Some games have been able to define themselves as hallmarks of the industry. Early games like Mega man, mario, sonic and so on were able to mould gaming into what it is today. Recent titles have done this to a lesser degree but that isn’t anything to snub at . However, one of them by no fault of it’s own has created a bandwagon effect to the point when any game similar to it is almost shut down on the spot or just compared to it without looking at it’s own merits. I’m of course referring to Mercenaries Dark Souls. The souls series has done so much to the industry as it stands now but we have to accept that there are games that will borrow some of it’s design and add to it. Being a souls-like isn’t a bad thing and Nioh I believe is able to take the souls like tag and create something fresh.
Nioh made by Team Ninja (Developers of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive) have decided to make a game that wears the souls-like badge with honour and even has relatively human looking characters instead of humans that look like they shouldn’t have a spine anymore due to holding large amounts of weight. Set in feudal japan around the era that Oda Nobunaga was alive, players will take the role of William, a British pirate that bought a katana at comic con and wants to become Japanese. When he arrives there he finds out that Oni (Demons in Japanese folklore) have starting to appear and destroy everything in their path and William has the power to stop them, find out whats going on, save his pet fish and japan at the same time. When I say pet fish i’m referring to his magical fish girl spirit that is taken away from him in the prologue but these spirits are all over the place in the main sections of the game so you can use those for the time being. Story was never really Team ninja’s strong point so with a lot of the story you are able to fill in the blanks when things happen with obnoxiously evil characters taunting you but the gameplay side and how Nioh sets itself apart from other games in the souls like genre is the interesting part that will probably keep you going.
So as Nioh is a souls-like, gameplay is built off of an Action RPG foundation but Nioh adds some extra layers onto via having skills trees for different weapon styles and different stances to shake up combat. Each stance has a slightly different moveset as does each weapon. My personal preference is a normal katana with an Odachi which is like a greatsword but in the style of a katana as well as a bit of magic to buff my weapons in big fights which also helps so much against some of the bigger demons that become normal enemies during later chapters of the game. Being able to switch stance and then quickly switch weapons makes the combat feel more visceral which team ninja are good at considering Ninja Gaiden’s combat felt great. It’s engaging and even when you’re dodging around to move in, that combat experience brings you in similar to how bloodborne did. There is a graceful dance that becomes combat unless you wear some big heavy armour because you wanted to dress up like a english knight, Then it becomes as graceful as falling down the stairs. The skill trees add to this dance with having specific combo finishers, special moves and extras to add when swapping between stances and that change between stance is near instant. As soon as I could start investing skill points, I went for counters which allowed me to get behind the enemy and inflict a large amount of damage before they could respond which adds to that satisfaction and makes the game feel fresher in comparison to other games in the souls like genre. I do want to add to this by talking about the companions a little bit. These companions are basically super abilities that give you passive buffs, elemental buffs and then a super powered weapon which charges up over time.These are powerful as well as satisfying but can make some fights a bit too easy but the long cooldown balances that out.
Looking at it from the design side of things, the enemies are interesting to a point, the range of ronin, bandits, samurai as well as the different demons is interesting but it gets to a point where some of those can get really repetitive and lose the challenge, the bosses don’t have this issue as all the main bosses from the story missions all have cool mechanics behind them and things to overcome which you probably won’t get until the third attempt unless you’re lucky (possible yet unlikely) or better than me (almost certain). One interesting thing that surprised me was that the game is using a traditional level system over weaving a world together. Dark souls linked areas together through doorways, different paths to create this feeling of a world larger than yourself. Moving between areas felt like a journey which adds to what dark souls was but that isn’t really the case here. I can understand why it was done this way as the game takes place in Japan and it’s not really possible to link the different areas of japan and be able to walk to them so after the level is over you are taken to a map screen where you can use the shop, do training quests, access multiplayer and so on. I feel that this doesn’t take away much from the game as they changing a mechanic so it fits the setting and the system better but the problem with the level design as a whole, not just the map is that it becomes a bit boring after a while especially when you are only in an area for maybe 10 minutes, completed a quest there and move onto the next one. There isn’t really a good sense of progression apart from the story. You don’t get attached to areas as much as other games. Some people are able to name their favourite locations for most games but Nioh’s world just blurs into one Japanese stylised blur. I feel that this causes Nioh to suffer a lot and considering the locale, I would think that the level designers would have been able to take this further but unfortunately not. The actual action side of the game is what holds the game up compared to the downtime.
I enjoyed my time with Nioh, especially after playing it co-op with a friend of mine who is a fan of dark souls so we had a good time messing around with the game. The combat is fun, the weapons all have a unique feel backed up by a deep skill system and souls-like stat building to replicate that comfort zone of dark souls but with more dex weapons over strength. The boss battles remained interesting to a degree where as the missing feeling of progression drags the game down a bit for me. If each of the areas had a bit more flavour or style to them compared to the stereotype it follows then it would be a better game but at the very least it’s a very good game. If you’re someone who likes action RPGs and wants a hard game with a side of katanas then pick this up if you can. The PC port runs well thanks to the devs being on the ball with patches so take that as you will but you will probably enjoy your time with it.