Could Nioh’s ‘Masocore’ Approach End Up Hurting its Quality?

So now having gone gold recently, Team Ninja’s upcoming action RPG Nioh is gearing up for as much coverage as possible leading up to its February 7 release date. So naturally, out come the previews, interviews and more, which eventually led to the mention of one particular term, which caught the eyes of more than a few. Apparently, according to director Fumihiko Yasuda, this is meant to be a “masocore” game and they directly avoided making it easy. In fact, they apparently increased the difficulty after feeling that audiences thought the beta was easier than the alpha.

Now, Nioh was always influenced by the likes of the Dark Souls series (and we’ve even asked if it could be a successor to the franchise), so from an influence like that, you naturally expect a challenge. But now, players are wondering if Team Ninja is taking the right lessons from the works of From Software in terms of difficulty. Or if they know it means to make a highly challenging game that’s still fun in general. Worries about frustration seem to be popping up, such as those from one player who tackled an earlier demo, and had to get to Level 15 before they could defeat a Level 6 boss. That does not necessarily bode well, to say the least.

In fact, watching some of Nioh’s gameplay footage in action, it was legitimately surprising to see how much damage certain enemies needed to take before they would go down. Mind you, these enemies were the more supernatural ones, such as oni and giant tengu-like creatures, and regular human foes went down in a more simple manner. But just seeing attacks with even a cartoonishly-sized massive hammer only chip away at health suggests that Yasuda and company may have overdone things a bit. After all, everybody loves a lengthy and meaty game, but not one that’s so tough that you spend several minutes on even the simplest of cuts.

Really, all you need to know about making a difficult game that’s also enjoyable is that it needs to be tough but fair. Whenever the player dies or fails, it should be because of their own fault, not the game’s fault. Too easy is it in a lot of games these days to wander into such pitfalls as having hordes of regular enemies rush out to simply outnumber the player, enemies with ridiculous amounts of health, or bosses and foes that deliver one-hit kill attacks that send a player back to an unreasonable checkpoint. And no, “git gud” is not an appropriate response or excuse, for crying out loud. There’s no point in getting “gud” if the fight isn’t fair, or if it becomes boring as a result. It becomes a form of fake difficulty, plain and simple.

Of course, it should be noted that we’ve only experienced demo versions of Nioh so far (with a new one due this weekend), so it is indeed highly possible that the final version has taken steps to make sure that that the difficulty is done correctly. And it’s not like what we’ve seen so far has still left gamers unimpressed (heck, the player mentioned earlier who needed to get to Level 15 still said that they had fun with the game). After all, it definitely still appears to feature some rock-solid and fun combat, the use of Japanese mythology has made for something that looks  highly impressive, the graphics are astounding (the sumi-e-esque aura around more powerful enemies and attacks is a particularly great touch), and while the connection to Akira Kurosawa may be minimal now, one still has to wonder how a game and story born from one of his unfinished scripts will play out.

So Nioh still remains one of our most highly anticipated games, but while we love a game with a good, strong challenge, here’s hoping that even a masocore game like this still remembers to give players a fair shot at tackling it. After all, no one wants to see it end up as one of those games that you purchase, get too frustrated with, then leave it to wallow unfinished in the depths of your backlog, never to see the light of day again because that one boss battle peeved you off too much. We’ve all been there before and a game as promising as Nioh deserves to be addicted to instead of suffering a fate like that.