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Scheduled release date: TBA 2016
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When a game fades away one generation and suddenly reappears the next, it’s worthy of attention. This is doubly true when it’s such a hugely promising game like Ni-oh, now in development for PlayStation 4 at Team Ninja. The title was originally a PS3 exclusive announced way back in 2004, and it was unfortunately shelved for a variety of reasons. It’s back now, though, and it has returned with a glossy new coat of visuals and far more depth and variety, which is probably essential given the rate of video game progression and advancement in the past decade. After resurfacing at last year’s Tokyo Game Show, the team is ready to give us a peek at the gameplay; be sure to download the demo later this month because it’ll only be playable for a limited time!

As you can see, Ni-oh definitely reminds us of several existing IPs; namely, Dark Souls and Onimusha. After the debut trailer arrived at TGS 2015, the comparisons were immediate and obvious, though it’s important to note that Team Ninja is working on an in-between adventure, as it were. In other words, it appears to be less hardcore and less in-depth than a Dark Souls but perhaps more intricate and with a few more RPG elements than Onimusha. It’s no surprise that when the game was initially unveiled, it was simply called “Oni” (and no, there isn’t a mysterious connection to the classic PS2 game of the same name, as far as I know). But we never had this much blood in Onimusha, nor was the atmosphere quite this dark and forbidding.

That’s where the From Software influence comes in, as the environment is destined to be both intimidating and fascinating. That really is a prime allure of the Dark Souls games, is it not? Here, with the infusion of the supernatural and the fantastical, Ni-oh presents the player with a gripping and challenging landscape, and make no mistake: Combat will not rely on your overwhelming offensive capability. In fact, Team Ninja says success will be reliant upon your defensive skills, as blocking, dodging and countering will be absolutely vital. Interestingly, this is almost the precise opposite of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, Koei’s other noted IP that features a similar Japanese flair and style. It may also remind some gamers of Assassin’s Creed, where countering has always been more effective than straightforward brute attacks.

It looks like we’ll have multiple weapon types, which can be selected with a simple press of the d-pad. You’ve got the standard sword-and-shield configuration, of course, but you can also expect a variety of other deadly blades, some of which are guaranteed to be two-handed (we saw one in the TGS demo). Another very important element of combat is Stamina, which is represented by an on-screen meter and dictates the effectiveness of your character. The lower your Stamina, the more opportunities the enemy will have to end your journey. And much like in Dark Souls, deaths will be marked on the map, so if you’re online, other players can see how you died. There’s a fun little twist, though: You can summon a wolf that enhances your combat abilities for a short amount of time.

Because combat is more about defense, you won’t be tearing through legions of foes. Rather, you’ll face down smaller numbers of enemies, and each of them will pose a significant challenge. Enemy designs are absolutely fantastic, too, another trait very reminiscent of From Software’s efforts. Last year’s Bloodborne featured some of the best design and artistry of the generation and you know, we’re seeing similar quality in Ni-oh. Blend that influence with the clear Sengoku setting and you’ve got a very attractive title that is hardly reserved for the Japanese faithful. There’s a reason Dark Souls has such a strong Western following – it isn’t anime, for one – and don’t forget that the protagonist in Team Ninja’s upcoming game actually has a very Western tinge. That may have been a conscious effort on the developer’s part.

Anyway, Ni-oh could be a really fantastic hybrid of sorts, with a nod to several different style and genre influences. The developers are well known for delivering high-quality products but mostly on the straight-up action side of the industry. It’ll be interesting to see how they approach a deeper and more ambitious project, especially when competition is stiffer than ever. Look for the demo on April 26 and remember that it will go away on May 5. Team Ninja plans to use the feedback to make the game better – as well they should – so I say everyone intrigued by this game should download.

4/6/2016   Ben Dutka