Genre: Action, RPG
Developer: KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD.
Publisher: KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD.
Release Date: Nov 7, 2017
Edited by Thorstag
Welcome to a “Soulsbourne” genre game by the name of Nioh. Nioh takes place in a fictional dark fantasy 1600s where war rages throughout Japan as demons known as Yokai have appeared to feed off the chaos. You take the role of William; a blonde Irish man said to resemble Geralt from The Witcher series, of whom came to Japan in search of an evil sorcerer. Won’t give away more than that as the story is a large part of these types of games.
One thing one might notice when starting Nioh is that the game is split up into missions that can be accessed from a map menu as opposed to being one large open world. This may be a turn-off to some, but I find that the levels are rather large and have some interesting designs with inspiration from Dark Souls in the way they handle shortcuts. Exploring missions can often reveal secrets and extra loot in addition to some unforeseen fights. Building a game in this way has the advantage of creating a contained experience without needing to come up with a reason to be linked directly to another area — pros and cons to both design choices. The game is littered with side missions offering loot and the chance to gain more gold and Amrita, which is the leveling currency for this world. Missions can be repeated for “farming” of items and of course, to find secrets you may have missed the first time through.
The theme music is a lovely reflection of the time and places the game is portraying. It has the distinct Japanese sound of string and drum instrumentation with an eerie feel thrown in. I find that the music while in a mission is usually a muted generic evil tone with some flutes and drums thrown in. The music during boss battles isn’t very pronounced or memorable. It does overall still stick to the setting. The sound design, in general, is fine and has tones that reflect your combat timing as opposed to being super realistic. I do find that the music can drown out your combat sounds a bit, so I usually turn it down. I am sure this will vary from person to person, though.
I have to say that the game is breathtaking in its artwork and graphics. It gives you the feeling of being in that place and time. The lighting is very dark when it needs to be, and the fire effects feel natural. When the levels are sunny, the rays from the sun can be seen saturating the landscape in what looks to be right out of a movie. Outdoor night levels are drenched in the moonlight that seems to seep to all the right places. I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time in fields with moonlight being all there is to light my way, and Nioh does a great job at portraying just that. I did notice that the sky looked artificial when clouds moved, which did break my immersion a bit until I got back to the action.
You replenish your health as well as increase your level at shrines, which have their mechanics based around cute spirits called Kodama. These spirits can be found scattered in the various missions and offer a blessing to your character, which you can change for a gold donation. By finding these spirits, usually quite well hidden, you can increase the effectiveness of their blessings. This is a fun mechanic, but like most secret items, it can be a pain searching for that one spirit you are still missing for the area you are in. Listen carefully and watch closely.
The shrines also allow you to attune magical abilities and also change which Guardian Spirit you have equipped. Guardian Spirits are powerful beings that you can unleash after absorbing enough energy from the enemies you battle. You can see the progress in an orb to the left of your health/ki bar. Once filled, it gives you a period of invincibility and access to special moves that are extremely powerful. The spirits are tied to a specific element and will have a different effect based on that element. You will gather more Guardian Spirits throughout the game and will be able to decide then what works best for you.
You may also summon help for most missions from the shrines for co-op play. Keep in mind, when bringing in another player to your world, the enemies will increase in difficulty with buffs to damage and health. Overall though, it should make your play easier if you both know what you are doing. To summon a friend, you will need an item called an “Ochoko Cup”, which is obtained by fighting revenants. Revenants are glowing red swords in the ground that can litter levels and summon hostile AI-controlled versions of other players that have died. Defeating them will result in a random item from their inventory.
While some game mechanics differ from that of other “Soulsbourne” titles, the health and ki/stamina bars are still ever-present. You have various stats to level like strength and dexterity of which will broadly increase your overall battle efficiency while letting you know what weapon that specific stat would most benefit. This identification of weapons, of course, is where you would craft a “build” that you can choose to be as varied or specialized as you like. It is recommended that you stick to one weapon to specialize in as generalizing could make your play-through more challenging. Your weapon choices include a single sword, dual sword, spear, ax, kusarigama, odachi, and tonfa, which all have their strengths and weaknesses.
The weapons use a random loot system akin to Diablo and other action role-playing games, which makes loot more rewarding as opposed to items that are static in every play-through. This randomness also applies to armor, which has quite a variety in visual appearance. Both weapons and armor also can be a part of “sets”, which grant even more stats when combined with items sharing the same name. This combining effect can benefit your chosen weapon in the fight ahead. On top of the vast arsenal, you gain access to skills for each weapon via skill points, which allow you to perform combination moves both offensive and defensive to further enhance your experience.
On top of all I have described so far, there is a deep crafting system. The system involves a blacksmith and a couple of merchants you unlock as you progress through the campaign. Here you can break down items, buy consumables, and craft different weapons and armor from recipes you find in the world. You also can craft random items of varying rarities depending on if you have the materials needed. Considering the way the loot system works, you could get lost crafting for quite a while, but the options given are a welcome addition to this genre.
There are a great many consumable items that heal, buff for various elements, grant protection from certain elements, grant magical effects. Excess items that you cannot carry are automatically sent to the storehouse that you can access once you rest at a shrine. Holding a specified button will allow you to brandish a bow and arrow, rifle, or hand cannon for various but powerful ranged effects. The ammo for said weapons, however, is usually limited, so you’d want to do this sparingly. This ammo limitation makes doing a ranged only build for this game incredibly difficult and not advised. You can do critical damage on enemies with a ranged head-shot, which is a welcome attention to detail in the game design.
You also have an incredible amount of options in melee combat, the first being that you have access to 3 different stances: Light, Medium, Heavy. These drastically change both your damage output and weapon move set, which can turn the tide of battle depending on the foe you face. Defensively, you have access to block and dodge, which both use ki. Dodging is particularly important as the powerful Yokai you face can infect the ground around them, sucking your Ki/Stamina from you in battle. By timing your dodge correctly after a strike, you can absorb and remove the infected area and quickly restore your Ki to unleash more attacks upon your opponent. This becomes crucial later on to make these enemies more manageable.
The bosses in Nioh are varied and mostly very nightmarish, which is a welcome change to games that just have big guys in armor all the time. There are humanoid enemies for sure, but they have a very supernatural feel most of the time, brandishing amazing abilities. Challenging is a nice way to describe boss fights in Nioh. While fair, several bosses will beat you down mercilessly without taking a couple of deaths to learn their patterns, and even then, they may surprise you. For some bosses, you need to pay attention to either the environment of their preceding level, cinematic, or quest text to find a weakness to exploit, which can make the boss battle much more manageable. While creativity is a huge plus with the bosses, there are a couple of fights that could have used a little tweaking in their mechanics to be a bit more enjoyable. The centipede demon comes to mind. Then again, this is opinion based.
Nioh is a game that has done very little wrong and a large amount right for this popular genre. For all it’s faults, there are wonders to behold while traversing this ancient world invaded by demons feeding off of the innocent amid the chaos of war. Not going to lie, I am sure I left out some details, but those are for you to discover while playing Nioh. There is a sequel on the way, and if they build on what they have here, I can say that it will be a game that you should not miss. Time will tell.
- Beautiful art style and graphics
- Enhanced mechanics for the genre
- Co-op play
- Music can be a bit overwhelming at times
- Animations for the sky felt unfinished and clunky
- Some bosses are tedious
Mister Boo gives Nioh a Drastik Measure of 9.5 out of 10 (95)
Nioh is currently available on STEAM for $49.99 (USD). This price includes all DLC released for the title. Nioh 2 is in development, and I expect it will be as good or better than the original. I recommend this game for anyone that has enjoyed the “Soulsbourne” genre and welcomes a challenge with more options than previous titles. It runs well on an older system and is available on the PS4. Dive in and fight with honor against epic foes!