The last six months seems to be the turning point for overbaked games. With The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV both being released to critical acclaim despite being in development hell for far too long, surely one of them have to fail. Surprisingly, the PS4 exclusive Nioh, announced in 2004, isn’t that game as somehow, yet again, an outstanding game has come from tumultuous development.
Going into the game, I had heard the many Dark Souls comparisons and anyone who has played or watched others play the games will know what that means. Brutal difficulty, challenging saving progression, and deaths can be severely punishing. While this is a somewhat fair comparison, Nioh takes the Dark Souls formulae and makes it better.
Nioh brings you the story of William, a westerner in the 1600s. After breaking out of the London Tower he ventures to feudal Japan. Amidst the war at the time, Japan is also infested with Yokai, which are supernatural enemies William must beat to get to his enemy. It’s easy to lose track of the story at times when repeating the same sections over and over, but it’s well worth paying attention to.
It plays very much like any other action game but uses a slower pace similar to Dark Souls. Fortunately, I found the game controlled a lot better than Dark Souls which meant I didn’t feel hampered but was dying a lot due to my own skill level, or lack thereof. The controls have a very specific element to get your head around, which is Williams stance.
William can switch between three of these stances. The first is the high stance, where he holds his weapon up high allowing for more damage to be dealt but makes him a lot slower to dodge and uses up more stamina. Secondly, there’s the mid stance which is somewhat more balanced. Then thirdly there is the low stance where William moves a lot faster, uses less of the stamina bar, but also does the least damage. When I first played I tended to just leave it in the mid-stance, but I died a lot less the moment I learned to switch stances depending on the situation. The control scheme feels nice and intuitive which makes taking the time to learn the stances considerably easier.
One thing I really liked about the game is when it drops you into the first mission of getting out of the London Tower. This teaches you the main mechanics of the combat and how the game system works. After this is when you have the option to play the tutorial. At this point, you should have the main controls relatively down and can learn the nuances that will make survival possible.
The checkpoint feature in the game is interesting. You pray at a shrine to save, which aren’t scary but also not everywhere, so there can be a significant amount of time between shrines. When you pray at a shrine enemies respawn, so you can’t venture a distance then go back to save and start where you left off as all of the enemies have returned. Shrines are also where you level up skills by using the Amrita that is dropped when enemies die. When you die a spirit is left in your place with all of your gathered Amrita which you need to recover as soon as possible. You do retain items, but in order to level up, you need to cash in your Amrita when you can.
9/10 – Nioh is an outstanding game that is much better than expected due to its lengthy development saga. It takes the best bits of Dark Souls and improves it in every way so that people like me who got put off that series can fall in love with Nioh.