I want to love Nioh. I’m playing it after having dropped 100s of hours into Bloodborne, I beat Demons Souls, and I ...own? Dark Souls 2 (I’m waiting for the re release of Dark Souls on the PS4 before I play 2). I like hard games that reward your patience. That said, and before you jump on me because it sounds like I’m prefacing, But this game sucks statement -I’m not. I like it quite a bit and after having spent some time with the alpha demo and watching a few videos of later bosses I’ve concluded I’ll definitely pick it up at a 20 dollar price point. However I don’t love Nioh, and with a game that is so very similar to souls games, that might be a death sentence. With the obligatory (I HAVE SOME AMOUNT OF STREET CRED) intro paragraph out of the way let’s dive in.
First off, what is Nioh? Nioh is an action/adventure game that is going to draw endless amounts of comparison to From Software’s Souls franchise. The overall template is a direct copy/paste with a few neat additions. In it you play Geralt of Rivera as a samurai. I’m not kidding.
I guess they......changed his eye color? So uhhh...that’s something. The first thing I didn’t much care for is at face value it’s “White man kills Japanese people as a Samurai.” This is a little social justicey but wtf. They couldn’t have made a Japanese main character? Even if they make the game such that he IS Japanese, he clearly is NOT Japanese. That’s a minor quibble and one most people won’t even notice I’d venture. It’d just be nice to have a more diverse cast of main characters than, “White guy with Sword, White guy with gun, White guy with carrot”.
Moving on, the game gives you no backstory (something I hope they’re not going to copy from Souls and is just because this is a demo) and plops you on a beach. You start making your way around. You have a deceptively large health bar and an endurance bar which is called your Ki. A really really cool feature that Nioh adds is that you can regen your Ki faster after attacking by pressing R1 in sequence after a combo. This is known as a Ki Pulse.
Additionally, Nioh offers up a pretty neat feature in the way it handles combat by allowing you to switch stances. High Stance seems to be a slow, but painful - using the most Ki per attack. Low stance is fluid and quick, dealing less damage but doling it out in bursts of 5 to 6 attacks. In addition I found that in low stance, dodging will act as a Ki Pulse meaning you can string together long series of attacks, followed by a dodge and several more attacks before you become exhausted. Mid stance, obviously is a mix between the two. I spent most of my time in mid stance but switched to low stance later on as it fit my playstyle better and really felt fantastic.
Unfortunately, I feel, the developers of Nioh also decided that when you run out of stamina you should die. This happened too frequently in my initial playthroughs - you attack, you dodge, you attack, and then you run out of Ki. Now for 2-3 seconds you stop, bend over, and wheeze. Typically this means death in Nioh as enemies can dispatch you in one hit. I’m not a fan of this particular endurance mechanic, and I’m also not a huge fan of the early game difficulty. Being hard is one thing, being unfairly so is another. This game walks a very fine line and I’m not sure which is the case. I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt in that the game is much much more complex than Bloodborne.
Some of that complexity involves items. Each item has a myriad of stats from Durability, “familiarity”, weight, and then the typical defense/offense/magic stats that it imbues. Higher weight armor protects you more but also means your attacks/running deplete your Ki bar faster.
Side note: I think item durability is one of the least appealing mechanics to appear in gaming.
You can also level up a variety of stats similar to other games using “Amirita” which is the game’s primary currency. You lose your Amirita on death, but have one life to claim it if you can reach the point where you died. Scattered around levels are Shrines where you can pray. When you pray you can level up using Amirita but all enemies are restored to life. Sound Familiar?
I’m fairly certain that someone played Bloodborne, saw the Chikage was a huge fan favorite and thought, “Hrmmmmm what if we made a WHOLE GAME where you had the chikage?” But whether this game turns out to be a pale imitation or adds enough innovation to stand on its own remains to be seen. Personally, I think there’s a very solid game here with enough additions that it will stand out in history on its own. I think the early areas of the game need some tweaking to the difficulty and also the option to turn off revenants - They’re “Ghosts” of players that died and you can fight a computer AI controlled version of them - an interesting idea that holds 0 appeal to me.
Nioh (pronounced Knee-Oh, I guess) is availabe in Alpha Demo form on the Playstation store. If you’ve played it I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.