Nioh is a real samurai-showdown!
I’ve been a Souls-game fan since the introduction of Demon Souls. The European setting from the series started to get stale and I began to lose interest. Then, I caught word that Team Ninja was tackling a Souls-like game that would take place in Feudal Japan, I was pretty damn excited. Nioh’s first alpha hit and I was pleasantly pleased, there were a lot of great ideas but there was concern in how they were executed. Surprisingly, Nioh’s beta showed that Team Ninja was actively taking feedback and fixed a lot of those issues. Finally, the pre-release demo came out and showcased the near-final build, it was fantastic. Now, for all those folks out there with PlayStation 4 systems, Nioh has come out, but how does the game stand on its own, outside of the small demos?
Nioh has an interesting story filled with “alternative” history
Nioh’s story is a simplistic one. William Adams (first historical Western Samurai) is sent to find amrita; a magical stone imbued with soul energy. William returns from his journey and helps his queen defeat Spain. For his efforts he is tossed into the Tower of London so he can rot and keep his secret of the amrita. Well, William escapes with his guardian spirit, who looks like League of Legends’ Koi Nami, then he fights his way out of the tower. On his way he encounters Edward Kelley (another historical figure), who has nefarious plans of his own that involve bringing strife to the eastern lands through war. Kelley steals away William’s little mermaid and leaves him for dead. William goes to Japan to save his spirit and save Japan from the machinations of Kelley and the Queen.
The story is unfortunately the weakest part of Nioh in the big picture. The game opens with enough story that you will be intrigued. Unfortunately the story after that is not thoroughly fleshed out. It’s clear that since he has his own guardian spirit, William can see others that have them as well. Kind of like Stand users in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. There’s a moment where he meets a kunoichi but she calls him a drunk and runs off. What was her deal? Why was William chilling out when he should be killing demons? The game answers one of those questions later, but creates even more in the process. Outside of a few brief moments, you’ll find yourself scratching your head often with Nioh’s story.
With Nioh’s gameplay, “gitting gud” has never been this fun
Here’s some great news, where Nioh lacks in story, it makes up in absolutely perfect gameplay. Unlike Souls games where the controls are an obstacle that forces you to adapt until you learn the slight nuances, Nioh takes a much more fluid approach. William moves around wonderfully and the camera never acts like it’s out to kill you. That would be impressive on its own, but the combat is what makes Nioh a must-play title.
Nioh’s combat takes layers upon layers of strategy and skill and stacks them on top of each other. In the Souls series, you are limited to weapon types and the dual or single-handed stances. In Nioh, you have access to many different weapon types, but each weapon type also has a low, mid or high stance you can use. These stances may be swapped out mid-combo and will change the amount of attacks and strength of those attacks. For example, when I equipped William with a spear, low attacks worked best for multiple weak enemies. Middle stance worked well when I needed to keep an attacker at a distance and high was great for dueling and stunned enemies.
On top of managing stances and weaponry in Nioh, there are also skill trees and stats to keep an eye on as well. These skills include weapon skills that allow William to perform different attacks or defend himself more efficiently. There are also ninjitsu skills that give you extra tools to use on the battlefield which you will use to catch enemies off guard or set traps. Finally, there is Onmyo Magic, which adds elemental properties to attacks so you can exploit enemy weaknesses. These skills do not follow any sort of “hard” path so you can build your character to your own liking.
More on what makes Nioh great
One other thing that makes Nioh’s gameplay so enjoyable is that many missions have twilight variants. These missions feature a ramped up difficulty, different enemy placements and other punishing things to make them much more difficult. Of course, the rewards are incredible in these twilight missions, so grabbing a friend and co-oping your way through is absolutely recommended. Yes, co-op is a thing and it’s actually pretty fun when you get the hang of it.
One more thing! There are also plenty of gestures you can perform. At first glance, these seem to only be for co-op modes, but after experimenting in-game, I also discovered that they are also used to interact with oni and enemies. The right gesture can actually help you avoid difficult fights.
Nioh sets the bar for what’s to be expected in games this year for presentation
Let me ask you this, how many console games have you played that actually give you graphical options at the start of the game? The game will ask you if you want Action Mode or Movie Mode at the start of the game. Action Mode actually keeps the game running at 60fps, which is a big deal for a Souls-style game like this. Movie Mode sacrifices some of the fps for improved graphics and textures. If you run the game on the PlayStation 4 Pro, you can get the best of both worlds with Movie Mode, but Action Mode is the most ideal across the board.
The audio is nothing to scoff at too. The world of Nioh is alive and every ambient noise in the world helps remind you of this. Staying attentive to the world around you will help you avoid battles that can get out of hand or help you prepare to get the drop on an enemy that isn’t expecting you.
If you even remotely like Souls games or were a fan of the old Onimusha Warlords series, Nioh is an absolute treat for you. While the story is a bit weak, the core gameplay itself proves to be arguably better than the games it draws inspiration from. In this day and age, it’s rare that we see improvements upon a successful concept, especially when it’s an amalgamation of several ideas. Nioh does it though, and does it absolutely fantastically.
While Horizon Zero Dawn is, well, on the horizon and other exclusives like Gravity Rush 2 haven’t quite hit their mark, Nioh is the game that shows the world that PlayStation is still willing to take a chance on a new IP. Nioh not only is the best game I’ve played in the first two months of this year, but will easily be in any game of the year discussion ten months down the road. There will be plenty of DLC to keep the game fresh throughout the year as well, I am looking forward to it.