There are many instances where one can say that a game helped establish something of a new genre and more often than not these titles are then mimicked quite often. One of the most recent titles to earn this distinction have been titles from FromSoftware and while Team Ninja’s Nioh does more than enough to set itself apart from those titles it is clear that comparisons will be made. So now that Nioh is available for the world to play, does it manage to stand on its own?
Set during the Sengoku period of Japanese history, William Adams, who is based off of a historical figure of the same name, begins his story imprisoned in the Tower of London. With the help of his guardian spirit William manages to escape from the prison but not before coming face to face with a man who manages to steal away his spirit, leaving William with no choice but to track him down in Japan where he joins the battle against the yokai at the behest of the Japanese warriors he meets in his travels.
Nioh quickly diversifies itself by delivering a solid storyline featuring full-length cutscenes where characters interact with one another and set up the next event as players advance through missions. This helps provide a nice narrative that works well enough through the fleshed out historical side-characters that players interact with along the way.
Nioh utilizes the tried and true method of throwing the player into the game with little to no explanation of how certain mechanics work. While many titles usually prefer to hold the player’s hand, this one drops players in an opening level where they must fight through a castle before beginning the game proper. In a way this serves as a fairly satisfying tutorial as players will quickly learn how certain mechanics work as they face off against simple guards before the enemies begin to scale up a bit before the first boss battle.
This steady increase in combat difficulty keeps the combat fair and engaging as it never feels like a death is the result of simply being underpowered but rather some mistake made on your part. In fact, thanks to the fact that enemies will regularly drop new weapons and pieces of armor players will be able to spend plenty of time sifting through their inventory in an effort to select the best armor and weapons that best fit their enemy. This means if your foe might be weak to a certain element, then perhaps it would be best to save a certain weapon type even if it may not be as strong as your go-to weapon.
This customization aspect goes one step further when it comes to combat as every weapon type can be held in three different stances; high, low, and medium. High attacks can deal more damage but will leave the player open for counter attacks and use more stamina while low attacks are quicker but deal less damage and so on. Switching between different weapon stances on the fly is a blast and can really help face off against some of the tougher or trickier opponents you’ll come up against. In fact, there is even a way to quickly regain your stamina by timing a Ki Pulse properly, allowing you to refill a depleted stamina meter and keeping you in the fight longer.
This snappy and fast paced combat allows for players to always feel like they are on the move which is essential because even the smallest enemies can prove to be fatal to William if he is caught off guard. Thankfully death in Nioh is a fairly simplistic affair as players will only drop their gathered amrita while still retaining their picked up items. This amrita is gathered by your current guardian spirit and can be either picked up when you get back to where you died or sacrificed if you simply want to recall the spirit or happen to die once again.
Guardian spirits serve as something of a trump card as players can unleash their powers, giving William a status effect boost to damage and elemental type, when the icon is filled. Combine this with a massive skill tree featuring numerous skills, combos that can be unlocked, and more and you have a multitude of ways you can build William to feel like a unique fighter personal to you.
Those looking for a little extra challenge will find that in every level there are graves marking where other players fell in combat. Unlike other titles with this style, players can activate these graves to summon a Revenant, a replicated version of the fallen enemy who wants vengeance for their death. This allows players to test their skills against the fallen character and if they succeed you may even be able to get some special equipment from their corpse.
There is one downside to the way that Nioh is set up however and that is the way that players are encouraged to travel back through old levels in an effort to grind out materials. Thanks to the way missions are set up, players will go back through missions multiple times in an effort to obtain a rare item and this can grow to be quite tedious if you want some of the best gear possible.
At the end of nearly every main stage William will face off against a dreadful boss enemy that is taken directly from Japanese folklore. These boss battles may begin to feel a bit cheap when you first come across them but once you pick up on their weaknesses and attack patterns they will soon fall and leave you with a great feeling of satisfaction for overcoming such a challenging foe, especially when you pull off a narrow victory using the game’s satisfying combat.
Visuals & Audio
One thing that immediately sets Nioh apart visually is the fact that the game takes many queues from Japanese folklore to design the enemies and monsters that William will face off against. These foes range from predictable enemies such as bandits, Oni, and Cyclops to more uncommon enemies such as Nurikabe and even Kappa that will, just like the myths say, steal amrita that the player has gathered by pulling it out of his butt. This attention to detail with the folklore and the designs for the boss foes will delight fans of Japanese myths but it does pain me to say that there is an unfortunate lack of variety here. While players will initially see quite a lot of variety with the enemies they will eventually begin repeating quite often which is something of a disappointment.
It is also worth noting that although there is a decent amount of variety in the environments to explore, Nioh does tend to rely on using many different cave systems to form its dungeons and this tends to be rather annoying after a short while. As for the soundtrack, the title features some outstanding music that fits the theme of the game and it is interesting to note that Team Ninja went the extra mile by making it so the Japanese voice actors would speak English with William rather than simply dubbing over their voice tracks, giving the title a more authentic feel.
Nioh may be seen as a game that took inspiration from previous titles from another developer but it does more than enough to help set itself apart and stand on its own. By delivering a wonderful combat system that feels fast paced and tight to control players will always feel like they can win even if the game is more than willing to punish their overconfidence. While the grind may be a bit disappointing at times and the variety is eventually a weak point, those looking for a great action game can look at Nioh as one of the best this year.