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Review: Nioh – Feudal Souls

Take Onimusha’s setting, add elements of Dark Souls, and sprinkle Team Ninja’s intense combat throughout and you get one of the slickest games.

Image: Forbes

If you’re familiar with Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, and well, pretty much every game Tecmo/Koei makes, you’ll immediately recognize that Nioh is loosely based on a real historical story. I don’t need to tell you that William runs into familiar faces such as Hittori Hanzo, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and other legendary Japanese figures because these are characters that are staples of their other franchises.

Nioh tells an interesting tale and characters are continually weaving in and out, but the gameplay is so damn good that you’ll be chomping at the bit to play more and you’ll probably skip the cutscenes just to get back into the action.

Speaking of the gameplay, Nioh is an absolutely incredible gaming experience. Combat is frantic, lightning fast, and requires a lot of strategies, instead of just hammering your way through with mindless button spam and overpowering your enemies with endless assaults. The stamina system in Nioh, called Ki, requires that you pay attention to not only how much Ki your abilities use, but that you also don’t stand in Yokai portals that drain your Ki.

Nioh’s brilliant resource management adds even more depth to the dodge-the-shit-out-of-things gameplay Souls fans are accustomed to. On top of managing your Ki, there are skills that allow you to perform a perfect dodge which helps refresh a bit of lost stamina, or you can add a Ki blast at the end of your combo to hopefully purify a Yokai portal you’re standing on. Add in the stance dancing of High/Mid/Low/Sheathed attacking and you’ve got a system so complex yet inviting that you’ll want to keep playing just to see what kind of crazy shit you can pull off.

Nioh’s dark and dangerous world is not only inhabited by warriors who are out to kill you for meddling in the affairs of the crown, but there are a plethora of demons called Yokai who have absolutely no problem smashing your dick into dust just to remind you that you aren’t welcome. It’s pretty exhilarating to break a crate just to have a giant fire wheel demon come flying at you, knock you down and set you on fire with the flaming trail that he leaves behind, and then knock you off a bridge with his flame breath because you didn’t get up and move quickly enough.

You’re gonna find yourself cursing Nioh because it’s brutal, but it never feels “unfair” – which is an issue the Dark Souls series has always struggled with. Nioh rewards the player for patience and learning not only the movements of their enemies, but learning their mannerisms so you know when to block versus when to dodge. Even the boss fights, which at first seem absolutely impossible, reward your patience by assessing both the enemy and the surroundings, learning their attacks, and devising a strategy to ultimately defeat them. Sure, you can cheese bosses by throwing a Sloth talisman on them, but playing without relying on the cheap crutch is the most rewarding way to experience Nioh (just don’t rage quit when you get stomped by Hino-Enma the first 20 times.)

Nioh is also the first title thus far that has justified my PS4 Pro. The game is gorgeous in 60 FPS action mode, and while it does look a little nicer in 30 FPS movie mode, Nioh rewards you for quick thinking and the difference between the two modes is being able to keep your balance and roll back onto a cliff when random bats try to push you off versus falling to your grizzly death.

Death is also a core part of Nioh, cause you’re gonna die a ridiculous amount of times. When you die, you’ll lose your Amrita (Nioh’s take on Souls) and your guardian spirit will mark your grave. This means that while you’re on a corpse run, you can’t use your Guardian Spirit or gain charge for your living weapon. It’s a somewhat severe penalty, but it’s far more forgiving than losing your humanity/embers from the Souls games. Difficulty ramps up as you get to the later sections of the game, but it always feels like a learning experience, keeping Nioh engaging and increasing the replay value.

I’m in the minority on this, but I really like Nioh’s mission-based level system. While exploring open worlds like Bloodborne were a lot of fun, Nioh’s more intricate combat system shines by not being overburdened by having to remember where you’ve been and backtracking in order to figure out where to go. Nioh’s loading times are also considerably improved from the alpha/beta demos, and while it’s a bit of a bummer to see recycled environments and assets, the game continually feels fresh as you explore even if at first glance you feel like you’ve “been there, done that”.

There’s also a ton of super cute little green dudes called Kodama that are scattered throughout the levels which when collected allow you to purchase blessings at the save shrines. You can opt for better item/weapon drops, increased elixir drops, or my personal favorite increased Amrita gains. As you collect more of these guys, the bonuses increase, but you have to collect them all over again once you progress to the next map section.

If gameplay alone isn’t enough to sell you on Nioh, don’t forget that there are a plethora of loot drops. It’s like Diablo up in here, where you’ll find drops that increase in rarity from common/uncommon/rare/one of a kind, and you can either choose to offer them to the shrine for small amounts of Amrita, sell them, or dismantle them for items in order to build your own gear. On top of that, you can change the rarity of the items you craft based on the materials you’ve collected or retrieved from breaking down items. It’s amazing how a little bit of extra depth really revitalizes the formula.

Overall, Nioh is definitely the first must-own PS4 exclusive of the year. I adored Bloodborne, and I really enjoyed all of the Souls games, but Nioh manages to scratch the itch that I didn’t even realize I had and truly raises the bar on this sub-genre. While there are things to nitpick, the sum of all parts greatly outweigh the flaws, and this game is about as close to perfect as it gets.

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Big-headed Blogger with a press pass. Jonathan is a former KnowTechie contributor.

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