Historical fantasy game Nioh was announced in 2004–back when Koei Tecmo was still just Koei, and back before the PlayStation 3 even launched. In development with Omega Force, Nioh starred a white-haired, Caucasian samurai battling his way across a fantastical version of Japan packed with demons. The game was initially slated to launch in 2006 with the PS3, but missed its due date and slipped into silence, with no word coming again until 2009.
Until September of last year, we had only received brief statements about Nioh from Koei Tecmo–yes, it’s in development, they said, but nothing more than that. Now, in fall 2016 and in development with Ninja Gaiden studio Team Ninja, Nioh has been through numerous alpha tests and is sated to launch early next year.
I sat down with Fumihiko Yasuda, Nioh’s director, to chat about the game’s extended development time and the difficulties of reviving the property. Yasuda revealed that not only was Nioh not always an action game–it was initially supposed to be a JRPG–but also shed some light on famed director Akira Kurosawa’s involvement as well as how the property itself has changed.
GameSpot: I played the Nioh demo, and I also played the Samurai Warriors: Sanada Maru game, and I feel like there are a few games and a lot of media out there that have this fascination with the Sengoku period, Japan’s Warring States period. Why do you think that’s such a compelling era of history to set a game in?
Yasuda: One, because this is when the first blonde samurai rose. That was Sengoku era. Also, just in general, the warring period of turmoil is just a fascinating stage for any good IP. In the West we have Game of Thrones, that’s kind of a period of turmoil, if you will. Heroes rise and fall. Also, it goes well with fantasy stuff, as seen in Game of Thrones. Based on above what I just said, ultimately we decided this is the period. And it’s not like we had a lot of choices, because that’s where William Adams made his fame.
This game was actually announced back in 2004, so it’s been in development for quite some time and when you initially announced it, you said that you were working on a script with Akira Kurosawa. I’m curious how much of that original script, how much of that collaboration, still exists within the Nioh that we’re seeing right now.
Well, practically, it just crashed, and we started again from square one. You can say that this game is entirely original and independent from that of Kurosawa’s unfinished script, yet the basic concept is there and the first blonde samurai, the Sengoku era, the very fundamental elements are still there.
Initially Nioh was supposed to come out in 2006, and then three years went by and we heard from Nioh again. Can you talk about what the development process like was during those early years? Whether or not development on Nioh was consistent, whether or not you back-burnered it for a little while, and what brought you back to it?
The original creator of this Nioh game concept was from our president and CEO Kou Shibusawa. He’s always had strong feelings towards this game. He was very persistent and you could almost say that he’s… Well, I wouldn’t want to use the word obsessive, but he had his principals and the earlier phases of the development obviously did not live up to that standard. For me personally, to join the Nioh project, it was roughly three years ago and since then the project was assigned to Team Ninja, and since it was assigned to Team Ninja the vision became clearer. Aside from the earlier ideas Shibusawa had about this project, eventually it became clearer that it needs to be an action game. It had to be challenging. Eventually he agreed to that and gave us the green light.
You said that when you came in on the project you decided that it had to be an action game. What kind of game was it before you decided to change directions? Was it a different genre?
From what I know, initially it was meant to be a Japanese RPG title. Sometime later, because it was handed to Omega Force, the plan resembled more of a Warriors game. He only jumped in three years earlier. Those were the different possibilities on the side.
Aside from the fact that it was meant to be a foreigner struggling to become a Japanese samurai, aside from that point everything was kind of up in the air three years ago. Not like there was a visible game. Obviously from there, once it was decided that it was meant to be an action game for it to be challenging, they decided that they needed powerful enemies. And powerful enemies–naturally they thought of the yokai from the Japanese folklore. That’s how it evolved into the form that you see today.
Can you talk a little bit about the decision to bring Team Ninja in on the project and how their involvement evolved and changed it from what it was when you started?
I thinks it’s just in the end, that’s what Team Ninja excelled in. Making satisfying, challenging action game. That’s how the project was eventually handed to them.
Do you feel a lot of pressure in delivering the final game? By the time it comes out it’ll be thirteen years since it was announced. Do you feel a lot of pressure?
Now that you mention that… It’s not like I’ve felt it until now, but now that you mention it… Yes. There is and there should be a level of anxiety, I believe, partially because it’s been so long and secondly just because we’ve been so encouraged by our fans. Though we probably should be a little fearful … But then again, because we’re proud of all the efforts we’ve put in in order to give the players what they want, and because we also take pride subjectively in what we have created, we’ll keep on doing our best and we think the final product will be awesome.