Dark Souls ushered in the renaissance of a new gamer—the difficulty junkie. A hundred deaths are just a day in the life of a junkie. It comes as no surprise then, that Nioh is an immediate must-get for such players including myself.
The immediate concern with those who’ve heard of Nioh before is its comparisons with the Dark Souls series. So let’s get it out of the way: Nioh draws a lot of inspiration from the Soulsborne DNA. Still, Team Ninja is known for the Ninja Gaiden series. As much as Nioh is a Souls-like game, it still has its own unique flavor to make it stand out as its own game.
- Ramp up the difficulty. As a Dark Souls veteran, I can say that Nioh’s difficulty is mostly adaptable. It’s a difficult videogame but it allows players to learn from their mistakes fairly quickly. I didn’t feel the need to grind for several levels. During the final missions, I was even under-levelled. The game has several mechanics in place to cope with under-levelling. Players can beat the game with either skill, strategy, or levelled gear. That being said, some levels and bosses were terribly unbalanced in that they were unfairly punishing even for skilled gamers.
- Fun boss fights. There are around 40 boss encounters throughout the whole game. Some share the same techniques, but most require a different strategy to conquer. Talking to several Nioh players online, it’s satisfying to know that boss opinions differ. While some bosses are easy for other players, the same boss is difficult for others. It’s a testament to how strategy plays a big role in beating a boss.
- Attention to detail. There’s so much detail in Nioh that even after finishing the game, I’m still learning of secrets that I didn’t find in my first playthrough. These secrets can range from weaknesses that make enemies easier to historical tidbits that the events of the game are based from.
- Interesting premise… Speaking of historical tidbits, Nioh’s story is patterned after historical events during feudal Japan at the battle of Sekigahara. William Adams, a sailor, goes to Japan in pursuit of Edward Kelley, a dark alchemist tasked to search for Amrita (the Japanese equivalent of the Philosopher’s stone) for the British monarchy. Along the way, he meets Hattori Hanzo who enlists his help to secure Tokugawa Ieyasu’s position as shogun of all Japan. Most of the characters William meets are based from actual personalities in Japanese history. The Yōkai (supernatural) enemies are famed spiritual beings in Japanese mythology as well.
- …but slow story. Nioh’s story progression is still slow, however. It picks up at the end, but most of its expository sub missions are just ways to extend the game further. Most of the sub missions’ premises are built similarly: “There’s an enemy infestation I need you to solve. Can you do it? I’d go with you but I’m busy/weak.” It works but extended throughout the game ad nauseam, it falls. The main story is fairly linear, but the game naturally wants players to level and gear up using the optional missions. It turns into a long slog. It’s still fun but overdrawn.
- Creative level design. Most main levels are designed around the same framework: multiple checkpoints (or Shrines) and a single boss door. Players traverse the map to open up shortcuts so running to the boss is easier. While the goals are all the same, each level’s method of approach or gimmick is different. One is set in a floating city. Another has a gigantic skeleton in the middle of the map. Meanwhile, sub missions revisit the main maps and put a different twist to the map. For example, a sub mission can have players start in the boss room rather than the actual starting point. The maps are limited but Team Ninja’s creative ways to alter a map for different purposes is commendable.
- Heavy RPG elements. Nioh practically shares the same UI as Dark Souls. Except most of William’s appearance, players can change pertaining to the character. There are tons of gear to collect, items to use, and skills to customize. There are even three types of currency: Amrita, gold, and glory. They’re not all required but having a good grasp of all the customization elements helps with the difficulty. Beginners might find this system overwhelming, but players can easily bypass these complex systems without much trouble.
- Awesome guardian spirits. One of my favorite elements in Nioh is the availability of guardian spirits. While playing, players can choose to be accompanied by around 20 guardian spirits that provide buffs and perks. These spirits are much like Pokémon in that they’re cute or fierce animals. They’re both strategic and aesthetically awesome.
- Good but recycled designs. Nioh is well designed visually. It gives players a dystopic speculation of what feudal Japan was like. But since the game is so long, Team Ninja reuses several design elements and maps over and over again. Even if players are in a different region of Japan, one particular map is still reused from a previous region. The creative way in which these maps are used can offset this reuse but one still has to notice the recycling.
- Good variety of enemies introduced a bit too soon. Nioh has the same enemy variety as other games in its genre. There’s a wide selection of human and Yōkai enemies to fight. They were all introduced early on, though. By the latter portions of the main missions, players won’t be surprised anymore with the enemies they face. They won’t be new; they just have bigger health bars and high attack.
- Future plans. This review was written with v1.05 of the game. Team Ninja still has more features up their sleeves in the future. They plan to add a PvP aspect and new missions. They can be accessed through the season pass but can also be bought separately.
As far as Souls-like games go, Nioh is one of the best out there. Playing Nioh is a blast but its story is too bland to leave any lasting impact.
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Action role-playing
Mode: Single-player, multiplayer co-op