“One of the best things about folklore and fairy tales is that the best fantasy is what you find around the corner, in this world. That’s where the old stuff came from.” – Terri Windling
Known for their splendid work on the Ninja Gaiden series, Team Ninja’s brand new IP, Nioh, is a hack-n-slash that puts the developer’s expertise to the test.
When entering the realm of hack-n-slash games, series such as Devil May Cry, Onimusha and Ninja Gaiden come to mind. Other series such as Dark Souls excel in the genre as well, but prefer to add a little more RPG elements. Looking at the picture from a far, it would have been an easy task for Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja to work on a new Ninja Gaiden game. However, Nioh was created as a PlayStation 4 exclusive that puts the genre and its roots in the hands of modern and very critical gamers.
Nioh puts you in control of one of the very first occidental samurai, William Adams. Brushed from London, the ex-pirate finds himself facing a Japan under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogun. The lands are ravaged by war and seemingly left for damned. The setting doesn’t reflect history per say, but rather offers players encounters with supernatural and folkloric creatures from Japanese culture, the Yokai. Additionally, players will face other fine samurai and warriors from various enemy factions. Love, honor and treason are three important themes explored in Nioh.
Now hack-n-slash are known for offering simplistic story elements; the focus lies almost entirely on gameplay. Is Nioh a victim of the same fate? Well, partially! Nioh features tons of ingredients potent for a good game of the genre, but most of them are delivered chaotically. The folkloric theme explored pays proper respect to Japanese culture – the traditional samurai and warrior sword combats are coherent to the era. However, the environment, a key aspect to consider, feels dull and has very little life to it. Also, the script itself offers clichés – it is introduced in a way that feels unrelated to the rest of the synopsis. Cinematics could have helped, but instead renders it a lot less coherent.
Although those elements feel somewhat neglected, the immersion is rendered easier while in the middle of the action.
As mentioned above, Nioh respects a lot of traditions. Not only is the gameplay properly featured, but the hack-n-slash genre as well. The Team Ninja title exclusive for PS4 needed to have a solid and intuitive gameplay mechanic, and the game doesn’t fail to deliver.
Nioh offers players a wide variety of weapons to choose from. From lances to swords, even swinging by axes and such, each one of them was crafted carefully with its own set of power, effects, weight rations and more. Basically, each weapon feels different and does different kind of stuff (including damage). Combat, however, isn’t limited to weapons, but also to movement. Just like how you must mind your surroundings in series such as Dark Soul, Nioh offers a similar mechanic where you must move around, dash in and out, and avoid enemy hits. The more you play, the more acute your attention to your environment, and enemy movements and hit boxes become.
Can you just spam your dashes and jump in when required? Unfortunately, you can’t! William Adams is a character with a stamina bar that drains relatively quickly. Each action you take will require stamina, so think ahead before carelessly using up your bar. You must also think tactical. For example, constantly attacking for the sake of doing so will drain your stamina down to the point where you won’t be able to avoid an enemy hit if it is about to land. You have the option to perform regular or power attacks. Naturally, the heavier the hit, the more stamina it will cost you. Over time, you will see you bar recover, so keep in mind that this isn’t a reason for you to completely drain it from the get go. Always keep a little bit of energy in case you find yourself in a critical spot.
The gameplay sounds repetitive at first. If you are the type to attack twice, dash out, jump in and repeat, the game will feel long and fights will be of little reward (personal satisfaction wise). However, enemies don’t share the same pattern and it is your job to read their movements and act accordingly. The more original your maneuvers, the more interesting a combat sequence becomes. Ultimately, this will lead to a rewarding kill or kills. It is all about rhythm. You have somewhat of an input as too how intense you want this to be. Mind that the game will force you out of your comfort zone!
As you play along, you will acquire new moves and ultimately personalize your combat style. For example, using the axe as a main weapon already feels way different from a sword or lance. “Stats on weapons don’t only affect the damage you will deal on an enemy, but also your movement’s behavior. If something is heavier, naturally, you will require a lot more stamina to use it effectively. Also note that your swing time can change as well.
During missions, the game will offer you loot whereas Nioh can use various materials acquired to craft more weapons and other type of equipment as well. Better and stronger items will require you to collect the rarest loot.
Speaking of missions, you are pretty much free to tackle them the way that fits your combat style best. That way, you can easily create a strategy that can benefit you most, all depending of the type of weapon you have, etc. Each mission offers something unique – the rhythm changes, the environment and the enemy also vary. Unique encounters mean that you, the player, can engage into an action-packed scene and completely immerse yourself in the game.
As aforementioned above, Nioh looks amazing and captures the Japanese folklore aesthetics with perfection. Additionally, combat is visually solid, look amazing, and adds an undeniable layer of immersion to the game. The only downside to the actual visuals is the dull scenery that feels being recycled throughout the entire game. However, it is noteworthy to mention that that alone isn’t enough to make you look down on the game.
With the arrival of the PS4 Pro, players have a lot more options in terms of resolution solution and image refresh rate. However, if you don’t have the Pro, you can still enjoy the Action and/or Movie settings. While the Action setting offers a fluid and stable refresh rate at the cost of slightly lowering the image quality and resolution, Movie focuses on a higher image quality at the cost of dropping the refresh rate. If you are looking for the best experience when using a classic PlayStation 4 console, Action will be your best overall solution.
Nioh isn’t all about combat and great visuals, the game is also backed by a solid audio integration. The special effects, especially during combat, and the musical score sound as satisfying as putting into place the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Unfortunately, the script and voice acting fails to live up to the rest of the audio in the game. It goes without say that your ears will focus a lot more on the special effects of the game rather than its storytelling content.
Nioh isn’t just a simple A to B linear game. It also offers a variety of interesting side quests. There are tons of those, enough to make you deviate from your original route. The good thing about having as much extra missions is that it adds a lot of content and ‘end game’ value to the title. Remember, the more missions you accomplish, the more loot you gain towards crafting rare and stronger gear.
Compared to the main quests of the game, the side missions are a lot less stressful and have a straight forward and simplistic goal. Once completed, you can take on the Twilight mode, whereas the missions are a lot more difficult – you even get special loot that can’t be obtained in easier mode. Nioh also offers a multiplayer mode where you can invite friends, or play online with strangers, in order defeat strong opponents such as Yokai’s blocking your path. The mode grants you currency that can be used towards acquiring new items, consumables and more.
Nioh offers players an interesting and challenging experience set in an era that captures the folkloric Japanese theme with perfection. Some of the past games from the genre failed to deliver a convincing gameplay or story. Nioh, however, is a fresh comeback to the hack-n-slash genre that offers both a heavy difficulty comparable to that of Dark Souls and the Ninja Gaiden series, while touching sensitive artistic and traditional themes – the immersion and competitive mechanics also play an important role in making Nioh what it is.
Hack-n-slash games are for me titles that are part of a genre in decline due to the lack of storytelling. By lack, I entail that they fail to engage me with their lore. Nioh, does a good job at attempting to make up for the past titles that couldn’t deliver. However, Nioh shines elsewhere! The gameplay is the game’s highlight and as a fan of RPG and hack-n-slash combat mechanics, I must admit that I was glad to see the final product. At first, it is easy to compare it to games like Dark Souls, but as you spend time with it, you realize that it is a completely different game and experience.
The loot system is an element I particularly enjoyed. Nioh offers a lot of loot and taking some time to do the extra missions will reward you with more. Eventually, you can use the loot you have acquired to craft incredible weapons. The best part of the game, in my opinion, lies in exploring the different type of weapons, moves and tactics. That said, the more weapons you craft using the loot, the more I could justify my appreciation towards the title’s combat mechanics.