Team Ninja slashes back into the action genre after a long hiatus with the critically acclaimed action-RPG, Samurai Souls- I mean “Nioh”. Joking aside, there are huge similarities between From Software’s juggernaut title and Team Ninja’s fledgling new IP. But does “Nioh” do enough to set itself aside from the pack, or is it just another wank Souls clone.
To start off, the biggest differentiating factor between “Nioh” and the “Souls series” is the fact that Nioh has a central narrative told through cutscenes and mission briefs which take real-life figures from history and throw the fantastical yokai into the mix for a very interesting world that I was enthralled by. I admit that this is in part due to my actual interest in the Sengoku period and the figures.
You play as William Adams, an Irishman chasing the nefarious alchemist Edward Kelley to Japan to retrieve his Guardian Spirit Saoirse. On your quest, you will cross paths with many of the famous historical figures from the period such as Tokugawa Ieyasu, Tachibana Muneshige and much more. The story progresses via the main missions, the cutscenes are largely people sitting in a room talking and if you are not as invested in the time period then it can be largely dull.
The sound design of “Nioh” is top notch also, the soundtrack features brilliant ambient music on the map screens and when it is time to crank it up to fight a boss the music swelling in the background really gets your palms sweating. The sound effects in general are satisfying with sword clashes sounding authentic and the guttural sound effect of critical hits lend a sense of visceral satisfaction as you plunge a sword into a foolish enemy and boot them backward.
“Nioh” undeniably takes the challenging difficulty and upgrade system of “Dark Souls” and smashes it together with the slick movement and combat of “Ninja Gaiden” and sprinkles in the flavour of “Onimusha 2” and the finished product is an authentic fast paced satisfying combat engine. Where “Nioh” differs from all the other clones, however, is with its stance system.
The stance system allows you to swap between Low, Mid and High stances which grant you unique advantages and disadvantages and are integral to evening the odds. Low Stance is the fastest stance, allowing you to rip through enemies with incredible speed and barely any stamina usage but with barely any damage. Mid stance is the jack of all trades stance and High Stance uses the most stamina, is the slowest but does the most damage. Each weapon class utilizes the stance system and swapping through stances on the fly is part of what makes the combat more invigorating as each stance has its own unique combos and abilities.
Learning the stances is one of the more satisfying parts of combat but Team Ninja takes it a step further with the Ki Pulse mechanic. Ki Pulse is performed by pushing the stance button or dodging as you finish an attack granting damage boosts and lowering Yokai stamina, allowing you to even the odds on some of the more imposing enemies you will meet in the game.
To help you take on the horde of humans and yokai there is a robust skill tree system in the game allowing you to learn various attacks, parries, evasive maneuvers, Ninjitsu techniques and Onmyo Magic such as fireballs and various stat boosting spells. You can also channel a guardian spirit during combat, these spirits give you unique abilities and imbue your sword with an element allowing for William to obliterate tougher enemies without breaking a sweat while active. The game offers plenty of guardian spirits to keep combat interesting however I found myself sticking to two of the spirits due to the rest being woefully underpowered.
Where Nioh falters in its combat is in the enemy variety, the human enemies you fight are mostly grunts when you do face off against the revenants or boss enemies that utilize the game systems the combat is intense and has some truly memorable and challenging duels. The regular Human enemies and the yokai do not offer the same level of intensity in the combat. Boss fights are incredible and offer some pulse-pounding battles with interesting mechanics and test your mettle.
Level design is well thought out with shortcuts leading to and from shrines, allowing you to level up using your amrita (the equivalent of souls and blood echoes from the Souls series) and unlock faster ways to the final boss fights of the arenas. My only complaint is that the areas are self-contained. This isn’t a huge negative as for the most part it does allow for a great variety in locales, but the lack of any connectivity in the world can lead to the game feeling like a gauntlet run to the boss room and then back to the world map to leap to a different area. The levels can also contain very cheap deaths which are trial and error nightmares. Rushing through an area on the side of the cliff can be particularly annoying as bats can fly out of openings and knock you to your death. There are plenty of blind damage moments where there is no choice but to take damage from an attack you cannot see coming. This coupled with the challenging gameplay can often make these blind death moments feel like the designers were just overdoing it, especially when healing items are not as plentiful as they are in other series.
The game does feature co-op to help even the odds and allow for some good old jolly co-operation. “Nioh” however, has such an awkward way of doing it that I am yet to attempt it. I need to have completed the level my co-op buddy is on before I can join him and vice versa. I can understand that this may be to limit spoilers but there are ways to do this that doesn’t involve locking co-op behind pre-completed missions. There is also a lack of PVP which is baffling in a game with such a robust and intense combat system, however, this is confirmed to be coming as post-launch DLC.
“Nioh” doesn’t cater to casual audiences with its complex upgrade and forging systems. As you explore you will gain new loot which you can break down and do all kinds of wonderful things with, however, the issue with the system is it is never fully explained to the player. Nice touches such as being able to customize the appearance of gear and keep its stats or carry over very powerful stats from older weapons to newer ones will go un-utilized by most players due to it being hidden away in text files. The loot itself is plentiful and the blacksmith never tends to have anything remarkable to sell which renders the currency and store system completely useless outside of the more intricate crafting mechanics.
To summarise “Nioh” is a damn good action game with very interesting lore and story, with an incredibly satisfying combat system that will appeal to fans from all corners of the action genre, it does falter in cutscene delivery, enemy variety, co-op integration and overall cheap trial and error deaths, but it is an undeniably fun action game and I cannot wait to play more after spending a brutal 18 hours with the game already.
- Combat system is fun and satisfying
- Interesting Lore & Story
- Poorly implemented co-op
- Confusing loot system