By Alexander O. Cuaycong
BEFORE anything else, a disclaimer: Nioh is brutally difficult. The Koei Tecmo action RPG adventure game is heavily inspired by Dark Souls, and it wears its inspiration proudly for all to see. It’s clear from the get-go that the game is not meant for everyone.
In Nioh, players are thrust into the shoes of William, a pirate watched over by Saoirse, a Guardian Spirit responsible for keeping him alive. Following the game’s prologue in the Tower of London, William has the mystical being stolen from him, and must travel to Japan to get his Guardian Spirit back. He finds himself embroiled in the Battle of Sekigahara, in the latter stages of the Sengoku Jidai, and must overcome a seemingly insurmountable combination of human and demonic foes if he ever wants to see Saoirse again.
Heavily inspired by Japanese themes, Nioh’s location is one of its stronger points. By extension, William must face enemies that draw heavily from Japanese culture. These range from pirates who look like Wokou raiders, to bandit Ronin in full Samurai armor, to even various forms of youkai such as the Yuki-Onna and the Nurikabe.
This might seem like a daunting task, but William is well-equipped for the job and is able to use a variety of weapons with remarkable proficiency. Each weapon he’s able to wield has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Along with the game’s unique magic and ninjutsu system, the variety of options offered on weapon types, stances, and ranges give players much leeway in combat. Does one choose a magical sword that can be set aflame to do extra damage during combat? Or does one go for the hulking weapon, and use heavy armor, to bulldoze opponents through sheer force?
In any case, Nioh is exceedingly unforgiving. As straightforward as its combat system and rhythm of dodging, attacking, and blocking may be, death is inevitable. Enemy attacks are painful and frequently unfair, and most foes are able to kill William with a few clean hits. They can be dodged, but the effort drains Ki, the game’s version of a stamina bar. And while the Ki Pulse technique does restore lost Ki, certain demons create zones that drain Ki faster, forcing players to go on the offensive or get worn down.
Thusly, it’s all too common to hit a wall when playing Nioh, as enemies are placed at the most inconvenient of spots and can take an exorbitant amount of punishment compared to William. Fights that can start off well can lead to a RETRY screen in the blink of an eye. And it would be an understatement to argue that the game is arduous, as it frequently has you running through gauntlets of enemies over and over. Certain foes even respawn if a player is killed or moved to save at one of the game’s shrines.
Needless to say, Nioh’s objective is to keep a player going despite — and, conversely, because of — the wellspring of frustration. After all, the random swings that catch players off guard and get William thrown back to the nearest save shrine stand as hurdles in and by themselves. But with exasperation comes satisfaction, as the challenges posed by Nioh are just short of impossible and enough to keep gamers engaged.
In sum, Nioh is a balancing act between persevering and throwing in the towel. It’s an itch that needs to be scratched, even to the point of opening a wound.
Video Game Review
Nioh: Complete Edition
PC via Steam
• Atmospheric and artistic
• Great character and enemy designs
• Large variety of weapons, armor, and abilities to choose from
• Packaged with all the game’s DLCs
• Frustrating, often bordering on the unfair
• Based entirely on memorization and improvement
• A definite time-sink regardless of adaptation skills