By now, we’re all aware of Nioh. What seemed like a smaller release capitalizing on the success of brands like Dark Souls and Bloodborne has now blown up to the extent that everyone is talking about it and Amazon, of all places, has sold out. Online video game outlets, this one included, covers Nioh news like it’s a AAA game. This is the kind of breakout success Koei Tecmo hasn’t seen since Ninja Gaiden blew up two console generations ago. It’s safe to say we’re all happy a cool, new videogame from Japan is a surprise success. Now I’m left wondering, what’s next for Koei Tecmo?
When I think Koei Tecmo in 2017, I think Musou, Dead or Alive, or Dynasty Warriors for those of you who just read that and thought, “Huh?” I also think of Japanese properties even further down the niche rabbit hole, such as Nobunaga’s Ambition or the Atelier series. These are all games that do well enough within their own insular fanbases to continue justifying releases, but certainly not chart-toppers or shocking retailer sellouts. These definitely aren’t the kinds of games that take up valuable real estate on news sites well after release either.
It’s far too early to tell how closely the Nioh fever will ultimately reflect, say, that of Dark Souls, but I have a feeling that even if it doesn’t, Koei Tecmo sure is hoping it does. Even after five major games, six including Nioh, this genre is still going strong, still dominating charts and videogames mindshare. Sony and Koei Tecmo are going to push this thing as hard as they can, for as long as they can. Nioh getting a sequel is probably a matter of “when,” rather than “if.”
Where does that leave everything else from the developer/publisher? Dynasty Warriors isn’t going anywhere, as that series is money in Japan and even does consistently well over in North America. The anime licensing helps a ton, and has cultivated a relationship between developer Omega Force and publisher Bandai Namco. Nintendo even jumped in and incorporated Team Ninja, Nioh’s developer, into the mix for Hyrule Warriors and the upcoming Fire Emblem Warriors. The Dynasty Warriors web is a tangled mess of wide-eyed anime, elaborate violence and cash money, so much cash money. Dead or Alive's fighting entries will always be localized, but the spin-offs can remain trapped in Japan.
But those games are a hard sell to the “mass market,” and people are trying to figure out the answer to that. Nintendo is certainly helping a lot, but that’s going to depend a lot on how the Switch does. With Dynasty Warriors itself, Omega Force is reportedly incorporating open-world elements, a popular AAA buzzword. Does that mean more money than usual, more time and resources is being pumped into the series than before? It could very well be the case, and the big Nioh launch could be fueling the fires of a new landscape for Koei Tecmo.
What happens if that isn’t the case? What if Dynasty Warriors 9 comes and goes as usual, with no bonus pizzazz or marketing? Koei Tecmo could be considering getting back in the saddle with Team Ninja in a big way. Ninja Gaiden fell from grace, and Team Ninja seemed to quietly go along with it, but things are looking up again and dollar signs are popping off. We could very well see an increase of output from Team Ninja and a bit less from Omega Force. Or I could be thinking way too hard about this, and very little will change.
What I’m seeing here is Koei Tecmo in a similar position as Bandai Namco. That company was sort of plodding along for a while, held up by Dragon Ball Z and Pac-Man with the occasional anime game. After Dark Souls, Bandai Namco is not only considered a AAA publisher to a degree, but market share has exploded in general. Even the anime games are coming in greater numbers, and Bandai Namco has been able to take on riskier projects and localizations to appeal to more niche fans. Tales has blown up, and we’re even in the midst of what appears to be a Digimon revival. That’s wild stuff, considering the current gaming climate.
The opportunity for a similar renaissance could be in Koei Tecmo’s near future. A few years from now, Nioh 2 could be the hot-ticket pre-order, Nintendo could be gearing up for a third or fourth Warriors joint and Dynasty Warriors itself could have a special edition release in the states. Stranger things have happened.