The story takes place in Japan, beginning in the late 16th century and carrying over into the first year of the 17th century. From what the cinematics try to explain, briefly in the beginning, is that there is a substance called amrita that can be harvested and used to attain great power, and becomes more prevalent during times of war and discord, particularly found in Japan. The power itself is never fully explained but I just rolled with it, thinking I would learn more as the story progressed. Our hero, William Adams, is an Irish born sailor and privateer, a naval soldier of sorts, hired by Queen Elizabeth the first to track and find this amrita. It turns out William has a unique ability to sense this substance in its crystalized form, and was contracted to find it in order to prepare England for the arrival of the Spanish Armada. It is revealed that William was guided by a spirit guardian called Saoirse, and she acts as a compass for him when they take to the seas.(“I need more toilet paper…”)
William is imprisoned, but kept alive because he knows the secret of amrita; he later breaks out and escapes, but is confronted by Edward Kelly, an alchemist, and someone that is also interested in gathering amrita and looks like some emo, punk, anime villain. Edward steals Saoirse away in order to carry out his plan of finding the amrita in war-torn Japan. William manages to escape, but just barely, and is determined to get his spirit back. He follows the trail of Edward, sailing through the rough seas for two years until he eventually finds the shores to the land in which he will embrace his destiny. With me so far? Sweet, because this is where the story will take a back seat.(He just looks like a goth asshole screaming about some satanic shit.)
The story is told mainly through short cinematics and some very crafty illustrations supported by some character narration. If I’m to be honest, I never really cared for the story, for it veered off so often I would usually forget why William even bothered with this trip. William meets many notable non-fictional characters from the times of feudal Japan and some make promises to help with his personal mission, but not unless he does everything for them first. After a century of fighting the balance between good and bad has been disrupted, and with the amrita being a conduit of spiritual power, it has manifested the dark spirits in the physical world, affecting everything around them and has thinned the veil between the living world and the Yokai (demon) realm.(“William, another settlement needs our help.”)
William agrees to help slay these creatures in return for help in stopping Edward. You know, the whole the enemy of my enemy is my best buddy, friend and guy. It seems a very one-sided deal as William spends more time fighting and killing these demonic entities than actually searching for Edward, and the lords of Japan seem to be too concerned with fighting their rivals than helping William. Everyone pulls a Preston Garvey and sends you to another village in need of help. The way in which the story is told doesn’t draw me in very much. In between missions and boss encounters the story just goes right back to a cinematic of the feudal lords discussing their next moves in the war, as if it tries to feed me more details about Japan’s history, in an attempt to tie it in with the evil of Edward the Englishman. He meets these heroes, and after one cinematic conversation, and a duel, becomes a best buddy, friend and guy to them.
It reminds me of another game that is dark, and has souls and shit in it, but it actually made me think of Onimusha, a classic series that began in the PS1 days. It has a similar vibe, running around levels, fighting humans and monsters with a variety of weapons in Japan. Nioh is played in levels dotted throughout a world map split into regions. Each region will let you select the available main, or side, missions in the locations that they take place. Once you select a mission, you’re given some background on what it’s about, and who the mission vendor is, as well as a list of attainable loot that acts as a reward upon completion. Of course, you can find other nice goodies within the levels themselves, and the best bit about it all is that it is mostly randomly generated, so you won’t always get the same crap over and over again. Each mission can be repeated as often as you like, and you can return to already visited areas to kick the shit out of that one guy that gave you trouble.(Travel by map, it gets you there quicker.)
After agreeing to a mission, you are transported to that location with a small compass in the corner of the screen giving a slight hint as to the direction you need to go. The level you are in can be of different sizes, typically quite big, with multiple paths and secrets to be found, some of them even reconnecting after find a way to open a door that was earlier locked, and so on. You can run around these levels as long as you like, only finishing when you reach the destination where you will usually have to find a boss. Each level is filled with enemies in fixed locations, ranging from human soldiers, to floating demonic heads, to giant monstrosities and even disgruntled skeletons.(“Come get some rattly bones!”)
There is such a nice variety, that each act differently to one another that help make it challenging when faced with more than one kind of enemy, but also from a visual standpoint, where you won’t have to see the shit every time. It’s also a nice insight to Japanese folklore, because these demons take the shape of those borne from Japanese superstition, such as the Kappa and the Tengu. After coming across an enemy for the first time there is a bestiary that is updated, allowing us to view the creature and providing a short description. The more you kill, the more info that will be available.
The fighting is exemplary, disguised as just a standard hack-and-slash with a light/heavy attack mix and blocking/dodging, but there is a lot more depth to it. There are three stances, acting as the foundation, and skills that can be selected with button prompts (L1 + Square). The stances are the typical high, medium and low, each with their strengths and weaknesses, but interchangeable. Your Ki acts as your stamina, and much more. Every action besides walking will use up some of your Ki, but there is a chance to recover what has been lost using a Ki pulse. Pressing R1 at just the right time will cause a flash and give back the Ki used. The amount you receive is determined by the timing. Switching stances to deal with different situations is crucial, and learning the patterns of your enemy will help you decide the best strategies.
(I know this one-eyed wanker all too well.)
Whenever you kill an enemy, find an item, or use an item known as a spirit/soul stone, you will gain amrita, which acts as experience. With amrita, you can level up your stats when you visit of the shrines located in the region map, or dotted throughout the mission levels. The shrines act like checkpoints, refilling your health and recovering used items, but they also respawn fallen enemies, which paves the way for farming.(“Oh thank Christ! A Shrine!”)
Your stats are also tied to the weapons you use, with some stats offering additional boosts to the base damage of each weapon. You can choose to use a katana, dual katana/wakizashi, spear, axe and kusarigama. With the Season Pass or complete edition, you will also have the odachi and tonfa. The weapons have a familiarity bar which fills up the more you use it, making it more valuable when trading, but improving its base damage. Each piece of armour or weapon will belong to a tiered rarity represented by a colour (yellow = uncommon, blue = rare etc). Having a greater rarity will come with better buffs and base damage/defence, so it’s worth swapping gear around. The higher the rarity, the larger the familiarity bar is.
Each weapon type has a skill tree where you can spend points to expand combos, add special moves or passive abilities, and further your capabilities with each weapon. There are also multiple armour sets that can be equipped, with different stats, and many different looks. Each weapon and armour piece is leveled so, you might find yourself looking like a fashion disaster but you will have the best gear. The combat is visually gratifying, with fluid animations and plenty of gory ends to your enemies, with heads and limbs coming off in a gruelling fashion. When your Ki is reduced to nothing, or the enemy’s, an attack will put them in a vulnerable position whilst they recover, and the same applies to you, with a chance to deliver a lot of damage with an impaling move.
The gameplay can be very difficult, because it is easy to lower your guard and get caught in the enemy’s onslaught. One simple misstep is all it takes to find your health plummeting to near zero. Having patience and a good understanding of the location of your enemies, their numbers, and the way they attack will save you a lot of trouble, especially as the difficulty increases in line with story progression. Boss fights are on an entirely different level, and the difference in stats can be significant. I have never felt more despair than I have with Nioh, and I have completed Sekiro and the Dark Souls trilogy more than once each.(Oh Fuck You!)
Nioh just feels different, and the punishment for getting carried away is beyond severe, bordering on unfair. The first boss was probably my most hated, and when I fought the same creature later in the game, as a boss in a side mission, he was even deadlier. My level far exceeded the mission level, so I was much stronger than the minimum requirement, and my gear matched that, but I was still murdered in one hit. I can’t tell you how many windows I smashed that day when I yelled to the heavens, prompting every dog within a mile radius to start howling and barking, but I never felt as relieved when I finally killed the fucker and paraded around my living room boasting like I didn’t die 30-40 times in a row, slowly getting better. Getting out alive somehow made me a lot better. I was less afraid about engaging with a large and scary looking bastard, and began to understand better what style works best in different scenarios.(Who’s that Pokémon?)
Remember that guardian spirit that was stolen from you? Probably not, because William usually seems to forget. You begin by selecting a new one, with a choice of 3, a lot like selecting your first Pokémon, and each spirit has an associated element. Your guardian spirit provides passive boosts to certain stats, but can also be summoned and bonded with your weapon, making you into a much tougher opponent and letting you use elemental attacks, as well as a special attack from the guardian itself. Your chosen guardian spirit should complement your build, and not all of them have strong combat buffs, but they can be difference between winning and losing. Any time you visit a shrine you can change your spirit, and by improving your spirit stat you also improve the buffs given to you.(“Fuck him up Jaw-shua!”)
Nioh won’t win any awards in a beauty contest, with graphics that are average at best and that is so dark the brightness level needs to be turned up. It can be ignored, but the detail in William and the enemies can be difficult to focus on without zooming in as much as you can, and making out the finer features of your enemies isn’t easy when they are trying to kill you. The lighting is also a problem whenever you need to watch your step, with some areas having traps or pits, making it dangerous to walk around without taking special care. Having said that, the levels do look amazing, and while possibly an inconvenience the darkness helps to create an intense atmosphere, it sets such a great mood, keeping things tense and myself alert.
The level design itself is very interesting, offering plenty of chances to just wander a little and explore, with a variety of backgrounds and settings it doesn’t feel like you’re visiting the same place over and over again. Unless, you want to that is. The enemies themselves do look very cool, with fantastic designs that make them look horrifying and formidable, with the most lethal sometimes being the smallest.(Bastard!)
There is a small multiplayer element, for both PvE and PvP. You will usually get an item called an ochoko cup, which can be offered at a shrine to invoke a visitor, a player searching for a game to join, on a mission that has been completed. This golden saviour can help you fight off all the bad guys until one of you dies or you complete the mission. If your comrade dies you can go back to the assembly line and order another one.(“Let’s try this shit again!”)
You can also choose to join a game and help some poor bugger out if he’s having trouble making it through to the end. If you want to just test your skills then you can choose to do battle instead, fighting against another player. There is a pseudo-PvP option within each mission. Finding a grave site where a player has died will prompt you to summon their revenant, with the same gear and stats as the deceased player, controlled by the AI so that you can send it back to the grave again, but not without taking whatever loot it drops. Consider it grave robbing with extra steps.(“We’re gonna keep going until we get it right GREG!”)
There is no doubt that Nioh is difficult, bordering on insane at times, but it’s still a challenge. I can’t divulge everything, as there is so much more to discover just by playing, but you will be using the internet to figure a lot of the mechanics out, and what half of the stats even do. There is a lot to manage between levelling up stats, clearing the inventory, setting up your build, choosing the right gear and spirit, swapping stuff and upgrading things. It can be a bit much sometimes. I got this for free thanks to my PSN subscription, and I played the beta of the second game first last year. I only started playing this a month ago and after three days I bought the complete edition, since it was much cheaper than the season pass.(You Get a big hat!)
Did I regret it? Fuck no. I still pat myself on the back for such a great financial decision. I got paid the next day anyway so it didn’t matter much. It’s got sweet tasting combat, amazing looking enemies, lots of rewards for the risks, some multiplayer elements and lots to do. If you don’t mind a story that isn’t very exciting, that sometimes even forgets itself that there is a story, then you’ll have a blast. It does not hold your hand and tell you everything will be ok. Instead, it stabs you in the back, dropkicks you into the ocean and screams at you to swim. Make use of all of that toilet tissue you bought, thinking we were going to run out, because you may be shitting yourself an awful lot.