When you review games, you always wonder what will be your experience with this new world. After all, every game is a whole new experience if the developers have done their job properly. I had no idea what was in store for me when I became William Adams and ventured into 1600’s Japan to do battle with demonic forces known as Yokai against the backdrop of the Sengoku Period in Nioh. For those who may not know the Sengoku Period was a time in Japanese history when there was massive social upheaval, political intrigue and near-constant military conflict. What the gang at Team Ninja has done is to inject a dark fantasy element into this turbulent time in Japanese history.
The world of Nioh is foreboding, and brimming with terrifying Japanese monsters and each one is unique and attention-grabbing. Not only that, there are guardian spirits that lead William across Japan as well as empowering him with various abilities.
With such a fascinating backdrop I hoped that the story of Nioh would be equally intriguing. Unfortunately, the story and characters never seem to capitalise on the potential laid out by the developers. The main reason I felt this happened was due to the core of Nioh; the gameplay is a combination of several famous video game franchises. These include the much loved Onimusha, Ninja Gaiden and the Dark Souls series and not only that but I feel like there is a sprinkling of The Witcher as well.
All these themes are vying for your attention and trying to give you a unique experience, and at times it doesn’t work. Nioh feels like a complete rip-off of Dark Souls with the demonic element of Onimusha trying to add some semblance of originality. So as you deal death to the Yokai, you are given various weapons to wield, armours to don, and supernatural abilities to unleash. Much like in Dark Souls you customise your weaponry, fighting style and abilities to match your flavour. As you struggle in these intense battles, you will need to make sure you have a weapon that feels natural to you because the battles are intense and the cost of failure is high.
Let me set the scene, you’re fighting a Yokai or an antagonistic human, and you are defeated when you fall in battle your guardian spirit then rests by your corpse with all the souls, or Amrita as they are called in Nioh, you’ve collected from defeating enemies. You have to make it back to your guardian spirit to get all that experience back, and if you should die before you reach them, you lose all those Amrita. This means that you can’t use them to level up your various stats that allow you to wield your weapons better and combat the menaces of Japan. It’s a punishing system, and it was infuriating as I’m not used to this particular system of gameplay. Strangely though I kept coming back trying to beat that boss that barely survived or make sure that I’m not swarmed by five bandits because just like in Dark Souls you must learn not to bite off more than you can chew. I now understand why gamers are so passionate about this genre of gaming and that’s what kept me coming back for more.
Another element I had a lot of fun with was the online angle, bringing in players from another game to help you demolish a level and all the enemies in it. If there were an issue with this, it would be that it makes Nioh incredibly easy. When another player joined my game I flew through the final part of the level; the difficulty went from something challenging to easy as pie within seconds of the new ally showing up. It’s something that needs to be balanced going forward.
What I experienced with Nioh was a new understanding and appreciation for this genre of gaming. I loved the designs of the characters, creatures and the world. I only wish that Nioh tried harder in certain aspects. It needs to be polished to truly shine because as of right now Nioh is a fun but flawed gaming experience. There are other titles out there that are doing what Nioh is doing but doing it better.