‘Nioh’ video game review
By Lauren Kelly, Editor-in-Chief
Since people first saw Nioh’s gameplay, the comparisons to From Software’s Dark Souls series abounded. These comparisons have both helped and hindered Nioh in the two weeks since its launch. Considerable hype was built up on the back of this—who wouldn’t want to play Dark Souls set in Japan’s Sengoku period?
I’m a sucker for the Sengoku, or Warring States, period of Japanese history. It’s been the setting of Musou games such as Samurai Warriors and Sengoku Basara, turn-based strategy games like Nobunaga’s Ambition, and manga like Inuyasha. Using this setting for the game allows William, the player character, to interact with real people and historical events in interesting ways. William has the ability to see Yokai, or demons, and destroy them. This makes him a powerful tool during this time period, and he is used as such. For example, in one earlier mission William is sent to Honnō-ji, the temple where Oda Nobunaga was betrayed by Akechi Mitsuhide, one of his closest men, 20 years after the incident. There, William finds Nobunaga’s wife Nouhime turned into a yokai, driven mad by despair and unable to move on.
Nioh is an incredibly fun and challenging game. Like most RPGs, you choose your build. You can specialize in a melee-centric samurai build, with five weapons to choose from. There is a large ninja skill tree, complete with shuriken and kunai. Lastly, there is Onmyo magic, involving mostly buffs, debuffs, and projectiles with a focus on elements. All offer incredibly different experiences, evident in my axe and Onmyo build and my boyfriend’s dual sword ninja build having nothing in common. There is also a lot of depth in your build—everything in the game seems to affect your stats, from regular stat leveling, to prestige points, to equipment upgrades, to accessories, to skills, to the Kodama you can find in levels. It can be a bit overwhelming, and it does seem a little excessive at times. Unlike many recent RPGs of this sort, you do not get to create your character. William is a predefined character with his own motivations and appearance, giving his personal story more weight than if he was of our own creation.
The main comparisons to the Souls series come from Nioh’s gameplay, which features the same wait and react style of fighting, as well as the same punishing consequences for being too brash. Additionally, features such as the Shrines, the reliance on shortcuts in levels, and the soul—or amrita—leveling system, show just how much of the game was inspired by the other series. It does have its own unique takes on Souls elements, however. In Dark Souls, you could see a blood mark on the ground where another player had died in their own world, and interacting with it would let you watch how they died and learn from it. In Nioh, bloodstains are there, but instead you can interact with them to fight the player’s “revenant,” a unique form of PvP, and receive their equipment and Ochoko cups for winning.
The loot system in the game, I believe, is one of its larger downfalls. It shares much more in common with Diablo III than with any of the Souls games. Loot is randomly generated at one of four rarities—five in new game plus—with a wide variety of different stat increases, and an enemy can drop anywhere between nothing to five or six pieces of equipment upon dying. It can be exhausting always changing armor and weapons to get a small advantage, and the system makes even less sense with the game’s familiarity feature, which rewards players for sticking with one weapon for a certain length of time.
The other big weakness is the co-op system. As the developers didn’t want the game to be made too easy through co-op, they implemented more restrictions than the Souls series has. When you’re playing most missions, you can summon a visitor to help you by using an Ochoko Cup. However, the only way you can enter someone else’s world to help them with a mission is by already having beaten the mission. This means that most interactions are between someone trying to traverse the mission for the first time and someone who’s already beaten it and can just run them through to the boss. You can still technically play with friends, but with the limitation of one having to have already beaten the mission, you can’t play through the game together.
Although there are some fair criticisms of the game, it is still a great experience, if a frustrating one at times. If you haven’t played it yet but it’s caught your attention, try coming into it without any expectations. While it does draw from the Souls series, Nioh is its own game, and it has a lot to offer on its own merits. It deserves a chance to stand on its own.