In Nioh 2, you learn to believe in a better future — and fight for it
The Warring States era of Japan was a time of nearly two centuries of constant civil, political, and social conflict. presents a historical fantasy retelling of this era in a land filled with demons. Although highly different, our reality is somewhat like the era presented. We live in a time where powerful people have the reins over our livelihoods. Our present and ultimately our future is seemingly out of our control. How do we respond to living under a system that is against our best interests? How do we navigate these turbulent times? As the world is on fire, Nioh 2 presents an adventure that empowers us to believe in a better future.
Nioh 2 begins with us meeting our protagonist Hide, making a living as a yokai (demon) slayer. Hide’s life trajectory changes once they meet Tokichiro, spirit stone peddler. As two people ostracized by society, Hide for being half-yokai, and Tokichiro being born of a low class, the peddler suggests they combine their talents to survive the times. The dream is that they will eventually obtain some social status.
Their choice is sound; people working together is an effective survival tactic. With their forged friendship, they seek out more spirit stones and slay demons that threaten the local populace. This allows them to make a name for themselves among the people. Eventually, they begin to gain more allies, including influential people such as Mumyo the demon slayer and Saito Dosan, a well-connected informant.
In time, the duo’s efforts allow them to become retainers of Oda Nobunaga, a man known as one of the great unifiers of Japan. Again, Japan is still at war, and Nobunaga is in position to end conflict under his rule. As his retainers, Hide and Tokichiro gain status, power, and recognition. They are no longer just surviving; they’ve obtained stability. They now have more control over their lives, even during these war-filled times.
Still, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The dangers of demons and power-hungry men remain in a violent cycle. As long as people covet power, they will attract yokai, which prey on people in turn. People who lose themselves in power can become demons who will endanger everyone indiscriminately. Hide and their allies continue dispatching the threat of man and monster alike, for the greater good.
As time moves on, our heroes are no longer mere witnesses to history. Their missions involve slaying every foe and obstacle that serves as a threat to Nobunaga’s unification of Japan. They write history by their actions and achievements, conquering any ambitious men who would dare oppose Nobunaga. Hide and Tokichiro soon thereafter become collectively known as Hideyoshi, the general. (It should be noted that their story is loosely based on the real-life story of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.) So, as far as the greater public is concerned, Hideyoshi is but a single loyal retainer serving in Nobunaga’s army. A highly capable general.
Time waits for no one, and eventually Nobunaga falls; this creates a power vacuum in Japan. Time can also change people, and Tokichiro takes this opportunity to rule himself. His answer to this violent time in history is that he will be the one in power. To maintain his dream, he abandons Hide and the original promise that they made. He no longer sees a point in them working together cooperatively and altruistically. Their cooperation wouldn’t have given him enough power. With his knowledge and experience, he’s able to access resources his predecessor did not. So, Tokichiro commands an entire army of men and evil spirits utterly dedicated to him. This is a military force that no one has seen in Japan.
Tokichiro becomes the greatest and most powerful threat to Japan. If his ambitions continue, the land will not know peace. To put a peaceful end to the Warring States era, Hide chooses to stop Tokichiro at all costs. After all these years, our protagonist is empowered to create a better world for themselves. At this point, Nioh 2 proposes that for history to move forward, it must do so with new leaders. Leaders who will abandon war, power, and selfish goals to rule peacefully. They must reject powerful figures like Nobunaga and Tokichiro. The end goal for Hide is the same as the promise they made with Tokichiro decades ago. They want to create a new age where people won’t be preyed upon by demons and won’t be used by the ruling class.
It’s important to note that Hide wasn’t powerful enough to stop the unifier on their own until after a lifetime of living through war. They’ve gained the strength to stop powerful spirits after decades of demon-slaying. Alas, they’ve also experienced a great deal of betrayal by their first ally, Tokichiro. He was the first person to believe in them to be more than a mere demon slayer. Their friendship over time emboldened the demon slayer to become a hero. It is sad that the final obstacle is someone with whom they’ve shared a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Still, they gained allies after years of proving themselves to be selfless.
Again, time, betrayal, and experience allowed the protagonist to live through an uncertain present and to create a better future themselves. Unfortunately, life can be quite cruel as we journey towards our life goals. We lose things along the journey; in Hide’s case, they had to lose a dear friend, to ensure a tie for peace.
This is an adventure during which you travel from conflict to conflict, power-monger to power-monger, schemer to schemer, and so on and so on. The through-line with the game’s narrative is that our present and our future are violent. Still, we do not have to accept this. Time allows us to gain the resources to reject and even heal a world on fire.
The last few years of our lives have felt like living in a long time of uncertainty. Nioh 2 is an adventure that reminds us that history, by nature, is stormy. It asks players, how do we respond to an uncertain present? Do we try to survive it? Do we attempt to stay comfortable? Or can we choose to fight against it? Nioh 2 then tells us that the definitive answer is that you have to fight. Our protagonist learned to fight and then also learned what they had to fight for — a future where fighting is no longer necessary.
For that, you have to fight like hell.
Nioh 2 Remastered was released Feb. 5 on PlayStation 5 and Windows PC.
Originally published at https://www.polygon.com on February 8, 2021.