Nioh – Being a Samurai is Brutal

Nioh cover art

Released on: February 7 2017

Available Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 5, PC

Price: $56.99 CAD ($49.99 US) (Has DLC)

Developed by: Team Ninja Published by: Koei Tecmo Games

Ever since I beat Sekiro, I’ve explored many games of the same genre (what some people call a Soulsborne). I did play Dark Souls and Bloodborne before Sekiro, but the latter drew me into the genre. I felt the difficulty was ideal; it was a little bit more than I could handle but never out of reach. The parry mechanic was also on-point, which made beating overly aggressive enemies so satisfying. Soon after I conquered Sekiro, I went looking for a game of a similar nature. That was when Nioh caught my eye.

Nioh had cool looking samurai, and from what I heard, drew heavy inspiration from the Soulsborne games. Ever since getting into Soulsborne games, I’ve noticed a lot of other developers tried emulating the formula. Code Vein is the first thing I thought of when I think of an unofficial Soulsborne. Nioh fits into this category since it’s developed by Team Ninja, the same people behind the Ninja Gaiden games. I heard the game was challenging, but I felt up to the task. Is Nioh an insurmountable monster of a game?

Nioh Title screen

In a fictional version of the 1600s, William Adams, an Irish prisoner, escapes from his cell. He has a spirit that guides him out of the compound to hopefully catch a boat to a mysterious place known as Japan. On his way out, however, he encounters a yokai (Japanese monster). William defeats the beast, but not before his spirit friend gets captured by a dark wizard. The wizard escapes to Japan, and William follows closely behind him. What weird and wild things await our hero in the mystical realm of Japan?

I find Nioh’s story engaging, but that may be why he is a foreigner going to Japan. Granted, he is going to Japan in the 1600s, and this is a dark fantasy universe, which means William is undoubtedly in for a world of trouble. Still, the fact that the story intermingles historical figures into its narrative is brilliant.

Nioh’s visuals, while adequate, fail to impress. By no means is the game ugly; I feel that, from an artistic point of view, it hardly brings anything new, exciting, or even noteworthy to the table. A few places could use some more light, but beyond that, there isn’t anything glaringly wrong with the graphics, but they don’t stand out much either.

Those who’ve played Dark Souls or Sekiro before will know how Nioh plays exceptionally well. Players have access to light and heavy attacks, a dodge, a block, healing items, and others. What sets Niooh apart is that it has three stands: high, medium, and low. The player can freely change between these stances, and they have their own strengths and weaknesses. High stance is the most powerful but the slowest. Medium stance has the widest swing arc, perfect for squaring off against multiple targets, but awful in tight spaces. Low stance is the quickest and uses less stamina when dodging, but its attacks are weak.

The stances add a lot of depth to Nioh’s gameplay. Mastering each of them is crucial to surviving Nioh’s trials. I find myself gravitating towards High and Medium stances since I can easily weave in and out of the enemy’s reach while in high stance, and medium makes fights against multiple enemies much more bearable. The player also has access to ranged weapons that help immensely with more formidable enemies, especially when the player lands a devastating headshot.

Most Soulsborne games have one big interconnected world. Sure, each section is divided, but it still feels like each area is one big world. Nioh decided to take a level-based approach. The player selects a place to dive into, then subsequently starts the mission. It feels refreshing to have a Soulsborne-like game be level-based; there are far fewer chances of getting lost in Nioh.

Players who love picking up lots of loot will love Nioh. The enemy drops so much stuff when they die that it makes the seemingly infinite inventory space a godsend. There are so many different weapon types, armor types, and so many effects to each item that the player picks up that it can honestly be a little overwhelming at times. However, if it does get to that point, the player can always trade the weapons they don’t need into Amrita (Nioh’s experience point system).

Nioh butt kicking outfit
Be prepared for pain!

While William himself is not very customizable, the player can create their ideal character build. Each stat contributes to how effectively the player uses certain weapons, along with their health and stamina. With each level the player gains, they can add an additional point to any one of William’s stats. After escaping England, the player chooses their preferred weapon and their spirit animal. The spirit animal grants William access to a spirit form, which gives the player additional strength, speed, and an ultimate attack while in said form.

After the first mission on Japan, the player gains access to the blacksmith’s workshop. The blacksmith will upgrade William’s gear, give them better special effects, and trade unwanted equipment for scrap or Amrita. It is insane how deep the rabbit hole can go when managing the ample loot one gains from each mission. I like this kind of stuff, but I admit it is a bit dizzying at times trying to sort of fifty different things while also trying not to die.

When playing the PC version of Nioh, I ran into a weird issue where the game wouldn’t pick up my controller. Since Nioh is an action game, a controller is a must. After a couple of days of looking online and not finding any answers, my co-worker had me try plugging it into another USB port of my computer. That ended up working for me. Thus, those that run into the same issue will hopefully gain a little bit of troubleshooting insight. 

If there is one thing that Soulsborne games are known for, it’s their difficulty. Nioh takes that tradition to heart; it is brutal! I honestly find Nioh more difficult than Dark Souls. Dark Souls sets up complex challenges in a way that is difficult but just out of reach. Nioh, on the other hand, is relentless with its obstacles, and it does not care if it makes the player angry. I respect Nioh for its level of challenge, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart.

Nioh death screen
Be ready to see this screen a lot.

Players who think Dark Souls and Sekiro are too easy should give Nioh a shot. Lots of loot to find, character building and inventory management up the wazoo, and a fascinating dark fantasy take on history make Nioh an attractive prospect. I did like my time with Nioh, even though it likes to kick my butt.

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