Following the release of Bloodborne, I remember a conversation I had with one of my close friends. We were taking about Dark Souls and the possibilities of where FromSoftware could take the franchise in the future. One thing we both definitely agreed on was that a dark, feudal Japan-type game with enemies drawn from Japanese folklore would be amazing in a Dark Souls-style framework. We thought FromSoftware’s style would fit perfectly with this setting, and to be honest, we weren’t wrong. Turns out that game is called Nioh; it isn’t made by FromSoftware, but DAMN is it good.
Kicking boss arse
Nioh is a hardcore hack and slash game, and if you’re a Dark Souls veteran you’ll find yourself employing the same tactics you’ve acquired from the Souls series to begin with in this game; everything feels very familiar. However, Koei Tecmo have added the ability to switch stances during combat by holding the R1 button and then selecting either Triangle(High), Square (Mid) or X (Low).
These stances affect your stamina bar, known as Ki in this game, and managing your stamina is just as important as in Dark Souls, if not more. Using a High stance will drain your Ki quickly but deal more damage with each blow, while as you may expect, a low stance does less damage while draining less Ki. Careless use of Ki can completely drain your meter and expose yourself to attack, stunning you until a portion of the meter is restored and making you an easy target in the process.
You will also acquire gear that have various boosts that benefit different play styles and stances, such as reduced Ki consumption or increased recovery. You have a primary and secondary weapon, so keeping multiple versions of the same piece of gear might come in handy later on. Any worthless gear can be exchanged at your “Shrine” for “Amrita” – this game’s versions of a bonfire and souls. Speaking of gear, this loot system has a little bit of a Destiny/Diablo feel to it in how much actually drops from enemies, and the fact you end up looking for particular ‘rolls’. The loot drop rate is fairly frequent and it always feels like you’re progressing, not to mention the weapons are awesome and really have some nice flair to them once you start getting to the rarer pieces.
Levelling up is basically the same as it is in the Souls games, yet you also have a skill tree that includes weapons, ninja skills and magic. These include weapon buffs, grapples, parries and extra moves that’ll expand your bag of tricks. What I found to be a useful addition was the ability to customise weapon combos for that extra level of tactical versatility.
If you die, you leave behind your acquired XP or “Amrita” much like in the Souls games. Upon returning to the place of your demise you’ll be greeted by your chosen spirit animal circling your Amrita. These animals aren’t just for show however, they can range from a fox to even a shark and all provide passive buffs for your character (including a little move I’ll let you guys discover for yourselves). You can change your preferred animal at your shrine, and it looks as if you unlock more through progression in the game. These animals add another layer of options for you to explore, and can help you decide what kind of build you want to go for in future.
In Nioh, instead of viewing how another player died at their bloodstain, you’ll actually be able to summon that specific player’s gear and loadout in the form of an NPC that you must defeat, and doing so will drop extra XP and gear. Be wary though, as these enemies can be tough as they vary in level.
The AI in this game is quite competent and challenging, they definitely captured the Dark Souls difficulty, and I found myself treating each battle like a duel between two wandering samurai, where one wrong move could be your end. The boss encounter at the end is claustrophobic and stressful, just how it should be, and when I finally brought him down I got that same sense of accomplishment that Souls players know all too well. Following this you’re transported to a new area, and you get a glimpse of how progression will work in this game. It won’t be one, open world like Dark Souls, but rather multiple sandbox-style missions that you select from a world map. While slightly disappointed with this at first, it didn’t bother me that much and might even please some people who dislike the monotony of traversing the Souls’ worlds.
Overall this game excels at bringing a Dark Souls feel to a world based around Japanese mythology and culture, and the introduction of stances and skills really inject that flavour my friend and I were talking about. While it doesn’t currently seem to include a character creator at this point, and is based on a mission structure rather than an open world, these things are hardly a detraction from just how solid this game is.
When you have a franchise like Dark Souls to measure your game against, it can be hard to carve out your own place in the market, but Koei Tecmo appear to have done that with Nioh. The blend of stance gameplay and twists on the Dark Souls formula pay off in this challenging new IP, and that was just the demo. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of other surprises in store upon release, which is slated for some time in 2016. This game is definitely one to keep on your radar and might just prove to be 2016’s sleeper hit.