How Nioh Draws From the Darkest Depths of Japanese Folklore

Having just set the Nioh ‘Last Chance’ beta to download on my PlayStation 4, I figured now would be as good a time as any to bring to light the rich lore that Team Ninja’s upcoming game aims to draw from.

At first glance, Nioh would appear to be a purely fantastical game, pitting a lone soldier up against a horde of demons and samurai, throughout a variety of gorgeous but brutal locations throughout ancient Japan. However, the game is actually only set merely 500 years ago which, in the grand scheme of humanity, barely encompasses any ground at all.

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As such, players will take on the role of William, the voiced protagonist of the game, who also happens to be the sole white character featured throughout. My initial thoughts of “well of course there’s a white protagonist, why wouldn’t there be a white protagonist” were actually quashed entirely, when I discovered that ‘William’ is actually based William Adams, an entirely real person.

William Adams, as it happens, was the first westerner to be given the title of samurai, after leaving his family to sail halfway round the globe from England to Japan, in a time of war with Spain. Of the five ships that left port in England, Adams’ ship was the only one to make it to Japan, with the other four being claimed by a vicious combination of pirates, the Spanish, and the natives of Ecuador.

Out of the five hundred men that set sail from England, only twenty completed the journey to Japan, with nine of the twenty succumbing to diseases contracted while out on the open ocean. William Adams was one of these lucky eleven, and despite being imprisoned at first upon arrival in the nation, Tokugawa Ieyasu, a future shogun, took a liking to Adams, despite the urges from Portuguese Jesuit priests for the entire crew to be executed.

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Ieyasu then utilised Adams’ ability to read maps and construct ships, and together they would build a particularly advanced fleet for Japan. However, don’t forget that Adams still had a wife and child back in England, who he had been sending payments to all this time with the intention of one day returning home to them. Despite his wishes to return home to then, Ieyasu forbade him from leaving Japan, bestowing the rank of samurai upon Adams, effectively barring him from ever leaving the country without permission.

Miura Anjin was the name then given to Adams, as Ieyasu declared that ‘William Adams was dead, and Miura Anjin was now born.’ William Adams, now known as Miura Anjin, would go on to establish great diplomatic links with Indonesia and the Netherlands, and would continue to work as a diplomat for Japan until his death in May of 1620, at the age of 55.

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Aside from the life story of one sailor destined for greatness in the far east, Nioh also draws from Japanese folklore of the Yōkai, powerful demons that have appeared throughout Japanese history, and definitely not Yōkai Watch.

The abilities and powers of the Yōkai actually range drastically between each individual, as while most appear in human form at first, nearly every Yōkai also possesses the ability to shape shift, meaning they are potentially able to take on any form, from beautiful humans all the way to horrific monsters.

This ability of the Yōkai to shape shift is actually something that game director Fumihiko Yasuda noted while talking to Siliconera about Nioh, stating that some Yōkai found within the game can change their forms entirely. Say for example, if a Yōkai first appears to be beautiful, they could have changed forms entirely be the end of the fight to resemble a hideous monster, and vice versa.

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For a game to have hideous monsters is one thing, but for a game to feature hideous monsters that have the potential to transform into even more hideous monsters really is pushing the boat out.

I, for one, certainly can’t wait to see what Nioh has in store for us come February 8. I’ve actually never played any of the previous betas (before I inevitably play the upcoming one this weekend), which is perhaps why I’ve managed to completely avoid mentioning that certain other series Nioh has been compared to a lot.

According to Yasuda, Nioh is providing a darker, alternate retelling of Japanese history, the likes of which don’t come around that often in modern video games, and even less so in modern, big budget video games that took around a decade to develop.

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