NIOH, THE UPCOMING game from Team Ninja (creators of the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive series), offers hardcore samurai fighting in a dark-fantasy version of 17th-century Japan. The game recently entered beta on PS4, and we spent some time getting the hang of its mechanics, as well as its wonderfully twisted and convoluted maps.
The red glowing "fires" scattered throughout the level are spots where other players have died - each offering the chance to summon and fight an AI version of that player's avatar - and the spectral wolf marks the spot where your own character previously died, which, when claimed, restores all lost Amrita, which is essentially a "soul currency" similar to that in Dark Souls or Onimusha.
In both gameplay and aesthetics, it has much in common with the Souls games, and its brutal difficulty, unforgiving stamina system, and lack of save points make the comparison impossible to avoid.
The comparison works both ways, though: as much as the Souls games have come to dominate discussions of unforgivingly difficult action games, Ninja Gaiden (2004) was a paragon of the genre a half-decade before Demon's Souls (2009). Both series offer an intriguing mix of eastern and western sensibilities (Nioh's protagonist, William, is a white samurai based on the real-life historical character William Adams), and a ridiculously appealing mixture of the darker folklores of both. Nonetheless, it's refreshing to see a game that so unabashedly embraces the aesthetics of Japan: pieces of armor retain their Japanese names (to the point that non-Japanese speakers may need to toggle through their armor interface to see what they've actually picked up), villages are strewn with wooden crates and drying racks that crunch satisfyingly at the slightest upheaval, and demonic Yokai and spritely Kodama abound to hinder or help the player in turn.