The affix “-like” gets thrown around a lot these days. Rogue-like, Souls-like, etcetera. Unfortunately, much like music, the best way to explain a video game is to compare it to other video games. Nioh is a Souls-like, Ninja Gaiden-like, Tenchu-like game that any fan of those series will find something in the game they are familiar with. Even if you’re not a fan of those games in particular, but still enjoy Japanese history and mythology, buttery smooth framerates (on a console no less!) and deep, fluid combat, this a game you’ll probably enjoy, just not as much as those other players.
A group of our readers are likely pretty well acquainted with Nioh by now, after an Alpha and a few Betas over the last year has given interested players a few tantalizing licks of the Nioh tootsie-pop. The final version of the game that will be hitting shelves next week has certainly been tweaked and altered in several respects from the Alpha and Beta releases, but the core of the game is more or less the same.
I won’t delve much into the story here, as that is for the player to discover. For history buffs into the Sengoku and Tokugawa periods, this game is right up your alley. Shoguns, Samurai, Ninja, political intrigue, assassination, and Oni help the narrative keep interested players engaged enough between bouts of Katana raging destruction.
The meat of any third-person action game is, of course, the action, and this is where Nioh shines. This is the part of the review where Nioh gets compared with Dark Souls, as tedious as that comparison has become by this point (especially in my reviews). On the plus side, while there are many surface similarities between the two games (Strong attack, fast attack, blocking and parrying) Nioh introduces several extra layers to ensure their system has the depth that the Souls series has been missing lately. Rather than a simple stamina bar, Nioh features a “Ki” bar. Like stamina in Souls, this bar winds down each time you attack or sprint. However, with a perfectly timed button press, players can re-charge chunks of spent stamina to keep the combo going. “Ki Bursts” are also used to dispel stamina sucking “Yokai Realm” pools that negatively affect players’ abilities.
Adding to this extra layer are three separate stances, high, medium, and low, that add power and dodging speed in varying levels. Going even further, the game has multiple unlockable skills and combos for each of the five different weapons, and all of these different mechanics make for a hell of a complex and rewarding combat system. For you ranged specialists, there are various options available to you including bows, rifles, and hand-cannons. Players can also invest skill points into magic and Justu, which equate to various buffs, debuffs, poisons, bombs, and all sorts of other fun ninja stuff. Suffice to say, there are build options galore for players to investigate and encourage multiple play-throughs.
Visually, the game won’t blow minds, but the various video options available that allow players to choose whether they want steady framerates, better graphics, or a combination of both, are an incredibly welcome addition to the experience that should keep console fans happy when their PC buddies mock them for having zero customization in their video settings. At this point in the home console generation, these kinds of choices seem like something every developer should be doing, and if Nioh does well, you can guarantee the trend will catch on.
Level design is something that may irk Souls fans in that the entire map is not a meticulously interlinked open-world. However, each stage, while certainly linear, allows for plenty of exploration and opening of shortcuts to make subsequent runs a bit quicker. Various secrets and items are also scattered in hard to reach places that will scratch that Metroid-esque itch of finding every last possible weapon and upgrade.
Enemy placement is well thought-out, and there are multiple optional bonus stages to tackle as well as Nioh’s equivalent to NG+: the Twilight stage. These only become available upon completion of the standard level, and only during certain times of day. Enemy placement is altered, goals are changed, and the difficulty is ramped up. Basically, exactly what players will be after they conquer a map in the regular game.
As far as weapons go, there is a level of Diablo and Borderlands style randomness to the loot, including the classic common, rare, legendary colour schemes to help players sort through the trash. Items can be upgraded, stats can be swapped, and there is even the ability to re-up the level of a favourite weapon by sacrificing another one. For folks who like to tinker, min/max and compare every last mathematical advantage and disadvantage, there is plenty of depth available in Nioh.
While this reviewer is only just cutting his teeth on the Nioh stage, it’s pretty easy to predict that this will be a huge contender for Game of the Year 2017. It’s definitely way too early to announce such a sweeping prophecy, but there is almost literally nothing in this game to complain about. The combat is tight, fast, and incredibly deep. The game runs at a wonderful clip, if you so desire, and there was little to no hiccups, stuttering, or screen-tearing. There is a long and rewarding solo campaign on top of Souls-like invading and summoning to keep those bloodthirsty multiplayer warriors happy. Nioh is exactly the game to reinvigorate those players who felt a bit fatigued and tired of the traditional Souls formula, with a splash of Tenchu-style level design and hints of old-school Ninja Gaiden combat to spice things up. Either way, Nioh is highly, highly recommended.