Nioh is a game made by Team Ninja and published by Koei Tecmo and Sony. It’s a game I wasn’t expecting to be as good as it is. People often compare it to the Souls series due to the similarities in the penalties upon death and the overall difficulty of the game. But aside from a couple of things taken from the Souls series, Nioh is its own entity. It is, in fact, near perfect.
The game has its own twist on combat, which is reminiscent of Dark Souls. The player mixes and matches stances in combat, which affects your dodges, defense, attack speed and damage, and the speed at which your Ki (stamina) regenerates. Alongside managing stamina just like a Souls game, Nioh gives an option to recover used up stamina with the Ki Pulse mechanic. A well-timed press of a button can keep your combo going for a lot longer, and later there’s more skills that you can earn that make the Ki Pulse an even crazier move to pull off. Every fight is an absolute blast. Not only does the game have a deep combat system at the base level, it gets even deeper with the skill system, which is where the combat gets really satisfying.
You adjust the moves you want for the weapon and stances you need to be in to perform those moves. After spending an extended amount of time customizing yourself in menus, performing those moves successfully is an extremely rewarding experience. Gameplay gets even better with the plethora of weapons and armour you pick up from enemies. Although there are only a handful of weapon types that have the same movesets, such as the katana, dual katanas, axes, spears and kusarigama. The skill system is what adds an incredible level of depth to the movesets of these weapons. I initially thought that you just pick up and equip the better weapon or armour set with the highest number thinking that was all there was to it. But after playing for a while, I began to understand the purpose of each individual stat, and those stats can be further improved if you learn how to utilize the Blacksmith.
There is a little bit of a learning curve for a lot of players to understand the stats of equipment, but once you get past that you’re in for a rewarding experience. I began to understand the true value of the money you get in the game and how to upgrade, reforge, and collect materials for insanely powerful pieces of weapons and armour. The story of Nioh presents itself through short but comprehensive cutscenes that don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s set around the 1600s in the late Sengoku period in Japan. Almost all characters are based around real people from that time, which makes learning about them even more interesting. Initially I thought the tone was going to be serious throughout until I saw a ninja pull a cat out to check the time by the dilation of its eyes. That’s when I knew I was in for a treat. It has that charming Japanese game feel all through it, the kind old PS2 games had. And it’s proud that it can flaunt the rich and interesting Japanese history and folklore that you hear about, like the weird and unusual demons or “Yokai” from old folk tales and urban legends.
Missions are also structured extremely well. Every mission consists of one large new and dense map that you can get lost in for a crazy amount of time. These maps are used in side missions as well, but are handled well enough that re-using the environment doesn’t feel lazy. New objectives, such as defeating a certain amount of enemies, or finding a specific item, are elevated by making the same enemies in the area tougher or changing them completely. Some of my favourite side missions are the ones that consist of optional boss fights, or the ones where you have to take on waves upon waves of enemies. One of the best things about this game is its absolutely amazing enemy designs. Sure you have your generic “guy with sword” here and there, but then later you start fighting “Yokai” (Demons that are based off Japanese myths and folklore), which are the real hard hitters. They have their own set of mechanics that are used to ruin the flow of your stamina in small areas of effect. Fighting in those areas causes your Ki to regenerate extremely slowly. But a perfect Ki pulse can disperse that, or you can play the safe option and retreat from the area if you don’t want to risk getting damaged or if you’re not sure if you can time the Ki pulse right.
Another interesting thing borrowed from, but executed much better than Dark Souls, is the bloodstain system. In the Souls games you could see how a person died in an area by interacting with their bloodstain, but in Nioh if you interact with the bloodstain, you get to fight that player’s, “Revenant,” who has the same armour and weapons on from when they died. Defeating them gets you Amrita, gold, and item drops. Besides the enemies, you then have the boss fights, which are some of the most rewarding, well-conceived, tense, and satisfying to conquer. Not much more can be can be said about the boss fights, as they’re something really special to behold. They vary from lumbering, hard hitting demons, to fast, agile rush-down type bosses, to cunning and interesting bosses that take advantage of status ailments to try and defeat you. And just like the enemies they are beautifully designed. Once I defeat them, I want go back and fight them all over again.
Nioh is another killer IP that solidifies itself as one of the best in the PS4’s line-up. Team Ninja has redeemed itself by making a game that is not only well thought-out and greatly designed, but also absolutely oozing with charm. I can’t wait to see what Team Ninja makes next after playing this treat of a game.
I would rate Nioh a 9 / 10.