'Nioh' Review: A New Take on the Souls Games
Team Ninja, the creators of the “Ninja Gaiden” series, have developed their own take on the “Souls-like” RPG with “Nioh.” Set in the warring states period of Japan, the story revolves around a stone called the Amrita which gives its wielder great spiritual abilities. In an attempt to gain such power, a malevolent alchemist steals the Spirit Guardian of the main protagonist, William, whom has had the ability to access the spirit world since childhood. Now he traverses through Japan, killing yokai, looting chests and creating spiritual alliances in pursuit of his friend. Although this PS4 exclusive has been compared to “Dark Souls” and “Bloodborne,” Team Ninja has infused their own unique flavor into this familiar game genre.
“Nioh” has its own version of a stamina bar, and it’s call “ki.” William also has three stances that can be used to differentiate combat style and strength. There are high, mid and low options and each provides a different set of attacks. There are enemies that require William to be in a certain stance to fight efficiently, or you risk wasting ki and leaving yourself open to a counter. Some ki can be regained with a well-timed button press which releases a “ki pulse” following an attack. But the enemies are not without their own tricks. When yokai are around they release a toxin that saps health and ki regeneration. Both require good timing and familiarity, so honing these skills early in the game is recommended if one hopes to succeed in defeating later bosses.
Another key tool within the game that shouldn’t be overlooked are the shrines. Since these are sacred, a shrine will not activate when enemies are around. When the surroundings are secured the option to pray appears, and allows William the option of refilling his health and magic. A big let down in this feature is that traveling between shrines is not possible, which was something players eventually unlocked in the Souls games. However, if enough exploration is done there is usually a shortcut doorway that leads back to the first or second shrine, eliminating the need to fast travel.
Every shrine has several options available, including leveling up, summoning co-op players and changing William’s “Guardian Spirit.” When defeating enemies William receives Amrita which is used to level up and every time one levels up, the required cost increases. When William dies, he leaves behind his Amrita where he fell, which can be retrieved. But “Nioh” brings a new twist to this retrieval mechanic. William’s Guardian Spirit stays where he died, protecting the Amrita. Without the Guardian Spirit the player cannot use their “Living Weapon” special ability. If the player decides to call back their guardian, they will lose the Amrita. So this leaves the player with an interesting choice: Manually retrieve their Amrita while underpowered, or automatically get their power back without the Amrita.
Throughout the maps there are adorable lost demons called Kodama who are supposed to protect the shrine. When they are found they return to the shrine and offer William their blessings, though only one blessing at a time can be applied. Be sure not to accidentally swing too close to the shrine, or risk scaring the tiny Kodama. If they are frightened they will vanish, disabling the use of your shrine for a brief moment.
The intense atmosphere with yokai enemies and questionable allies make this title an interesting challenge when exploring the Japanese-inspired fantasy land. “Nioh” has elements that resemble “Dark Souls” from it’s shrines to its stat system, but the immersive story and roller coaster difficulty make it a must play. That being said, Nioh is not nearly as difficult as Dark Souls, with smaller maps and easier, more logical boss fights and more welcoming NPCs. It’s a title worth the time, but maybe not so much the dollar. Give it a month or two to drop in price.