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20th November 2017

Review: Nioh

Just another Dark Souls clone, or something more?

I cut down samurai after samurai, ninja after ninja. My uchigatana is a whirl of death as I spin around, dismembering my unfortunate foes. And then a huge demon walks out of a doorway and kills me with one swing of his axe. This is the more-or-less the Nioh experience at its finest.

Nioh is an action-RPG produced by Team Ninja, known for the Xbox classic Ninja Gaiden. You take control of William, an Irishman who finds himself in 1600 Japan to stop the exploitation of a mystical resource called Amrita by Queen Elizabeth I to gain an upper hand in the Anglo-Spanish war. He then becomes a samurai-ninja because… Well, he’s in Japan.

Don’t worry if this has left you bewildered, I was and still am fairly perplexed by the story. The story of Nioh isn’t the most coherent and lacks the strong storytelling of the Dark Souls franchise.

Indeed, Dark Souls comparisons are all too frequent these days, yet Nioh is quite obviously inspired by FromSoftware’s hardcore RPG series, so it is fair to say Nioh is a mix between Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden, which is by no means a bad thing. If anything, this game is actually tougher than Dark Souls in some respects.

In Nioh, combat, especially against bosses, demands rapid reflexes and patience. In Dark Souls it is possible to tank damage with a shield, and even without you can withstand a handful of hits, whereas in Nioh even the most basic enemies can end your life with two or three hits. While difficult, this results in the combat system being incredibly satisfying when you’re doing well.

In fact, Nioh’s combat is what sets it aside from other games. It has a stance system, where you can choose to have fast and weak, medium and balanced or heavy and powerful attacks, and interpreting your enemy’s movements and changing stance appropriately is what makes the combat tick.

Furthermore, while similar games have stamina, Nioh has ‘ki’. It acts almost identically to stamina, with the notable exception that if you press a button at the right time following a combo, you instantly regain the spent ki, allowing you to keep attacking. It’s similar to the quick reload feature from the Gears of War franchise.

Photo: Team Ninja

Supplementing the combat system itself is the wide variety of Japanese weaponry to choose from. Katanas, dual-katanas, axes, kusarigama, bows, flintlock rifles, and even more. Some weapons, like the katanas, are easy to pick up and use straight away, whereas the kusarigama for example takes a lot of practice to use it effectively, which makes for a fulfilling challenge.

The PC port of Nioh is a bit sloppy: It almost entirely lacks a mouse and keyboard control set, making using a controller mandatory — fortunately, I prefer to use a controller for games like this. Moreover, the graphics settings can be hit-or-miss, and I had to set the game to 1080p multiple times before it changed to my desired resolution.

In summary, Nioh makes you feel like a ninja warrior god when you succeed, before humbling you and making you want to cry with frustration when you fail. It is sincerely one of the most brutal games I have ever played, but I keep going back to it to try and try again. Its story is mostly forgettable, but its combat is truly excellent, very fun, and does indeed set it aside from Dark Souls.

Reviewed on Windows 10.

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