Nioh takes a lot of liberty with its historical setting but still maintains a large cast of famous warlords, samurai, explorers and ninja. Every one of them has a story. Here’s a quick primer on what history tells us about these individuals.
Works of historical fiction have always fascinated me, and Nioh is set during one of the most interesting periods of all: The Sengoku or “Warring States” era of Japanese history. A small dispute between two clans grew to involve the entire nation, plunging it into war from 1467 to 1615. It created a host of heroes, many of whom are in Nioh. These are some of the most important.
Warning: There’s some spoilers up ahead.
The game’s main protagonist is William. This portrayal is largely fictional but is based on the real life William Adams. Adams is credited as the first Englishman to travel to Japan. In 1600, a single ship from the Dutch East India company arrived in Kyūshū, Japan. Adams was one of the nine surviving crew members.
During his time in the nation, he met with Tokugawa Ieyasu multiple times. Ieyasu was the lord of Edo and future shogun of Japan. Adams became a close confidant to Ieyasu and was eventually declared a samurai. He was forbidden from leaving Japan and given the name Miura Anjin. He spent the rest of his life in Japan, helping to foster trade and organising expeditions into Southeast Asia.
Adams died on 16 May 1620 at the age of 56. It is unclear what the cause of death was. His grave in Hirado faces towards the sea.
Kelley is one of the main antagonists in Nioh. In real life, Kelley was an English occultist and alchemist who claimed he could summon and communicate with spirits using a magical mirror. He worked closely with John Dee, famed philosopher and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. While in Dee’s service, he supposedly used a magical red powder to transform metal into gold.
Dee and Kelley worked closely and, under the supposed guidance of angels, shared wives. One day, Kelley mysteriously parted ways with Dee. Years later, he was arrested for killing a man in a duel. He died in prison in 1597 from injuries he sustained during an escape attempt.
The man who unified Japan and ended the Sengoku period. Originally named Matsudaira Takechiyo, he spent much of his youth as a hostage of the Imagawa Clan. Following his release, he proved an intelligent military mind. He declared independence from the Imagawa and joined with the famed general Oda Nobunaga. He and Nobunaga worked to unify the land and made good progress until Nobunaga was betrayed by a subordinate.
Following this, Ieyasu fought warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi to a standstill and agreed to become his vassal. He served Hideyoshi as his lord pushed to unify Japan, although he did not send forces when Hideyoshi attempted to invade Korea in a disastrous campaign.
After Hideyoshi died, Ieyasu’s surplus of troops made it easy for him to push for leadership in Japan. At the battle of Sekigahara, he defeated his rival Ishida Mitsunari and was declared shogun. He served two years before abdicating the position to his son. He died in 1616.
Ieyasu’s patience was legendary. In a poem about the major figures of the Sengoku period, when asked what he would do if a bird would not sing for him, he merely replied “wait”.
Hanzo is history’s most famous ninja and is known largely for his time serving Tokugawa Ieyasu. Most famously, when the Tokugawa were forced to retreat after battle with warlord Takeda Shingen, he helped drive the enemy back as part of a dangerous gambit. Ieyasu ordered the gate of the castle they were garrisoned in to remain open. The Takeda believed this was a trap. Ieyasu only had five retainers in the fort but Hanzo and a contingent of ninja attacked the Takeda camp. The resulting confusion forced the Takeda to retreat.
His other most famous act came after Oda Nobunaga was betrayed by Akechi Mitsuhide. Hanzo loyally guided the vulnerable Ieyasu into safe territory. History says that Hattori Hanzo died of sickness before Tokugawa Ieyasu unified the nation but some legends maintain he was killed during a naval battle after the ship he was on was lit on fire.
Mitsunari was a vassal to the Azai family, which was wiped out by Oda Nobunaga. He found service with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and became a valuable retainer. After Hideyoshi’s death, he took it upon himself to protect Hideyoshi’s son Hideyori. This made him an enemy of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
He led opposition forces at the Battle of Sekigahara. In Nioh, Edward Kelley supports him with a force of yokai to aid in his battle against Ieyasu. He had no such support in real life and decisively lost the battle, barely escaping.
He did not survive long. He was captured by Tokugawa forces and buried up to his neck in sand. Then, for good measure, they sawed his head off. However, one legend maintains that Ieyasu actually spared his life and allowed him to live in hiding until dying of old age.
Shima Sakon was a loyal servant of Ishida Mitsunari. During the Battle of Sekigahara, he commanded a large force armed with rifles and cannons. In Nioh, he engages William in a boss fight. It’s a glorious duel. In reality, his fate was less glamorous.
He engaged in a stalling action to protect Mitsunari’s retreat and was never seen again after the battle. Some sources say that he was unceremoniously killed by rifle fire.
Nobunaga is one of the three great lords of the Sengoku period alongside Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was a brilliant military mind. During the Battle of Okehazama, he defeated a force of 25,000 with only 3000 of his own troops through the use of superior strategies. But he was also a cruel man who murdered women and children and showed little quarter to his enemies.
Together with Ieyasu and Hideyoshi, he nearly unified Japan until a subordinate, Akechi Mitsuhide, betrayed him and attacked while Nobunaga was resting at a temple. In Nioh, Edward Kelley summons his spirit to fight William and he proves to be a noble figure.
Still, his anger is so renowned that unlike Ieyau’s patient answer in regards to what to do if a bird will not sing, Nobunaga’s answer is to immediately kill the bird.
Tenkai was a Buddhist monk of high rank who served as an adviser to a few of the Tokugawa shoguns. By itself this isn’t noteworthy, but some legends maintain that Tenkai was actually Akechi Mitsuhide, who found a new life after betraying Oda Nobunaga.
There’s much speculation about why Mitsuhide betrayed his lord. Most perceive it as a grab for power. However, some say it was the result of a grudge held against Nobunaga after he thew a piece of Mitsuhide’s dinnerware into a pond. A more romantic legend claims that Nobunaga himself told Mitsuhide to kill him should his ambition ever cause him to become too ruthless.
Mitsuhide’s final days are unclear. He held the position of shogun for 13 days before being deposed. History suggests he was killed on the road by a peasant with a bamboo spear. Nioh takes the legends literally, portraying Tenkai as a reformed Mitsuhide.
Historically, Okaji no Kata was one of Ieyasu’s concubines. She supposedly had a very charming wit and one legend even says that she dressed as a man to defend Ieyasu during the Battle of Sekigahara.
In Nioh, Okatsu’s backstory is largely a work of fiction. She is Ieyasu’s daughter, who fled after he killed her brother and tried to marry her to a local lord. She trained as a ninja and forms a friendly relationship with William.
It’s worth noting that Ieyasu did not kill his son. In reality, his wife and son were accused of plotting an assassination attempt on Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga ordered Ieyasu’s wife killed and his son, Matsudaira Nobuyasu, committed seppuku. In Nioh, Tokugawa’s wife has her spirit warped in death and turned into a vicious ogress that William kills in a boss battle.
Yasuke was a samurai of African decent who served Oda Nobunaga. It is unclear what his birth name was or where he exactly came from, though some sources say he was from Mozambique.
He served Nobunaga faithfully and it is said that they enjoyed conversation together quite a bit. When Nobunaga was betrayed, Yasuke fought at the temple of Honnō-ji and later fought for Nobunaga’s son Nobutada. He eventually turned his sword in to Mitsuhide’s forces and was spared from death and sent to a Jesuit missionary. After that? No one really knows what happened to Yasuke.
I saved this sexy devil for last. Magoichi was the leader of the Saika Ikki. They were a group of Ikkō-ikki who opposed the rule of lords. Ikkō-ikki were militant bands comprised of farmers, monks and priests who formed their to fight against daimyo.
The Saika Ikki actually fought against Oda Nobunaga when he attacked the temple of Ishiyama Hongan-ji. Magoichi himself is mostly known for training his soldiers in the use of rifles and arquebuses. In Nioh, he leads an attack on Fushimi Castle as a sort of mercenary. He’s also one of the coolest fights in the game.
There you have it. A breakdown of some of the more interesting individuals in Nioh. There’s a ton more and the game provides a codex that can give you further insight into the characters you meet. Nioh’s setting is quite exciting. Hopefully, this guide helps explain why it was so rife with interesting characters.