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The English sailor who inspired Nioh's samurai star

William Adams helped shape the future of Japan.

Nioh, Koei Tecmo's excellent PlayStation 4 action game, stars William, a blonde-haired westerner who arrives in a fictionalised version of feudal Japan on the hunt for an enemy. There, he is trained in combat so that he can defeat Edward Kelley, another westerner who is driving the war in Japan using his dark abilities.

In the game, the government of Queen Elizabeth I wants to secure victory over Spain by obtaining Amrita, a mystical golden stone found in Japan. Edward Kelly is also after this.

It turns out both Nioh characters William and Edward Kelley are based on real world historical figures, one of whom made a big splash in Japan hundreds of years ago.

The video below, from VFX artist Landon Sperry, explains the historical background to Nioh. (Sperry's Lost in Translation YouTube show is about the Japanese influence of some of the biggest video games.) It's an interesting watch!

Watch on YouTube

Nioh's William is based on William Adams, a sailor born in Kent in 1564. He sailed against the Spanish Armada in 1588, before going on an ambitious Dutch expedition as part of the Dutch/English war with Spain. The expedition began with five ships, but only one made it to Japan. William Adams was on that ship.

William Adams.

Portuguese Jesuits claimed the crew were pirates and should be executed. William ended up meeting with Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was gunning for the top job in Japan. At the time, Japan was embroiled in a bloody civil war. Ieyasu had a trade deal with the Portuguese that meant he had access to powerful weapons, but in exchange Catholic missionaries were allowed to spread Christianity throughout the land.

William Adams convinced Ieyasu that he had been misled about the influence of Spain and Portugal in Europe, and suggested the Dutch could supply weapons without the need for Christianity to be spread throughout Japan. Ieyasu was convinced.

Ieyasu, powered by Dutch weapons, became Shogun of Japan in 1600. The Catholic missionaries were expelled and Christianity was eradicated from the country. Ieyasu would eventually grant Williams the title of Hatamoto, which made him a samurai. He ended up with an estate worth around 100 farms, a Japanese wife and two children.

Adams' is an impressive story - here we have a westerner who not only helped shape the future of Japan, but ended up accepted by its Shogun and made a lord.

Edward Kelley, on the other hand, was an English Renaissance occultist who was accused of being heavily involved in alchemy. While Nioh sees William go up against Kelley, in reality Kelley died a year before William Adams' Dutch expedition to Japan set sail.

So there you have it. Nioh is a fantastical, rock-hard action game, but there's an interesting real world story behind its characters.

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