Console Review — Nioh

The com­par­isons be­tween Nioh and the Dark Souls se­ries (in­clud­ing Bloodborne) are in­evitable, so I’ll go ahead and get them out-of-the-way now: Nioh is ba­si­cal­ly Team Ninja mak­ing a Dark Souls game, and in the process, man­ag­ing to make the best god­damned ver­sion of a Souls game I have ever experienced.

Much like the Souls se­ries it clear­ly takes in­spi­ra­tion from, Nioh can be a chal­leng­ing game to over­come; but un­like the Souls games, the dif­fi­cul­ty nev­er spikes af­ter the de­feat of a boss (some­thing I no­ticed every sin­gle time I man­aged to beat a boss in any Souls ti­tle). Instead, it has a very grad­ual curve to the dif­fi­cul­ty. During my time play­ing Nioh, I nev­er had to grind out for hours just to pow­er lev­el my char­ac­ter to the point where I could bare­ly de­feat the next boss. In fact, grind­ing might as well be a thing of the past when you com­bine how much ex­pe­ri­ence (or Amrita, as it is re­ferred to in-game) you re­ceive from de­feat­ing hu­man and Yokai (de­mon) en­e­mies and a tac­ti­cal approach.

One of the (many) key dif­fer­ences be­tween Nioh and Souls games are the things that Nioh brings to the ta­ble that I did­n’t even know I de­sired in a Souls-like game be­fore. Different weapon stances that of­fer va­ri­ety in at­tack speed and at­tack dam­age? Yes please. The abil­i­ty to have cer­tain con­sum­ables (cu­ra­tives, pro­jec­tiles, mag­i­cal items that im­bue your weapon with ad­di­tion­al el­e­men­tal dam­age) re­fill each time I vis­it my save point? Sign me up! The four main weapon types avail­able to you in-game each have a va­ri­ety of skills you can learn to make your­self bet­ter in com­bat? Mmm-hmm. The abil­i­ty from the god­damned get-go to sac­ri­fice weapons, ar­mor, and con­sum­able items not cur­rent­ly equipped to my char­ac­ter in ex­change for Amrita (and ad­di­tion­al­ly, in some cas­es, cu­ra­tive items that I will ac­tu­al­ly use)? Aw yis. Being able to re­gain a cer­tain amount of sta­mi­na af­ter a suc­cess­ful at­tack by per­form­ing a dodge move, there­by al­low­ing you to keep the as­sault go­ing? HNNNNNG. The sim­ple fact that your cur­ren­cy for buy­ing things and up­grad­ing your char­ac­ter aren’t the fuck­ing same thing? OH LAWD JESUS! These are just a few ex­am­ples of the “qual­i­ty of life” changes that Nioh makes to the Souls for­mu­la to make it feel like a new and ex­cit­ing type of game, while still al­low­ing hard­core Souls fans, like my­self, to scratch that Souls itch af­ter beat­ing the rest of the se­ries of games.

Speaking of those “qual­i­ty of life” changes I men­tioned, I do think my fa­vorite el­e­ment of Nioh, aside from the dif­fer­ent types of weapon­ry one can use (and the dif­fer­ent tac­ti­cal ad­van­tages that each weapon of­fers the play­er), is the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the stance system.

In Nioh, there are 4 ba­sic at­tack stances avail­able: High, Medium, Low, and Sheathed. The “High” stance fa­vors pow­er above all else, al­low­ing you to do in­sane amounts of dam­age at the cost of us­ing up a bit of sta­mi­na and screw­ing ma­neu­ver­abil­i­ty, leav­ing you wide open for counter at­tack should you miss your strike. The “Low” stance great­ly fa­vors speed and ma­neu­ver­abil­i­ty, al­low­ing you to throw out a bunch of low dam­age strikes at the op­po­nent that use a very small amount of sta­mi­na in the process. It also al­lows you to use your “Ki Pulse” abil­i­ty (which lets you re­gain lost sta­mi­na in an in­stant) while block­ing, some­thing that oth­er stances do not al­low for. The “Medium” stance is a mid­dle ground be­tween the High and Low stances, al­low­ing for mod­er­ate dam­age and ma­neu­ver­abil­i­ty, and is a pret­ty good start­ing point for new play­ers. Lastly, the “Sheathed” stance is most­ly only em­ployed for very spe­cif­ic skills as­so­ci­at­ed with each of the weapons you can use.

On the top­ic of weapons in Nioh, there are five melee weapon types (as well as three types of ranged weapon­ry) the play­er has avail­able to them. Each of these weapon types of­fers a dif­fer­ent style of com­bat to the play­er. For ex­am­ple, the kusariga­ma (more or less a chain sick­le with a weight on the end), al­lows for ef­fec­tive long-range and short-range com­bat (in­clud­ing be­ing able to pull en­e­mies to­wards the play­er – or fling­ing the play­er to­wards the en­e­my if they are a de­mon or heav­i­ly ar­mored hu­man), at the cost of not be­ing quite as pow­er­ful as the axes or two-handed swords. Even bet­ter, un­like the Souls se­ries, which would great­ly lim­it what weapon types you could use based on your stats, Nioh does not place such lim­its – al­low­ing the play­er to, in a sin­gle play through, try out all five dif­fer­ent weapon types and fig­ure out which best suits their play style. In ad­di­tion, as you use your melee weapon­ry, you gain what are known as “Samurai Skill Points”, which can be used to un­lock var­i­ous skills to bol­ster com­bat. Better still, the skill points are not locked to a spe­cif­ic weapon type, so you could be gain­ing skill points with a two-handed sword, but use the points to un­lock skills for the kusariga­ma or axe.

In ad­di­tion to the var­i­ous weapon types that Nioh of­fers, it also has Ninjitsu which of­fers the play­er var­i­ous pro­jec­tile weapons or sta­tus ef­fect cu­ra­tives to equip, and Onmyo which are mag­ic tal­is­mans that can be equipped to ap­ply mag­i­cal ef­fects to weapons, or that can be used on en­e­mies to make them more sus­cep­ti­ble to cer­tain types of at­tacks or re­duce var­i­ous stats. The one draw­back of Ninjitsu and Onmyo is that, un­like the samu­rai skill points that are grant­ed through us­age of melee weapons, the points giv­en to the play­er to un­lock things for these two are only avail­able if you lev­el up the at­trib­ut­es as­so­ci­at­ed with them (Dexterity for Ninjitsu and Magic for Onmyo).

Taking yet an­oth­er page out of the Dark Souls book, Nioh also of­fers the abil­i­ty to up­grade weapons and ar­mor through the uti­liza­tion of a black­smith sys­tem, but un­like the very sim­plis­tic sys­tem giv­en to the play­er in the Souls se­ries, Nioh has a very in-depth ap­proach. In ad­di­tion to be­ing able to up­grade a weapon by com­bin­ing it with oth­er weapons/armor, the play­er is giv­en the abil­i­ty to forge their own weapons and ar­mor (so long as they have en­coun­tered said weapons and ar­mor out in the wild be­fore­hand), as well as re­forg­ing a weapon to up­grade or change the pas­sive bonus­es the weapon/armor has. The play­er also has the abil­i­ty to forge “tools”, which will al­low you to forge bet­ter weapons/armor with bet­ter base bonus­es. As you ac­quire or forge high­er lev­el tools, you can also forge even more pow­er­ful weapons/armor.

And that’s not all, as you can up­grade them by us­ing what is known as “Soul Match”, which al­lows you to im­prove the dam­age, in the case of weapons, and de­fense in the case of Armor, at the price of sac­ri­fic­ing an­oth­er. You can also use a sys­tem known as “Reforge” to change the “Special Effects” that each of your weapons/armor have, at the cost of items known as “Spirit Iron” and a bit of gold per ef­fect you wish to change. Granted, you do not have much choice in what new “Special Effects” your weapon/armor will re­ceive, but if you’ve got a spe­cial ef­fect that im­proves a spe­cif­ic type of at­tack by 10%, but you don’t use that type of at­tack, it’s nice to be able to erase that from a weapon and re­place with some­thing you might ac­tu­al­ly use, than hav­ing to switch to an­oth­er weapon entirely.

And last­ly, you have the “Refashion” sys­tem which, as the name may im­ply, al­lows you to re­fash­ion the way your weapons or ar­mor look for a price. I hap­pen to be one of those types of peo­ple who like my ar­mor to not look like a mish­mash of ran­dom­ized bull­shit, so be­ing able to make all the new and fan­cy ar­mor I ac­quire look like they be­long to the same set sat­is­fies my great lev­els of autism.

Another thing that I great­ly ap­pre­ci­ate Nioh for is do­ing away with the “open world” na­ture of the Souls se­ries in fa­vor of a mis­sion based sys­tem ala the Tenchu se­ries. Every time you com­plete a mis­sion (usu­al­ly by killing a Yokai boss mon­ster if do­ing a main mis­sion or killing a hu­man boss in the side/twilight mis­sions) you are brought back to a main map screen where you can choose to re­turn to your “Starting Point”(which hap­pens to be the only place where you can use the black­smith ser­vice), or pick an­oth­er mis­sion on the map to tack­le. The map it­self is fair­ly large, tak­ing the play­er all over what is sup­posed to be 17th cen­tu­ry Japan with the var­i­ous lo­ca­tions hav­ing a mul­ti­tude of mis­sions for the play­er to mess around with. I find this sys­tem does away with one of the biggest is­sues I’ve al­ways had with the Souls se­ries as a whole, as it of­ten felt like I was spend­ing far too much time walking/running from place to place, rather than ac­tive­ly en­gag­ing with what I was sup­posed to be do­ing to progress the sto­ry at that mo­ment. While some might find this change some­what irk­some, I hap­pen to find it a rather wel­come change to the for­mu­la al­low­ing for bet­ter over all bal­anc­ing of missions.

Now, you might be think­ing “Mulatto, this is all fine and dandy, but what about muh story?”(I can al­most guar­an­tee that none of you are think­ing that be­cause play­ing a Souls-like game for the sto­ry is like watch­ing hen­tai for the plot). The sto­ry is su­perb. Granted, its not Oscar-worthy writ­ing or any­thing, but the sto­ry it­self is ser­vice­able enough and does­n’t leave me with too much to com­plain about. The biggest strength of the sto­ry it­self is just how it is giv­en to the play­er. Unlike the Souls se­ries, where the sit­u­a­tion is that there is a sto­ry, but you got­ta ac­tive­ly go look­ing for it if you want to find it and ex­pe­ri­ence it, Nioh plays like a more tra­di­tion­al Team Ninja game. There are cut scenes giv­en to you at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals that give all sorts of ex­po­si­tion and con­text to every­thing you are do­ing, whom you are do­ing it for, and most im­por­tant­ly why you are do­ing it. Don’t get me wrong, the Souls se­ries’ ap­proach to sto­ry­telling is one that I can def­i­nite­ly ap­pre­ci­ate for the nov­el­ty, but I will open­ly ad­mit that ac­tive­ly know­ing the ins and outs of the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind my char­ac­ter do­ing all the things is in­fi­nite­ly more en­gag­ing than “go out and kill all the boss­es be­cause ig­nite the flames or some shit”, and be­ing the ut­ter weeb that I am, it was in­ter­est­ing to see his­tor­i­cal fig­ures of Japan (such as Hattori Hanzo, Kuroda Nagamasa, and Tachibana Ginchiyo) de­pict­ed in this fan­tas­ti­cal ver­sion of the Land of the Rising Sun.

All in all, Nioh is a phe­nom­e­nal ti­tle that will scratch that itch many have had for a new Souls game and should FromSoft de­cide to make an­oth­er Dark Souls, or a se­quel to Bloodborne, I would not at all be sur­prised to see some of the el­e­ments of Nioh ap­pear in that fu­ture title.

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Furious Mulatto

The un­for­tu­nate re­sult of in­ter­ra­cial breed­ing and co­pi­ous amounts of men­tal ill­ness. When he can be calmed from his hal­frican rages, The Furious Mulatto is still an ob­nox­ious cunt that makes you wish late term abor­tions were legal.

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