I’m sure you’ve heard it before, and you’re going to hear it again. Nioh draws heavily from games such as Ninja Gaiden, Diablo and yes, even Dark Souls. More some from the aforementioned game, as there are several similarities between the two games that it’s almost impossible to near mention them. While I attempted to refrain from doing so, you’re going to see the occasional name drop in this review. Now, while the title does borrow from many games, it definitely doesn’t cheapen the experience.
Game Name: Nioh
Platform(s): PS4 (Reviewed on PS4 Pro)
Publisher(s): Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer(s): Koei Tecmo Games
Release Date: Feb. 7, 2017
Price:$59.99, $79.99 Digital Deluxe
If you’ve ever played a Koei Tecmo game, you know that they like to take from events or persons from our history. Nioh takes place during 15-century Japan and draws heavily from historical figures. This includes the main character of the game, William Adams, who happens to be the first Britsh sailor to arrive in Japan. Adding to this is the Japanese mythology and folklore, which helps to introduce a lovely variety of Yokai or Japanese demons. Which means some may recognize the basis of the enemies they’ll encounter throughout the game. Nioh’s story is one of two warring factions of that time period, that William unreluctantly becomes involved in, thanks to something very special to him being stolen.
Nioh features a unique combat system that features the use of stances; low, medium and heavy. Now while that may not seem like a lot, there’s more than meets the eye going on here. There’s a whole slew of weapons in the game, from swords, dual swords, spears, axes, and many others. These weapons benefit from the stances by providing certain move sets and abilities thanks to a skill tree. And unlike other games, this skill tree starts off basic and improves as you progress in the game, not via levels. This lets you cater the gameplay to your liking. Like fast strikes, getting in out, or perhaps you like meaty strikes that do a ton of damage? There’s an endless possibility of what you can do and it’s easily the deepest combat system I’ve encountered in a game such as this. It’s quite refreshing, to say the least.
Controls? Perfect, and that’s basically that all needs to be said. I couldn’t find one issue or complaint regarding guiding William, at any time. If I died to something, it was due to me being silly or it simply was my time. Koei Tecmo has nailed the controls, and that’s all you need to know.
Another interesting feature of the combat system is the KI Pulse. While other games in this genre depend on stamina to limit you, it’s handled differently here. This feature acts as the stamina system but allows you to exploit it to do more. So instead of attacking and dodging, waiting for stamina to come back, the KI Pulse lets you time a button press when your KI surrounds your both. A successful attack provides a boost of KI when lets you get in another attack or dodge, something that wouldn’t normally be possible. While this sounds simple, it’s very deep and can be applied to various functions. It’s worth learning the system as soon as possible as does provide added depth to your combat skills and will help keep you alive longer.
Along with the combat is a system called Familiarity. What this does it basically award the player for using a specific weapon. Every weapon has a level of familiarity that goes up as long as you use it and this increases the overall power of the weapon. An example would be a weapon with a base of zero familiarity and 200 damage. Over the course of the time, the familiarity goes up and with it does the power. Eventually capping the familiarity level could take that weapon to an increased damage stat of 225. It’s a useful system and one that I wished other games had.
Nioh‘s loot system also borrows heavily from other games. In fact, many Diablo or World of Warcraft players will instantly pick up what Koei Tecmo has implemented here. The items, weapons, and armors are given a specific color that denotes their rarity and possible special abilities/effects. So effectivity, one doesn’t even really have to look at time stats during the heat of battle to tell if picking up a certain item is worth it on it. This also helps when you’re running low on bag space. The color ranking system for items goes like this; White > Yellow > Blue > Purple. Not only does this help when you’re vendoring the junk in your bags, but it also helps when you’re breaking down those items for crafting mats.
Now, of course, seeing this sort of system typically means that you’ll be switching out your gear a lot. Meaning that if you’ve grown attached to a specific piece of gear, at some point you’re going to have to let go. Right? Well, that isn’t actually the case here as you can actually take that gear with you indefinitely. This is due to an ability called Soul Matching. What it does is let you take your favorite item that may no longer be doing it for you and upgrade its level. That level five sword can be used against a level 50 sword during the soul matching. The result is your weapon moves up to the new level, stats intact. Just keep in mind that using the soul matching ability resets your familiarity, so your item will initially be weaker.
Previously I mentioned crafting and yes, this game does have a healthy crafting system. Simply by visiting the local Blacksmith, Tome, you can either craft new gear, reforge them (which adds new abilities), or even transmogrify. It’s fairly interesting and definitely helps to keep gamers interested in keeping up with their gear and upgrades. Or making some money if they really don’t care about crafting and would rather buy their upgrades. A word to the wise as well when it comes to blacksmithing, it gets expensive.
One of the things that drive me to play games like Dark Souls and Nioh, is the difficulty. Like many before it, Nioh is not an easy game. It will beat you, over and over without any mercy. It will taunt you around every corner, with every enemy to encounter and will continue to do so until you learn how to adapt to it and survive its encounters. I know many people aren’t fans of this sort of masochistic challenge, but for those who are, Nioh has that in spades. And when that isn’t enough, the Twilight Missions are there for you. This is basically NG gameplay, found throughout the game. For example, the Twilight Missions will through a vastly higher level that you are able to achieve it for some time.
The cost is dying over and over, as you’ll face tougher enemies, but the payoff is worth it. More Amrita, money, materials and of course, loot. In fact, they’re so tempting to try that I’ve found myself trying them despite knowing that there was no way I’d beat them at my current level. A level 59 attempting a mission rated for a level 125? Yeah, that’s the challenge, and they’re fulfilling. Just keep in mind that you may end up chucking your controller across the floor a few times.
Online play, however, has taken a turn for the worse. In order for you to join someone’s game or vice versa, you or the person has to have beaten the level already. Now I can understand why this was done, which was to make sure that players can’t simply be carried through a level and I applaud the change. However, this can also cause some issues with actually joining a co-op game. I can’t say if it’s the lack of people wanting to do co-op or the system, but I’ve expected failed attempts, time after time. It was mildly disappointing. But when the co-op system does work, it’s a blast.
Graphically, Nioh is easily one of the most impressive looking games on the PlayStation 4/PlayStation 4 Pro. My review was conducted on the PlayStation 4 Pro, so my experience may differ a bit from yours. During my gameplay, I noticed very little slowdown and frame rate drop. In fact, I can only recall issues during the very first level, the tutorial. Afterward, I didn’t experience any other issues. I did have a complaint with certain sections looking “fake”, When I say that, I mean it had an overwhelming sheen, making it look plastic-like. Again this was only the first level and only during the rain. I’m happy to report I didn’t notice that any other time during my 20 hours of gameplay.
Finally, we get to what pushes Nioh over the top; the boss battles. Each boss that you encounter along the way, serve as a wall that you’ll firmly plant your head against, but also as a thing of wonder. I’ve enjoyed every battle and enjoyed how well thought and the personality that each fight features. They aren’t just “You’ve encountered a boss, now fight”, but provide backstory or something that makes you sort of feel for that boss. Some are unwilling participants of this ongoing war, others are Yokai who want to destroy you and more. I’ve found myself repeating the stages to fight these bosses over and over, only to witness them again. Note to Koei Tecmo, give us a boss battle mode, it would be fantastic.
For everything that Nioh does to near perfection, there are a few items that did cause me some frustration. The first is the limited selection of enemies. Now while there’s a nice amount of them, however, they get repeated. Once you encounter a new one, they appear on just about every stage and uniqueness just goes out the window. Not a huge deal for many, but I tend to pay attention to these things.
Another issue is the camera, which tends to fight you and can cause you to die if you aren’t active repositioning it. There were times where the focus gets out of wack and objects started to obscure my view, causing me to scramble to fix the view while trying to stay alive. The game also has an issue with attacks following you. I’ve recorded footage attack, including projectiles, changing their course and suddenly following you. It’s definitely frustrating at times.
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At first glance, Nioh resembles a Dark Souls clone and that’s an unfair comparison. While Nioh draws heavily from Dark Souls, Koei Tecmo has provided more than enough features to put Nioh on the same level as Dark Souls. Plenty of action, an engaging combat system that encourages you to develop your own style of play and it’s own charming yet deadly world.
Combined with the Japanese fantasy, historical characters, and an engaging story, Nioh is easily one the best reasons to own a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 Pro, if you don’t already own one.