When you first hear about Nioh the chances are that you heard it was basically Dark Souls in a Japanese fantasy setting. To an extent that is a true statement, but despite Nioh owing a lot to the Dark Souls franchise it still has its own identity.
The foundations laid by Dark Souls are undeniable when looking at Nioh. The levels are demanding and challenging mazes that require a lot of patience and skill to overcome. Nioh provides players with a number of rich solutions to overcome the obstacles you face. There’s a freshness to Nioh its combat, not only it is action driven, but it requires a great deal of tact to master it. It’s surprisingly rich with multiple stances and stamina bar that requires user management.
Developers Koei Tecmo might be better known for its long running Dynasty Warrior series, but its fondness for Japan and the Sengoku period specifically is in full swing here. Protagonist William Adams is a historical figure in the real world, but not represented accurately in Nioh. That’s not a problem in Nioh, as historical accuracy goes straight out of the window the seconds you introduce demons to the story. The Antagonist of Nioh, Edward Kelly is another real life historical figure. Both Adams and Kelly are in pursuit of Amrita, a magical stone that could turn the tide of any war.
Death is a frequent feature, both due to the number of times players will die and the overarching theme of the story. Level design is key in games like these and Nioh does this so well. Corpses often litter the land and every blind corner is treat with a great deal of care.
The lands in Nioh are devastated by vicious demonic beings known as Yokai. Heavily inspired by Japanese folklore these are the fantastic beasts that you don’t want to find. They’re both imaginative and deadly, with almost every encounter starting with a player gulping. Dodging and evading are your best friends in this game, but remain your only solace in this desolate and harsh world.
To master the combat of Nioh is beyond challenging, and this is not an overstatement. You’ll find yourself often replaying large parts of a level or section just to increase your characters level. By increasing your level and overall skill, you might find some of the foes you face a little on the easier side, killing them with a single stroke of your sword. There’s a comfort in doing so, but it won’t last for long. Some enemies will have you genuinely believing you just fought a real player, while others make you scratch your head with confusion as to how you take him down.
Nioh seems to be most enjoyed in those 1-v-1 dual moments you have. Learning how and enemy fights is almost important as learning to fight yourself, as after a short time you’ll start to pick up the traits and animations that come before a certain strike against you. You’ll also start to pick up on the outfits your enemies wear and how they work. Some cause massive stamina debuffs for example, and it’s just a matter of waiting for your opponent to tire before you unleash hell.
There are plenty of weapons, items, and variations in Nioh and there’s no shortage of customizing your play style. Choose from Swords (both two handed and dual wielding), spears, axes, bows, rifles and even kusarigama. Each weapon can be upgraded and the more you use a certain weapon, the more Adams becomes familiar with it, adding yet more skill and buffs.
At its core, Nioh is a game about surviving combat and managing that stamina bar. Stamina is known as Ki in the game and this determines how often you can attack your enemies. Patience is indeed a virtue in Nioh and some of your enemies even create areas where your KI will not replenish, adding an extra level of ‘how the hell am I going to do this’. This is one of the beauties of Nioh when you think it can’t get much harder, it throws another wild card your way and forces you to change your play style. Your enemies have plenty of tricks up their sleeve and this goes beyond just melee combat.
Nioh employs a rich loot system, which is similar to that of a Diablo game. There’s loot to be had everywhere and this comes in handy at the sporadic save points located in the game. Players can dismantle/sell their unwanted gear and use the resources gained to upgrade new ones.
I’ve put many hours into this game and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. There are multiple side quests and smaller missions that can help level your character. The main quest line has its flaws sure, but it was interesting enough to keep me playing through in long sessions. Unfortunately, it’s very hot and cold as it struggles through the story is some areas. At times you can be engaged in epic battles and then the next level you’re doing some task that feels mundane. There’s no steady ramp up of action here, it’s very up and down, all or nothing, and that’s a problem.
During my playthrough of Nioh, one thing became really apparent. Dying in this game never feels like the end. When you die, you’re not immediately putting down your controller and thinking about going on something else, you keep coming back for more. As you traverse the game you’ll notice the many grave markers of other Nioh players that have perished. You can choose to fight them and test your might against one, proving to yourself that you’re better than the rest. Ultimately these engagements can often result in your death from player characters far above your level, but you feel compelled to get up and try again.
That’s what really stuck with me when playing Nioh, I felt compelled to get up and carry on. It’s not often that a game in which you die more often than you’d like to keeps you coming back for more. Nioh is a fantastic Japanese inspired fantasy, and as a fan of this historical era, I urge anyone of the same ilk to give it a try. Just this Dark Souls meets Onimusha and you’ll be halfway there.