Nioh Review – Team Ninjas Triumphant Return
Nioh is a new IP from Sony and Team Ninja that tries to capture the essence of Dark Souls with the fluidity of Ninja Gaiden. Did the development team pull it off, or are you better off skipping this trip to Japan? Check out our Nioh review and make your choice.
You play as William, a sailor locked in the Tower of London for discovering a secret military project. He is broken out of the Tower with the help of his Amrita Spirit, Saoirse. This Spirit has been at William’s side since the death of his parents. While escaping the Tower, Saoirse is taken by the game’s antagonist, Edward Kelley. Kelley takes Saoirse because he wants to find Japan and acquire the Amrita there. Amrita is a magical golden stone that the Queen of England wants to use to help win the war against the Spanish. It is also used to level up your character. After Kelley goes to Japan, William follows and your journey into the demon-infested land begins.
Nioh is an action RPG, and the combat follows suit. You have a choice between one katana, dual katanas, spears, axes, hammers, and kusarigama, a chain and sickle-type weapon. Each weapon handles differently, and will change the way you fight. Someone with an axe will smash an enemy with a fierce combo, while a katana user might have to do a few quick hits before retreating. You can equip any weapon you want, but depending on your stats some weapons will work better than others. Thankfully, you gain access to most weapon types very early on, so you can experiment and find what you like before you spend your skill points. Even if you find out you don’t like something later on in the game, you can re-distribute points for very cheap early on.
Ki plays a vital role in combat as well. Ki is your stamina bar – without stamina, you cannot attack or dodge. What Nioh does differently from most other games is what is called the Ki Pulse. If you time it right, you can recover a good portion of your Ki by hitting R1. This is something that you will have to practice, but it quickly becomes second nature. Outside of restoring Ki, the Ki Pulse can also purify the ground from the Yokai realm. Yokai are demons that roam Japan, and make up the majority of the tougher enemies and bosses. Clearing out their realm will restore how fast your Ki recharges, which is crucial for some of the later boss fights.
Nioh plays in a mission format, as opposed to an interconnected world like Dark Souls. This may be a turn-off for some people, but it proved to be enjoyable. Most main missions will run you between 15-30 minutes, while sub missions run from 5-15 minutes. After you beat a level the first time, the second time you can fly through it much quicker just doing what needs to be done to complete the level. Nioh also supports cooperative play. You have the traditional “summon a friend” co-op and they will help you beat the level. There is also the Yokai Realm with a friend. In this realm, you and a buddy team up to complete a mission together, but you cannot refill your Elixirs at a Shrine like you could in the single player ,pde. Instead, you have a bar that lets you die a few times before you fail a mission. There is a downside to both these options. You cannot join someone until you complete the mission in your own world. You can still summon someone to your world if they have completed it, but you can’t join people until you do it yourself.
The loot system is something else that needs to be addressed. At first, it was overwhelming. When we got used to it and understood what we needed and didn’t need it becomes easier to understand. The game throws a ton of gear and items at you constantly. These can be sold, broken down for materials. or given to the Shrine for experience. Materials and cash can be used to craft and combine gear to make stronger gear. There are also sets, similar to ones found in Diablo or MMO titles. These sets will give you bonuses based upon how many pieces of the set you are wearing. Basically the more you wear, the bigger a bonus you get. When you beat the game, you unlock a new tier of gear known as Divine Gear. This is the beast type of gear you can find or craft, and it adds a whole new layer to the game after you beat it. Most of the new game plus mode will become about your forging new Divine Gear and upgrading your weapons and armor to +10. It is rare for us to be interested in such a mode, but this aspect motivated us to do another run through Nioh.
The game is kind of weird with what it does for audio. William and Kelley speak in English while the rest of the cast mostly use Japanese. It makes sense for the time period, but it is still a little jarring. At the start of the game, you get the option to play with a locked 30 frames per second or run it at a high-resolution on the base model PlayStation 4. Picking the locked frame rate still had some frame drops in the more intense battle areas, especially when there is a lot of fire and special effects. The game looks good, and it is pretty brutal. It is not uncommon to have limbs of your enemy fly off in various directions.
Nioh is one of those games people will be talking about all year. Bringing gripping combat, ghastly bosses, and an amazing gear system, Team Ninja hits a home run with Nioh.