I never need any encouragement to get involved in a game that is clearly inspired by one of my own personal favourite franchises, Dark Souls, and Nioh from Team Ninja happened to hit the bill on multiple fronts.
Team Ninja is probably most famous for the infamously difficult Ninja Gaiden games (one of the few games I’ve ever actually managed to get stuck on and never get past), and has now taken inspiration from From Software and Dark Souls to create something that is truly their own, and yet familiar enough that fans of the genre will fit right in with the action.
Nioh tells the story of real-life sailor William Adams in around 17th Century Japan, and definitely has more overt story-telling than the Dark Souls games. However, William’s story is not really well explained for the most part, and although there is a little investment, generally, you just want to continue with the action for the most part.
The story-telling, though minimalistic, really does help build the world in which William’s is living, even as he quickly becomes a demon-slaying action hero, and even meets some actual historical Japanese figures in his journey such as Hattori Hanzo and Tokugawa Leyaso.
The one thing that really sets it apart from Dark Souls, and brings it into its own light, is the weird and rather wonderful humour that is occasionally interspersed throughout the game. The sudden an unexpected brevity of these moments bring a quirkiness with it that really made me become fond of the game quite quickly, as I love that random style of Asian humour.
Those that are wanting to try and get into the genre also have a little respite in Nioh thanks to the tutorials, which help you come to terms with all the controls and everything you need to know while in combat, which is where Nioh really shines.
The combat is definitely not like Ninja Gaiden, which was extremely fast paced. This is a slower, more steady pace coming out of Team Ninja, where things like stamina management (which is called Ki in Nioh) is absolutely vital if you want to survive. Like Bloodborne however, while in combat, executing certain moves can gain you some of your Ki back (instead of health like Bloodborne), and executing these combos correctly can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
Luckily there are tutorials from everything from Ki management, melee combat, ninjutsu and onmyo magic, all of which you will need at some point during your journey.
Slow and steady always wins the race in these kinds of games, and Nioh is no different. When nntering a new area, massive amounts of caution are required, at least until you find a shrine, the Nioh equivalent of a Dark Souls bonfire. Once you’ve managed to get the checkpoint, you then slowly peel your way through the level, finding out where the enemies and monsters are, learning their move sets and, eventually, after some inevitable deaths, progress.
You may even have to change things up to progress through certain areas, which makes for an interesting change compared to Dark Souls, where you often found the gear and weapon you wanted and stuck with it the whole way through the game. Nioh drops you new gear more like a Diablo-style game (bring on the loot), so you manage to pick up new gear and loot on a regular basis, which allowed for tons of variation in play and style should you choose to mix things up.
The levels are not as intricate as the Dark Souls variety, but there is still plenty to discover and explore. All missions and side missions are available in an overworld menu screen that pops up after you’ve completed a level, which allows you a brief respite in order to upgrade weapons at the blacksmith, buy items and do some general shopping. This could break immersion for some, but I felt that it was actually quite a nice balance, as the sheer amount of striking and incredible environments included in your journey through Nioh leaves more than enough eye-candy to look at.
For me, it was the boss fights where Nioh really shone, as these were some of the hardest and most unique encounters I’ve come across, and I often spent a good hour or two trying to figure out how to get past the often rather large demons. After getting repeatedly trampled, you soon realise that perhaps your strategy is the incorrect one, and this is where the ability to mix things up can really help you get past certain places (hint: magic can be very, very, good).
Changing your combat stance can also prove useful, and there are three different stances to choose from, no matter what you happen to be wielding at the time. You can change stances mid-fight, which can sometimes give you the upper hand in encounters. The high stance lets you pull off stronger attacks, but is slow and costs more Ki to do so. The middle stance is a mix between the two, and is good for mobs of enemies thanks to the sweeping attacks of the stance, while the Low stance offers quick, light attacks that deal the least damage, but also cost the least Ki.
These stances also have unlockable special abilities, all of which is unlocked through “amrita”, the Nioh equivalent of souls, which is used to unlock and improve everything in the game.
The graphics and soundtrack go hand in hand to make Nioh‘s adventure an epic one, and it looks good on a standard PS4, although I did notice one of two stutters from time to time when things got a bit hectic.
Also, although there is co-op in Nioh, it is a bit of a chore to achieve, and requires you to grind some mats and ingredients in order to be able to summon your friends. You also will not be able to co-op with a friend unless you have finished the area yourself first, which is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, and may be a hindrance to those wishing to experience the game with friends.
- Excellent Combat System
- Polished and Interesting World
- Extremely challenging boss fights
- Confused PvP and Co-op system
- Can stutter on occasion
Ultimately, Team Ninja has put together a product that is familiar enough to fans of the genre while adding enough of their own flair to make Nioh a unique and glorious adventure, and for me, one of the main motivations I would give in recommending picking up a PlayStation 4 for yourself. This is one of the shining beacons of the action-RPG genre, and immediately a firm favourite of mine for “Game of the Year 2017”.