Written by Joshua David Anderson
The beginning of 2017 has seen a resurgence of Japanese developed games. Between Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, Nier Automata, and Gravity Rush 2, it feels a bit like it did in the Playstation 2 era, where there seemed to be an endless supply of games that were made in the East. Nioh not only fits in with the previous group, but also sports a distinct Japanese setting and art style. Developed by Team Ninja, famous for their Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive series, Nioh is an attempt to create a new franchise, an action title that had a rocky development cycle and borrows from several other big franchises. But does it carve out enough of a space for itself?
Nioh takes place in the early 17th century Japan, during the end of the Sengoku period. The main character of William Adams is based on an actual real life historical figure, and many of the characters in the game are based on real people of that era. Nioh doesn’t stay too long in history, adding in fantasy elements like magic, spirits, and demons called Yokai. William, travelling to Japan from England in pursuit of an adversary named Edward Kelley, fights his way through Yokai and humans alike, and finds himself in the middle of a war for dominance between Japanese clans. As William has the ability to see spirits, he becomes instrumental to the war, helping swing the tide of battle.
The gameplay of Nioh is both familiar and unique, with a heavy influence from the Dark Souls series and Ninja Gaiden. Many concepts from the Souls series have some sort of representation here. You collect a type of currency from enemies called Amrita, which you can spend on attribute points to level yourself up. If you die in the game, all your accumulated Amrita is waiting for you at the place of your death. If you die on the way to your grave, you lose all of it. Saving at a Shrine in the game will reset all of the enemies you have defeated, and boss battles are larger than life, pitting William against difficult foes with punishing attack patterns.
However, Nioh distinguishes itself from the Souls series pretty heavily, most notably in the combat. Coming from the team that made Ninja Gaiden, the fighting here feels like an evolution of that rather than the slower pace of Dark Souls. William is adept with several different types of weapons, from axes, swords, spears, and even the chain-and-sickle style kusarigama. With each weapon, there are three different stances you can use, each giving a weapon multiple attack movesets. When you attack, you expend Ki, not unlike Stamina in Dark Souls. However, Nioh ups the complexity by allowing you to do combinations of moves that can refill your spent Ki immediately. These can be canceling animations, dodging, changing weapons, or special moves. What this means is that by mastering the combat in Nioh, you can be a force of nature, refilling your Ki before the enemy has even reacted.
Nioh also further distances itself from Dark Souls with loot drops, weapons with rarity colors like Diablo, and an extensive crafting system. The game is also split into levels called Missions, with each one being a distinct area, which allows the game to be more friendly to the gamer with short time spans. There are a lot of things to chase in Nioh, which is good because the game allows you to choose extra hard versions of the levels, with different enemies and higher level rewards. Beating the game will net you a new difficulty level on top of all that, so you can really put your high level weapons and armor to the test.
Nioh came incredibly close to being a casualty of development hell. The game was announced in 2004, looking nowhere near the game that it is now. Lots of struggles and stumbles led to Team Ninja being brought on 8 years into the game and everything started essentially over. However, that move was ultimately the right one, as Nioh sits as an exciting action game with tons of depth and plenty to master. Fans of the Souls games will find something to love here, with plenty of differences to keep things interesting, and action game aficionados will appreciate the difficulty and flow of combat. Nioh is a fantastic title well worth your time.
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