When you think of Team Ninja, there are several things that come to mind, one of which is notoriously hard games. While in recent years that award has gone to From Software who have been holding their own with The Demon/Dark Souls series, Team Ninja were the original kings of controller crushing difficulty with the Ninja Gaiden series, ranging all the way back to the NES.
With the recent Ninja Gaiden series seemingly complete, Team Ninja turned its attention to another class of Japanese warrior, the Samurai, and with that we have Nioh, a super difficult Action RPG featuring everything we loved about the modern Ninja Gaiden series and while borrowing some new mechanics from Dark Souls to deliver a truly wonderful control breaking experience.
Nioh takes place in the 1600’s and follows William, an Irish Navigator who has a Guardian Spirit which allows him defy death. William is arrested and placed in the Tower of London branded as a traitor for hiding the route to Japan where the British are attempting to gain Amrita, magical glowing stones that they need to defeat Spain and is found in abundance in Japan. After William is freed from the Tower by his Spirit, his Spirit is captured along with the knowledge of the path to Japan. William is then sent on a path to rescue his Guardian Spirit and get revenge on the individual who taken her.
This is a mission that is easier said then done, as Japan is currently undergoing a civil war in the late years of the Sengoku period leading into the Edo period. The constant wars and death have given demons (Yokai) a huge boost in power, allowing them to roam the land and cross over from the spirit realm.
For those who are familiar with Japanese history and folklore, you may notice that Nioh is actually a supernatural retelling of William Adam, otherwise known as Miura Anjin, the one of the first (and few) Western Samurai. The game also takes many historical figures and throws them into the game as comrades and obstacles for William. Of course, adding the supernatural element does allow them to have some free-reign on the story and the events but creates a captivating tale.
Nioh borrows heavily from its predecessor, Ninja Gaiden, in terms of controls. Players are given light and heavy attacks, some range weapons and the ability to dodge, block and counter attacks. Players are also given an arsenal of different weapons including Katanas, kusarigama, Axes, Pole-arms and dual swords, each providing a new way to control the battle, while ranged weapons include bow and arrows, rifles and canons that can blast Yokai and bandits from a far.
How Nioh changes the formula is with the stance system. William is able to do 3-types of stances which changes up his attack patterns, creating new combos and moves, as well as draining his stamina meter differently. This brings in a new strategy system which forces places to focus on the best way to clear the obstacles in their path.
It’s safe to warn that Nioh is Hard, to the point that I am going to stop using the term “Dark Souls hard” and coin “Nioh Hard”. The enemies are relentless, bosses take a large amount of damage in single hits, changing their attack patterns and creating status effects. Along with a pesky stamina bar that deplete depending on your actions and weight of your armour, the game forces you to think tactically on whether you can risk that next strike or roll fast enough to dodge a paralysing blast.
Despite Nioh’s high difficulty, the game is also a dream for loot lovers, as Yokai and bandits frequently drop weapons and armour, each with their own stat modifier to help in battle, which can also be traded for gold or Armita to upgrade William. Like any good RPG, success at Nioh depends highly on making sure you have the right gear, attacks and strategy to handle any situation thrown at you.
When it comes to voice acting, Nioh does something that struck me as different. William remains an English-speaking character voiced by Ben Peel, while the rest of the cast remain speaking in Japanese, or attempt to speak to William in English, while William’s guardian spirit later translate for him. It almost gives the game a more cinematic approach to how Team Ninja presents the story and is a nice touch that doesn’t pull you out of the game.
Nioh is fast pace, with a story that while based in on real people has a cool supernatural twist, and as hard as it is, it’s just as rewarding when you finally take down the giant demon you’ve been dealing with for the last 4 hours. If you’re into heavy Action RPG games and don’t mind getting pissed off though most of the game, then I highly recommend Nioh for any PS4 owner.