Chances are, you’ve already seen the comparisons made between Nioh and a variety of similar, action-heavy games, the most prominent of which is From Software’s Souls franchise. These are games known and loved for their punishing combat and unpredictable environments, and though I haven’t spent that much time exploring those games, it’s clear to see where Ninja Team has drawn some of its inspiration.
This relates mainly to the way in which Nioh structures itself, by resetting the game world whenever players stop to rest at one of its numerous checkpoints. These similarities extend into player progression as well as the game’s battle mechanics.
There’s a risk/reward dynamic at play as you swing, slice, and stab, each blow eating away at your stamina. Go in too hard and, sure enough, you’ll be left exposed to a vicious counterattack, and it’s easy to overextend yourself. It takes patience to learn to gauging opponents in one-on-one melee combat, though Nioh will occasionally stage an ambush, forcing frantic bouts of swordplay that tear you out of your comfort zone.
Other weapon types exist beyond swords, including spears, hammers, and axes, each with its own unique moveset and list of variations. Through gaining points and levelling up, players can unlock advanced combos suited to a range of combat scenarios.
Stances help to add an extra layer of diversity too. Any weapon can be held in a low, medium, or high stance, changing the speed, power, and range of each strike. For example, the high pose will enable a sluggish but brutal overhead blow. Ninja magics and secondary weapons like caltrops, shuriken, and the bow can also be employed for a more diverse approach to combat.
Dave also spent some time with the Nioh alpha demo, which ran from April 26th until May 5th, sharing his own thoughts on the game so far:
Some have compared Nioh to Dark Souls, others have compared it to Onimusha, but I’d say it’s a different beast. It certainly borrows elements that work from the Souls games, with shrines acting as bonfires do, but it also has its own intricacies such as the positioning for your weapon. This to me is what makes the game stand out, as you have to think about the kind of combat style your opponent is using. Skills for weapon types also play a huge part in character progression and there is certainly scope for this being fleshed out.
I’m also thoroughly impressed with just how much Japanese culture they’ve managed to cram into a tiny slice of the gameplay. Oni, Yokai, and Kodama are all present within this feudal Japanese setting. With a fishing village under siege by brigands under the control of an Oni and a mansion where guards are protecting a Yokai beast, there is hope that we’ll see much more of the mythological element of Japanese culture.
However, I wasn’t exactly blown away with its performance, even though there is a performance setting in the options menu to sacrifice graphical fidelity and resolution to improve frame rates. This is a fantastic idea, but I did notice some significant slowdown in the frame rates, making reaction times somewhat short. If they can tweak the performance to get the most out of the hardware, then this will fully justify having the option to alter performance and might even begin a much-needed trend in games that rely heavily on reaction times.
Nioh’s sudden spike in popularity shows that Team Ninja has struck the right chord with gamers. Although it borrows heavily from several of its contemporaries, the end result is refreshing and with a lot of potential to carve its own niche. Compared to the developer’s recent fumbles with the Ninja Gaiden franchise, Nioh marks a much-needed change of course the studio.
Publisher Tecmo Koei has yet to confirm a solid release date for the title, though it’s expected to launch at point this year. So far, it has only been confirmed for PlayStation 4 with no talk of an Xbox One or PC version in the works.