E3 2018 was a pretty rockin’, hootin’ hollerin’ good time. I walked away from the show not feeling the same lifeless cynicism I felt after least year’s depressing showing, and I only feel disappointed knowing that all of the great games I saw this year will go unplayed now that this new force called “parenting” is dominating my life.

Given my outlook for the next few years and the little time I have for video games, my wishlist for 2018 remains relatively short. However, I would like to point out a fun trend I noticed this year in the press conferences. 2017’s “little game that could” sleeper-hit Nioh is now rocking the action genre as seemingly everyone is now scrambling to follow in its warpath.

Nioh’s lightning-in-a-bottle success has developers of the highest caliber scrambling to be its successor.

Nioh’s rise to fame

How did we get to this point? Well, let’s remember that Nioh’s success came from its killer screenshots and the fact that it too was a spiritual successor. 2017 was the first full year we knew that Dark Souls was going to be laid to rest, presumably longer than one of its nameless, immortal protagonists. Hardcore action fans felt a huge hole in their hearts, and in looking for a replacement, they found that this samurai game Nioh checked off all the right marks.

Dark graphics, challenging boss battles, brutal learning curve, smart combat, optional and invasive multiplayer, and nonsensical storytelling, all the things that the Dark Souls fanbase love could be found in a game that spent over a decade in development at Team Ninja. The inclusion of randomized loot drops, remixed levels, and other means of constantly creating new experiences in the game helped extend its shelf life far longer than Koei Tecmo ever dreamed.

No doubt, over the course of its decade in development, Team Ninja shifted their style to mach the success of Dark Souls, and the timing of their release couldn’t have been any better. Not a dark soul on Earth could have foreseen this game selling 2 million copies and becoming the most successful Koei Tecmo game of all time, and yet, it did just that.

Nioh worked its way into the history books of gaming, and it now leads the charge in the next age of action games, which can be summed up as “HEY! Let’s do Dark Souls with samurai!”

Granted, I am only talking about three games here, but it is still fun to dwell on a bit. Had these high profile games not been samurai themed, I would say that we’re still looking for the successor to Dark Souls. However, Nioh’s success and these reveal trailers coming out just a year later can’t be just a mere coincidence.

The three games in question are Sekihiro: Shadows Die Twice, Ghost of Tsushima, and of course, Nioh 2.

Triple Samurai

Nioh 2 is the most obvious of the bunch. Team Ninja is going to take what works, retool it into a more streamlined game for everyone to enjoy, and in the process, they are going to make something that nobody enjoys. Great games always have faults, cracks, exploits, and bugs, and when those are ironed out, the inner soul of the game is lost. Usually this happens in the sequel process, and Nioh giving up on its quirks doesn’t make it Nioh anymore.

I don’t mind sequels, but when a studio tries to capitalize on its own accidental success, things often don’t go well.

Granted, capitalizing on accidental success is the reason we have Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, Dark Souls 3, and Bloodborne in the first place. From Software’s legendary run in the shadow of Demon’s Souls is the exception though, not the rule.

I’m not counting Nioh 2 down and out just yet, but it has an uphill climb if it wants to convince me that it’s the sequel we want to see.

And speaking of From Software, we also have the curious case of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Microsoft paid the big bucks to get this reveal in 2018, and when I first saw it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. From Software deliberately said it was moving on from Dark Souls to make different style games, and yet, here we are with yet another Dark Souls style action game.

I guess that retirement didn’t sit in From Software’s stomach as well as those Activision dollars did.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is From Software’s “samurai Dark Souls” successor to Nioh, which was a samurai game that was a successor to From Software’s Dark Souls game. As convoluted and cynical as that sounds, this game still looks really solid. Unlike Nioh 2’s CG teaser, we got to see some sweet gameplay, and while it’s exactly what you expect from a samurai Dark Souls, it’s also exactly what fans want to see.

Hulking boss fights, blocking, rolling, backstabbing, all the best elements of Dark Souls with a nice samurai skin on top. The grappling hooks were a nice touch too, something straight out of the Tenchu games of old.

Take that classic reference and eat it for breakfast!

Sony also wanted a piece of the action. Probably still feeling sore that it can’t follow-up on Bloodborne while From Software is busy making not-Dark Souls games, it instead turned to its reliable open-world game developer Sucker Punch to crank out this samurai action game that blends Japanese history with a strong slice of fiction.

Just like Nioh did. Dark Souls combat also helps bring home that this game isn’t all that original but hey… at least it’s pretty.

Of the three, I think this is the one I am most looking forward to. While I just said that it isn’t all that original, it’s the only one that enters the fray with a blank slate. It’s a new franchise, unlike Nioh 2, and it has a fresh developer in Sucker Punch, not From Software. Plus, the closing fight in that sweet trailer reminds me of the final battle in Metal Gear Solid 3.

One for the memories.

Sucker Punch also needs a win after the last inFamous game came up short, and you can bet that they’ll be pulling out all the stops to make this game a contender. How else is the studio going to make another Sly Cooper?

To hell with your trends!

I also want to point out that in a world where everyone is trying to ape on the success of someone else, one franchise out there is still doing not only what it does best but also what it invented. Devil May Cry 5 doesn’t need your cute Dark Souls’ combat.

This franchise wrote the book on 3D action games, and even though most of its proteges have died off over the years, Capcom is just getting started all over again by taking the series back to its roots.

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