Nioh has been taking gamers by storm since its release. The game is currently sitting at an 87 critic score and 9/10 user score on Metacritic. That's pretty crazy for a game that wasn't on many peoples' radars (at least not mine). After seeing the crazy high scores Nioh has been getting, along with the fact that I am a huge Dark Souls and Bloodborne fan, I decided to give the game a shot.
After my 40+ hours of experience, while I disagree with the perfect scores given by some, I still found Nioh to be a fantastic experience worthy of being compared to the likes of the Souls games. The game does enough differently from those games to make it feel like a unique experience that no fan of this sub-genre should miss out on.
Nioh is available on Amazon for $59.99
The premise of Nioh is actually quite simple. You play as William, a British man who was born with a Spirit Guardian named Saoirse. With her help, William escapes his imprisonment in The Tower Of London where he meets the game's antagonist: Edward Kelley. Kelley steals Saoirse and reveals to William that he is going to Japan in search of magical stones called Amrita, and use them to…uh…be evil or something…? After escaping the tower, William somehow finds ships and a crew and heads to Japan to stop Kelley and get Saoirse back.
The story of Nioh is easily one of the worst aspects of this game. Throughout my time playing, I hardly ever knew what the hell was happening. It's a shame too because the lore and backstory of the areas and the game's many bosses are really interesting and engaging. But the narrative itself provides nothing more than a backdrop to the journey ahead.
Most characters are paper thin. You'll struggle to remember anything substantial about anybody you encounter. Hell, the main protagonist and antagonist, William and Kelley, are probably the worst characters in the game. You could probably make a case for William since he really just acts as a portal for the player to experience the world of Nioh, but there really is no excuse for Kelley. His inspirations don't make sense, he looks as cliché as a villain can be, and overall just doesn't provide enough inspiration for the player to progress in the yokai infested Japan. Luckily, the gameplay is able to keep you playing Nioh for many hours to come.
Dark Souls Clone?
Before I get into the specifics of Nioh's gameplay, I want to nip this in the bud right away. DO NOT believe anyone who says that Nioh is a Dark Souls or Bloodborne clone. Yes, you can obviously tell from the gameplay that Nioh does take inspiration from those games. But when you actually play it for yourself, you'll quickly see how different the games are. Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about what is easily the best part about Nioh.
The combat of Nioh is best described as "easy to learn, difficult to master". Similar to the likes of Dark Souls or Bloodborne, you have a stamina meter that depletes with every attack you dish out. It will seem familiar to those who have played a souls-like before, but where it gets interesting is the introduction of stances.
Every weapon type (swords, axes, dual swords, spears, and kusarigama) have three stances that you can use: low, medium, and high. Low stance maximizes your mobility, letting you do as many strafe dodges as you please. You also will be able to attack extremely fast, but your attacks will be very weak. Medium stance, as you would guess, provides a good medium ground between low and high stance. Your blocks will be more effective and your attacks will be more powerful than in low stance, but you will only be able to use one strafe dodge and one roll before having to reset to do them again. High stance allows you to maximize your damage output, but mobility suffers as you only get one Dark Souls-like roll dodge and your attack speed is pretty slow.
Further adding to the complexity of combat is the Ki Pulse. Your Ki (stamina) can be instantly recharged by pressing the R1 button at the right time after attacking. This technique can allow you to chain different stance attacks together, or get you enough stamina to dodge the next enemy attack. Ki pulses also allow you to dispel little yokai rings that enemies will spawn that prevent you from recovering your Ki at a normal rate. It kind of sounds OP on paper, but it never feels that way once you start using it.
Combat shines it's brightest in Nioh's boss battles. A few of my favorites would have to be The Ogress, Giant Toad, and Yuki-Onna. There are some duds in the mix, but for the most part, the bosses are equal parts engaging, visually striking, and most importantly: hard as hell. It's truly the combat and thrill of what epic battle you'll engage in next that drives you forward through the game.
Unlike other games in the souls-like sub-genre, Nioh has you explore the world through set missions and levels. This may be a big turn off for those of you looking for a more interconnected, real feeling world ala Dark Souls, but I actually quite enjoyed this design (for the most part). You select your mission on this overworld map where there are multiple regions you'll unlock as you progress through the main storyline. There are also side missions that will either utilize main mission locations or have locations entirely of their own.
Missions don't sound too bad, right? And honestly, they aren't. But there is one major flaw with how this game's missions are designed; the main reason I just can't bring myself to give this game as high of a score as other reviewers. The biggest problem with the mission design and Nioh as a whole: the grinding. This game expects you to grind Amrita (souls equivalent) for hours just to be at the appropriate "Mission Level". Now, of course, this isn't a problem if you're one of those people who doesn't mind or even love grinding in RPGs, but I for one cannot stand it.
To show you how unreasonable Nioh gets later on in the game, a story mission in the 4th region has a mission level of 78. Okay, that's not too bad considering how late in the game this is. Once you complete that (without grinding in the level, maybe leveling up once or twice since leveling up requires a ton of Amrita at this point), the next story mission requires you to be at level 87; nine whole levels above the last mission.
And don't think that doing all the side missions help all that much. At most you'll be able to level up once after a side mission this late in the game. This feels like an artificial way to extend the playtime of a game that already has at least 40-50+ hours of content in it. I eventually just stopped caring about the mission level as, while it was harder, I was still able to do well and complete each mission while being 10-15 levels lower than what the mission level told me I should be at.
This feels like padding in all the worst ways. In games like Bloodborne your level never really mattered all that much as long as you knew the mechanics of the game. Nioh is somewhat the same as I could still manage missions while being technically under-leveled, but enemies do hit noticeably harder when you aren't at the suggested mission level. Overall, a very frustrating thing to see in this game.
The actual levels themselves are superbly designed. Each location feels unique and is fun to explore. You'll find tons of items, loot, and even shortcuts so you won't have to trek so far in order to visit the shrine to level up, or if you die (which you will a lot, trust me) you don't have to travel as far to get your Amrita back. There's even these little green guys called Kodama that you can find and send back to the shrine so you can receive one of their many blessings that help you find more Amrita, health items, and more.
Each level I played felt like time and care went into them. I never felt like I was playing the same level with just a different coat of paint on it each time. Team Ninja did an excellent job with making the environments pop both visually and by boasting their own unique quirks.
There are a few extra things that you can do in Nioh. For starters, you can visit the game's blacksmith to craft new weapons and armor, buy or sell supplies and upgrade the equipment that you have. There's also a feature you'll unlock called "The Hiden Teahouse" where you'll be able to buy new taunts, upgrades, and even get to play as different characters that you have met on your journey.
There's also this kind of odd faction system. You can join a faction through the Hidden Teahouse that gives you select perks for being a part of them (such as extra health, do more damage, etc.). You can also partake in Clan Battles, but it only really gets you bragging rights of being the winning clan. It all feels a little tacked on but it's there if you're into it.
Graphics and Audio
Nioh is such a beautiful game to look at. The art style fits perfectly with the game's overall tone and atmosphere. Cutscenes, in particular, are really well done. The animations and direction are great in each scene. Enemies and bosses are extremely well animated and fluid when up close and attacking. However sometimes if you are able to see an enemy in the distance they look very choppy, but that is usually a rare occurrence.
Graphics in-game will depend on what mode you play in. I played on the regular PS4, so the options given to me were: movie mode, action mode, and variable movie mode. I've heard that the visuals are insanely good on the PS4 Pro, so if you can, play that version for maximum graphical quality.
Everything on the sound side is good in Nioh. Very good in fact. Slashing enemies sounds just as satisfying as it looks and feels. Voice work is pretty good, except for a few voices here and there (*cough* *cough* Kelley *cough*). The soundtrack has a great mix of epic and melancholy tracks, but songs are reused too often; especially boss tracks.
Nioh is an excellent experience. I don't think that it deserves the perfect scores that many other reviewers are giving it, but it is still a great game that will provide challenging fun from start to finish. If you're a fan of the Dark Souls games and/or Bloodborne, you're guaranteed to like this title. If you've never played a souls-like before, this game is a pretty damn good start.
Wanna know my opinion of which bosses are the easiest and hardest in Nioh? Click here to see my Nioh Boss Rankings from Easiest to Hardest!
Now here's William wearing a cracked bowl on his head.
|+ Deep, engaging combat||– Paper thin story and characters|
|+ Great visuals and sound design||– Ridiculous grinding|
|+ Well designed levels|
|+ Intense boss battles|