At E3 2016, senior editor Adam Byrne and I had the opportunity to chat with director Fumihiko Yasuda about his upcoming action role-playing game Nioh, being developed at Team Ninja and with Koei Tecmo publishing. We asked him about how the alpha demo in April is shaping the game’s development and more.
Were there any inspiration for Nioh? We definitely get hints of Onimusha and Dark Souls from what we’ve seen of the game so far.
We came up with an idea for an action game since that’s our hallmark. As the creators of Ninja Gaiden, a punishing action game was something fans also wanted and wanted to play to that strength of ours. We then took inspiration from games like Onimusha, Dark Soul, Diablo, and of course, Ninja Gaiden.
Looks like the combat has advanced from the alpha version?
Yes, firearms are something that have been added since the alpha version so switching between melee weapons and firearms is new. Also, switching between dual-wielding and single-wielding blades is new. With a single katana, each stroke has more impact. Then with dual-wielding, you have more speed and it’s more nimble.
What were the main takeaways the team learned from the alpha demo?
This is supposed to be a challenging, difficult game, where you keep dying as you learn the mechanics. But there is a difference between something being challenging due to difficulty versus the design being unfair or counterintuitive to the player. We were able to get feedback, for example, on the camera lock-on system. The way the camera behaves while locking on was something fans felt punished them in an unfair way and not in a fun, challenging way. So that’s one aspect we sought out to change.
Any other major feedback?
Just some general playability things, like the previously mentioned camera and the controls, which we’ve improved. Additionally, a lot of people requested a tutorial of some sorts to introduce the mechanics so we added tutorial missions.
Did any feedback surprise the development team?
We were actually surprised by how many people were happy with how difficult it was. People were saying, “Keep it like this! Don’t change it! Don’t make it easier!” That’s something we weren’t expecting.
There were of course some people who felt it was too hard, didn’t understand it, and gave up. But by making the user interface, mechanics, and camera more user-friendly, we feel we’ve addressed that in this build, while not dumbing the game down.
Was it always planned for there to be a public alpha demo?
Yes, that was our plan from the get-go, the reasoning being that this is a new IP so we wanted to see the reaction to it, especially the response to the difficulty. The quickest way to adjust things is to see people play it and get their immediate feedback.
Plus it works to help advertise the game, right?
So 850,000 people played the demo and so getting the word out and hype going through this method was something we haven’t been able to do before this in such an early stage of development. In August, we are doing an open beta demo, much as we did for the alpha, for a limited time and we hope we can get more people to try it out and provide their feedback to continue polishing the game.
Was Nioh was made with Western or Eastern audiences in mind? We see AAA Japanese games like FInal Fantasy XV pressured to cater to an international audience. Is that the case with Nioh?
We’re not thinking of it in terms of, “which region are we trying to develop for?” We are really trying to appeal to hardcore gaming fans who don’t mind challenge and aren’t afraid of dying from the punishing gameplay.
How long is playing through Nioh’s story expected to be?
For the first playthrough, probably about 40 hours.
How does the story present itself? Does the player have to look for the story and search the world for the lore or is it more explicitly delivered?
There is a main storyline which you directly experience through things like cutscenes. But then there are also some more subtle things to seek out for those who want a deeper understanding of the world.
One feature in the alpha that surprised a lot of people was the ability to switch between the better-looking but 30fps Movie Mode and the visually-inferior but 60fps Action Mode. Is this a feature you anticipate implementing in future games?
Yes, we do want to use it in future games because there are definitely player preferences and we want everyone to enjoy it in their own way.
Nioh is expected to launch later this year. You can watch 12-minutes of new gameplay here. Did you play the alpha demo in April? What did you think?