Last night, I played about an hour’s worth of Team Ninja’s new feudal Japan title Nioh, and I have to say that, at first blush, I am impressed. I can already tell that this is going to be one of those games that I will play for hours on end, and not even notice the passage of time.
Since we first wrote about this game back in December, I’ve been chomping at the bit to play it. The little tidbits of information that were slowly being released only whetted my appetite for the story and the combat that I was sure I would encounter in this very detailed game.
The game revolves around a Japanese pirate protagonist who, as we learn at the start, was initially contracted by the queen of England to locate a mysterious substance called “Amrite”, which would theoretically give her country the edge in its war with Spain. However, our hero Thomas was captured, and the game begins with the player attempting to escape from the Tower of London.
So, without further ado, let’s examine this title.
We’re introduced to the story of this game via a cutscene – made to look like a moving oil painting – showing off a piece of Amrite with an image of a queen inside of it (presumable to foreshadow the hold that this substance has over those who seek it?). A deep-voiced man speaks in a clear tone, laying out the exposition, and setting a feel to the game that kept its hold on me for my entire time playing.
Getting into the game, I was immediately able to compare it to the Dark Souls games. The dank & dreary ambiance of the Tower of London lends a foreboding & claustrophobic feel to things, while a gorgeous score plays lightly in the background (seriously, the musical composers & sound editors for this game are brilliant). The game walks the player through a bit of the controls and the menus as you make your way down darkened stone hallways in an effort to escape your imprisonment. I’ll talk more about those aspects in a moment. There’s not really too much of a combat tutorial of which to speak, so gamers should really take a moment to examine the control set-up in the settings menu. I would also recommend making the game brightness a little stronger than you think you might need, and I’ll get into why momentarily.
First, let’s talk combat. As I mentioned earlier, this game is very much like Dark Souls, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its combat: one button launches a quick & light attack, another button performs a slower, albeit more high-powered attack, one button performs a block, and another allows Nioh to dodge incoming attacks. There is also a feature that is supposed to allow you to “lock on” to one enemy, but I struggled to get that to work. This became an issue as enemies would move out of frame before I was able to spin the camera to keep them in sight. I am hoping that a little more practice will fix that. Much like a JRPG, a numerical display of how much damage each attack inflicts will also flash up on the screen each time you strike an opponent with a weapon. When it comes to blocking and dodging, it’s important to note that each of these actions uses up a portion of their “Ki” (much like stamina). Once the Ki is depleted, Nioh becomes momentarily stunned and open to attack from enemies; and believe me, they hit harder than you might expect. Thankfully, healing items & weapons are not terribly rare. However, I can tell that the enemies this game throws at you will become far more unforgiving as the story progresses.
In looking at movement in the game, there are a few things of note. There is no map feature to speak of in this game, so it’s important to take note of everything around you, so that you don’t lose your way – especially in the very dark areas in the beginning of the game. Nioh also offers players the option to walk or sprint, and even move while blocking (which came in handy a few times in combat). The one issue I came across with this, is that the direction in which the player is facing when he begins blocking is the direction he’ll face throughout the entire block. If you want to face elsewhere, you essentially have to drop your guard in order to turn, and this can be costly if you do it at the wrong time.
Graphically, this game is very pretty. Even in a very dimly-lit game, little bits of light from torches & the glowing items you pick up along the way both add a nice touch to the damp & dreary weather scheme (is it ALWAYS raining?), and the textures are almost up to par with most PS4 games I’ve played. The movement lines when swinging a weapon or dodging also really give a good feeling of speed to the character, and help the player to denote just how far the movement is going. Like I said: very pretty.
There was one issue that I took with this game: the menu system. This system is unlike the vast majority of gaming menus I’ve encountered over my years of playing, and there is quite the learning curve when getting used to it. While the game does give players the ability to assign a quick selection to items, it was a bit of a chore to find out how to do that. Additionally, while multiple weapons can be carried at any given time, the way to get them situated so that I could switch on the fly between the two I was carrying became a little bit aggravating. As with most things in this game, however, I would hope that a bit of practice & progression will make these menus easier to navigate.
Final Thoughts / Pros & Cons:
Pros: Nioh has a fun combat system, and is beautifully rendered. The visual style that Team Ninja brings to the table in this title is a refreshing change from a lot of the sun-drenched or overly colorful games we’ve recently seen. The story is intriguing, and I can tell that I will be engrossed by it very soon. The in-game sound is stunning, and the score is beautifully composed. I may actually look out for this score as a download.
Cons: There’s not a lot of things about this game I would change at all. However, the one thing that I would’ve hoped Team Ninja spent a little more time on is the menu system. With the menus being fairly unique in comparison to other games of the genre, there’s a learning curve there that could’ve been better mitigated through the use of a more in-depth tutorial. Other than that, the only minor qualm I have is the lighting. The game is darker-lit than most would expect, making for some initial difficulty in traversal due to not being able to see what is in front of you. That’s an easier fix, though, as the brightness can be adjusted in the game settings.
Overall, Nioh feels like a fun game, which is going to have a great amount of challenge to it, without being incredibly punishing. I’m looking forward to progressing in the story, and seeing what other fun things the game has in store for me. I really recommend picking this one up for your PS4 (sorry, Xbox users, this one is an exclusive).
I’m giving this one a solid 4 Amrite stones out of 5.
Have you played Nioh? Let us know your thoughts on this game in the comments!