Nioh 2 is special to me. It became a turning point from my rigidity toward challenging games. It also proved to me, if nothing else, that I’m able to meet almost any video game’s challenge. Provided I’ve got enough patience, and a willingness to fail miserably a couple of times first.
Difficult ≠ lmpossible
Anyone who knows me, knows that I have had more than one disastrous foray into the souls-bourne series. I’ve played every entry outside of Sekiro. And I’ve yet to finish any of them.
Slowly over this year however, things have been changing for the better. It started a few months ago when I played a game called Mortal Shell. A souls-like title in more ways than one. When I found out what I was in for. A feeling of dread hit me. However, something unprecedented happened. I not only finished, but enjoyed it. Me, of all people.
It laid the foundation of where I find myself now. Loving Nioh 2 more than I ever thought I would. Even when I want to tear my hair out after my 7th death to the same boss.
Who am I, and what is going on?
Nioh 2 has you play as Hide, a hybrid samurai. You are half-human and half-yokai, a supernatural entity in Japanese folklore. While your human half gives you the tenacity to make it in this demon infested world, your yokai heritage grants you access to abilities that provide you with a welcome edge in combat.
While your backstory may be set in stone; your character Hide is mostly customizable. Leaving you free to embody whatever kind of warrior you can imagine. Whether a samurai warlord or an Onna-Musha, there’s a great range of options at your fingertips.
You’ve also got the option to delve into the Nioh community’s character codes. Making your way through Japan, battling all manner of yokai as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Zuko, 2B, or Ciri. Hell, Billie Eilish is an option, even if some may not be the most accurate replications.
Sengoku-era Japan is your battleground. Featuring historical figures from this feudal period such as Oda Nobunaga and Imagawa Yoshimoto, the cast is positively star studded. Your human father is even Saitō Dōsan. Nioh 2 hits many notable events in Japanese history, but even so it takes a couple of steps to the left of historical accuracy. Nioh dives into the deep end of the supernatural, using this to explain major events as strings being pulled by evil forces of the dark realm. Forces which have sown chaos across Japan.
Crawling with enemies both human and of the dark realm, there are no shortage of battles to be had. Nioh 2’s wide range of enemies make for a multitude of different combat scenarios. Amongst the horde of foes you will inevitably come across are yokai such as the Yoki, a brutish demon that hacks at you mercilessly. Or the Karasu Tengu, a bipedal bird-like creature carrying a spear to descend upon you from the sky. Those are just two of more than 30 different yokai you’ll find yourself fighting, not even counting the unique Bosses.
Every yokai and every boss has their own style of combat. Some may be swift, closing distance between the two of you in the blink of an eye. Others are slower, dealing devastating damage to those unfortunate enough to find themselves on the receiving end of their rage.
These different combat scenarios incentivise you to learn your own strengths and your opponents weaknesses. A big bulky enemy will be at the mercy of fast attacks and quick movement. A faster enemy may be better dealt with at a distance. It’s your responsibility to make yourself familiar with the many different combatants you’ll encounter.
Dancing with the yokai
Lengthier boss battles become something of a dance. Your first few encounters might not result in anything other than your timely demise. However, there is a benefit to failure in Nioh 2. Every time you perish and respawn at a shrine, you’ve gained valuable knowledge. As time goes by and the battle tally rises, you learn the telltale signs of your opponent’s movement. Whether they raise their head before a sweeping attack, or climb a tree before unleashing a ranged blow.
No matter how insurmountable a fight may seem at first. Before long your enemy holds no more surprises for you. You’ll come to know every move they’ll make. You know how to bait them, exploit their animations and counter at crucial moments. These fights evolve into a well-choreographed dance that just requires a bit of focus and patience. Your opponent steps forward as you dash back. They attack as you position yourself for that perfect opening that you know all too well is coming. Even the most difficult fights can be unpacked and analysed to find the most efficient route to victory. It makes combat extremely engaging and fluid in its rhythm, grabbing and holding your attention to fully immerse you in the battle.
While yokai form a huge chunk of your enemies. Humans are also in the mix. They can be simple in theory, but may just surprise you when making use of their wide range of weapons. Humans take up many of the weapon types available to you. From dual swords, to axes. Some of them, such as spearmen, do not prove to be much of a challenge. While others, like switchglaive-bearing opponents can overwhelm you with their relentless barrage of blows. However, humans are rarely more deadly than the yokai.
Take your pick
It must be abundantly clear by now that combat in Nioh is fantastic. You make use of three fighting stances. Low-stance has the lowest stamina consumption, allowing you to dance around your enemies effortlessly to deliver a flurry of quick attacks. While sacrificing damage output, you have more freedom of movement to compensate. Perfect for embarrassing slow enemies with your fancy footwork. Or just keeping up with a particular quick opponent. High-stance is all about damage. You dash, dodge, and attack more slowly, using more stamina in the process. However, every hit that lands is that much harder on your enemy. These are perfect for weaker enemies such as the gaki and other one-on-one fights. Mid-stance strikes the balance, allowing for a more well rounded range of attacks and movements.
Nioh 2 supplies you with 11 potential weapons of which you may choose 2. Between the tonfa and odachi, there are many play styles you can adopt. You might enjoy a healthy mix of ranged and close quarters weapons like the dual swords and Kurasigama. You may wish to challenge yourself with a strictly ranged or close weapon loadout. Or you can be the ultimate badass and take on demons barehanded. The choice is yours.
That’s not even mentioning the projectile weapons. The longbow, rifle and handcannon all give you the option to deal damage at a distance. You can take out bowmen before they see you, or ninja hiding in bushes. Even take pot shots at big enemies to give you an advantage between going head-to-head. With all this variety, you don’t even have to stick to your two initial choices. At any point you can switch out your katana for a splitstaff and get to work.
However, switching comes at a cost. There are 8 attributes ranging from constitution and heart, to skill and magic. You’ll want to commit to a set few to get the most benefit. Of course there are ways to respec your points. Although, sticking to a choice few allows you to increase your damage output with certain weapons. For example the more points you have in constitution the more effective you are with a spear. While I’d love to be able to switch weapon types on the fly with less consequence. This does work incredibly well with setting up specific builds for the best possible damage output. It also makes for great replay value as you can choose drastically different weapons and attributes the second go around.
There’s almost too much
The depth to Nioh 2 is absurd in the best way possible. 30 Hours from the starting point and you’re still more than likely to find something new. There are A LOT of items in this game. Honestly it can be overwhelming when you first dive in. Just have a look at this list of usable items in-game, it’s crazy. You’re constantly picking up new stuff, but don’t be too intimidated. Every once in a while, take a gander at the item descriptions. Or even experiment with them at random. Before long you’ll have your favourites. Whether Jutsu and Onmyo magic, necessities like antiparalytic needles, or helpful items like stones to toss at enemies, baiting them.
Between the weapons, enemies, and usable items; Nioh 2 is overflowing with content. Yet there are still a number of systems within the game that provide even more depth to an already deep experience. Such as the revenants and benevolent graves. Revenants are AI-controlled spirits of fallen players you can do battle with, if you feel like there isn’t already a legion of enemies to fight. Defeating these revenants drops loot and glory, a currency used to unlock items and cosmetics. But most importantly they drop Ochoko Cups, which are used to summon spirits to join your fight. These spirits are called upon at benevolent grave sites left by other players, yourself included. This can come in handy when you need some backup. Or just to use as cannon fodder.
And yet, there’s more
We’ve already established a number of different ways to go on the offensive from weapons, to jutsu and magic. But even with its generous range of options Nioh 2 still has ways of adding even more. Specifically through soul cores. Whenever you defeat a yokai, it has a chance of dropping a soul core containing its unique ability. You attune a soul core to your guardian spirit, allowing you access to their powers at the cost of your anima gauge. A Nure-Onna core will give you the ability to paralyse enemies. A Waira core will allow you to dive underground, bursting out from beneath your opponent to deal damage. There are soul cores for just about every yokai type. Giving you a wide range to choose from throughout the campaign.
One of the most helpful abilities available in Nioh 2 however, is the yokai shift. You channel your half-yokai side, which you inherited from your mother. Transforming you into a supernatural being. Much like normal combat in this form you have the ability to switch between stances that provide different combat approaches. You can even execute multiple soul core attacks in this state as they are no longer tied together by the anima gauge.
What makes this ability for me though, is the fact that your HP is not linked to the Yokai form’s. Meaning once your Yokai gauge is depleted, you revert back to human form with your HP exactly where you left it. Yokai shift has been my saving grace on more than one occasion, taking me from near death panic to unearned confidence.
You have a choice between three yokai forms, brute, feral and phantom depending on your chosen guardian spirit. And later in the game you even gain access to a second guardian spirit. Allowing you access to another form that you can switch to during a shift.
Man, do I love Nioh
Nioh 2 has a lot to offer, and succeeds at basically everything it attempts here. From combat to its many systems, it’s almost too much content. As blasphemous as that may sound. But with enough time spent, it becomes clear that it is an expertly crafted title. Everything that worked in Nioh and games of its calibre has been curated and refined into this magnificent piece of work.
At times it may be unforgiving, and not always as welcoming to newcomers. But if you stick with it for a while, the rays of genius come shining through every pixel.
From ravaged villages and labyrinthian caves to the enemy design, Nioh 2‘s world is a pleasure to gawk at. Hours upon hours in and you’ll still be finding new environments to explore and baddies to put down. I struggle to find things to hate. Well, maybe just one thing. After your 8th death, a boss’ theme song can become a bit grating. But hey, that’s on me for dying so much.
Clearly there are very few things I find myself complaining about in Nioh 2. It’s an absolute banger of a game, even for those not traditionally into difficult titles. However, if you happen to be a fan of a challenge, you’ll get exactly what you desire and then some. Nioh 2 is the full package.