I am not a fan of Dark Souls, tried it and it just was not for me in terms of what I enjoy and how I enjoy gaming. I fully appreciate and understand the challenge of that now iconic series but playing brought a level of frustration that is against what I enjoy about the games I play. It stopped me from picking up Bloodborne but then something I did not expect happened when I was invited into the first closed beta for ‘Nioh’, I liked it!
It has taken a long time for Nioh to come to PlayStation 4, over ten years since development started on this game. During that time the Dark Souls series become a benchmark series inspiring many different games all using the same ethos of “prepare to die…a lot!” and punishing players with incredibly hard boss fights and levels designed to confuse and install dread into exploration. So when it was announced just in 2015 that Nioh would be a PlayStation 4 exclusive, it came across as just another Dark Souls clone game. But it certainly was different, not in just that the main hero William bore a striking resemblance to Geralt of Rivia of The Witcher series, but its setting of Japan in the year 1600 instantly grabbed my attention.
The opening to the game serves not only as a prequel tutorial to the real tutorial but more as a prologue to the whole story whilst throwing the player into the deep-end with a baptism of fire in gameplay. Our hero William finds himself captured and held in the Tower of London during a time where England, ruled by Queen Elizabeth I, is at war with Spain. Seeking the rare golden stone Amrita, found only in Japan, William must escape and is aided by his spirit guardian, showcasing the game’s supernatural element right from the start setting up a final confrontation with Edward Kelley. Kelley uses dark magic to take William’s Spirit Guardian, putting William in pursuit of him back to Japan. This opening area just grabbed me and serves to prove a great introduction to the game before the main campaign adds even more layers to the gameplay.
Nioh has a superb tutorial that teaches the player about the combat and inventory management systems and does it so well that when the player does decide to continue into the main story, they will be armed with enough to get started. This starts the game immersion straight away, and welcomes players into the world which was a genuine surprise. It has such a rich and deep system the further into the game you go but to have such a strong and solid tutorial to give a foundation to build on is really satisfying.
Gameplay is indeed similar to that of Dark Souls as William explores different regions, taking on Oni raiders and Samurai as well as supernatural enemies in his mission to defeat Edward Kelley and take back his guardian spirit. Each reason has Shrines which serve as checkpoints, should you die and be ‘freed from this mortal coil’; you will respawn at the last shrine you activated. By visiting a Shrine you can get back all your health but also you can use XP to upgrade your attributes which again has been made so easy to understand with each attribute description explaining what will benefit by increasing their value in particular, which weapons will be improved in their use. I love how this game keeps the player in the game by not only teaching them about the systems and the world but also in explaining everything you need to know without removing them from the game.
The combat really impressed me, you start the game picking two weapons to specialise in but other weapons are available during play. The fighting uses a tradition stance system, low stance or quick strikes, high for heavy but slower strikes and medium stance which blends the other two. You can hot switch between two melee weapons quickly as well as two ranged weapons. Defeating enemies can cause them to drop items, weapons and new armour pieces so the player can quickly try out different weapons to find the ones they are comfortable in using. You may die, a lot in the game as you get used to and adapt to the game and the challenge it imposes but due to how much effort has been taken to teach the player how the different components and mechanics work, it is certainly more inviting for new or experienced players of this genre.
Nioh is not an easy game; it has all the challenge and dangers that any Souls game has. Rather than being simply an imitator or a clone, Nioh delivers it own style and it works so well. The setting of 16th Century Japan keeps it grounded but adds supernatural elements to add the fantasy aspect to it. This game kicked my butt, mostly because of my lack of experience in the genre but instead of putting me off as Dark Souls has done, it instead inspired and encouraged me to do better, to learn from my mistakes and at no time did I feel that the game cheated me even when the mini and main boss fights infuriated me for failing. With Dark Souls now seemingly over and no sign of a Bloodborne sequel anytime soon, Nioh will certainly fill the void left and with the first DLC for it released at time of writing, there is so much to sink your teeth in.
I did not expect to enjoy this game, it definitely is not one you can complete in a single sitting or too but the more you play and learn, the more rewarding this game it. It showed me what the challenge of this genre can be but did so in a way that did not alienate me or make me feel as though I was being punished for not “getting good” faster. You can play at your own pace and the regions you visit are visually stunning to explore and battle in.
If you are experience with Dark Souls or Bloodborne then this is the next logical step for you. If you are new though and were perhaps like me, put off by this genre, Nioh manages to bring you in and give you the tools needed to get into the game far more than other games. The story told via cut scenes is well written and experiencing this game and world is certainly worthy of a death or two…hundred, as you battle your way through. Nioh has quickly become my guilty pleasure, it keeps beating me but entices me back to try and try again. That alone makes me happy to recommend this game to be added to your collection.