At first glance Nioh could easily be mistaken for Dark Souls. You’re constantly on guard, attention focused on the task at hand, as you guard, dodge and land blows against seemingly endless minions of the darkness. If you lose concentration – just for a moment – even the weakest of opponents can cause your downfall. Hell, the U.I. and most systems are almost 1:1 in comparison to From Software’s original designs. Upon closer inspection, the differences between the two become more apparent. For those of us who tear out their hair playing the Souls series or even Bloodborne, it’s those variances that make Nioh great.
Developed by the folks at Team Ninja, the DNA of Ninja Gaiden is evident as much as that of the Souls series. This is mixed with a touch of Assassin’s Creed in the form of historical retellings flavoured with a healthy dose of utter fiction and fable. Character customisation doesn’t exist in Nioh; instead, you play as English samurai William Adams, an honest-to-goodness historical figure in the early 1600s. While Adams may be real, the spiritual Yokai he’s determined to stop from invading the real world are not — well, arguably, depending on your belief system. In the most ‘inspired by’ of all, Adams bears a striking resemblance to The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia; even moreso than Nioh looks like Dark Souls.
Nioh’s first departure from the Dark Souls formula is with a chapter-based format rather than a sprawling open world. In each, Adams usually starts off in nothing more than his underwear or civilian attire; careful exploration and the dispatching of enemies helps to build armour, weaponry, and buff-providing accessories. Gear is plentiful – almost in abundance – based not only on rarity, but stats and buffs. You’ll regularly open the menu to find several of the same sword or longbow, only to scrutinise over damage stats. Extra gear can be sacrificed for perks at save points, and you’ll spend considerable time comparing items before deciding what can be discarded.
Combat is considerably different as well, theoretically requiring careful precision, though extended play means you’ll easily master shortcuts. Enemies felled by Adams drop yellow Amrita, used to level up in a variety of different aspects, each tailored to different fighting types. If Adams should perish in his quest, a grave will mark his last position, and travelling to it in your next life provides the chance to recoup losses. When fighting, Adams can block and dodge, use one of three fighting stances and an assortment of secondary ranged weapons; a well-placed headshot at range can turn a daunting 3v1 or 2v1 encounter into strong odds for Adams.
Exertion of any type uses stamina, known as Ki, but a technique known as the Ki Pulse helps regenerate it. It’s a matter of timing and rhythm to regain maximum energy, setting off a pulse at the right time when the most blue-white energy is still swirling around you. The fighting stances – high, medium and low – deplete your Ki in different ways, and half of the prompts to switch stances also trigger the Ki Pulse; everything’s tied together in a lovely, intricate dance. At least, that’s what Nioh would have you believe; in practice, I played it safe and stuck to a low stance – the one that uses the less Ki – while blocking, dodging and concentrating on Ki Pulses rather than being aggressive. Granted, there are enemies, including bosses, that exist solely to ruin that sense of rhythm, but learning their patterns is half the battle.
Ninja Gaiden’s influence is best shown with spiritual guides and their accompanying super moves. With enough energy built up, you can basically go Super Saiyan and destroy anything in your path. It’s great for bosses, thankfully, or even Yokai spirits and revenants, who prove too difficult to conquer otherwise. Collectibles, in the form of little green things called Kodama, are also great distractions from combat, offering different buffs.
There’s no denying Nioh is easier than Dark Souls – as evidenced by the fact that I could not only get to bosses, but beat them – and that’s okay. As someone who is constantly frustrated by Bloodborne and Souls, Nioh is, at the very least, accessible. Chapters mean there’s less risk and reward when exploring for new gear or paths, and with enough persistence, even the most novice of players can forge a path to a boss and then spend hours trying to best it. While veteran Souls players may find this somewhat Mickey Mouse, the differences between the franchises will still find enough to keep all players engaged. Nioh borrows – and quite liberally, at that — from a number of different franchises, but that combination makes it quite unique. The Dark Souls for those of us who hate Dark Souls, it’s certainly one to give a try. You won’t be an expert instantly, but you’ll certainly want to come back for more.
Nioh was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.