Pack some extra throwing knives. You're going to need them. Little-known but highly addictive, "Nioh" takes a proven formula of combat difficulty, ramps up the action and tosses in a bit of loot to create an exhilarating and addictive video game.
Developed by Team Ninja, "Nioh" (pronounced like the iconic character Neo from "The Matrix") has been made in the same vein as the "Dark Souls" series: punishing, tactical combat that is both challenging and rewarding. But unlike the "Souls" games, to a degree, "Nioh" takes more of its combat mechanics from "Ninja Gaiden," a game synonymous with its developer.
And in theory, I'd only believe that a game like that would be frustrating. The reward would not outweigh the effort put into defeating a single, basic enemy, let alone an end-level boss. An endless loop of fighting and dying, a personal hurdle I have with the "Souls" games. But through an interesting series of game mechanics, "Nioh" deftly dodges those pitfalls.
The combat is visceral, with special combos to create distance between you and an enemy, or deal a great amount of damage while rendering them unable to attack. And in "Souls" fashion, when your character dies, all of the experience you've earned remains at the spot you die.
In a slight twist, your guardian, of which there are a number to choose from, also stays behind. Your character's guardian gives you upgrades to your stats as well as a special combat state than you can enter, hacking and slashing with impunity.
And lest I forget -- the loot. The arsenal is staggering: singular and dual swords, spears, axes, bows and guns. And then there's the armor, from head to toe, that truly makes you feel like a samurai.
The one weakness for "Nioh" would have to be its story. You play as William who, after having his longtime guardian spirit stolen from him, makes his way to early 1600s Japan in search of his spirits. Within this fictionalized history, you meet some of the greatest warriors to walk Japan during this time period, befriending some and defeating others.
It's within this twisting of fiction and history that the story of "Nioh" becomes jumbled and incoherent. The beginning levels of the game felt like a sequel, with hardly any dialogue or context clues to explain the events or the people involved.
As the game progresses, you are given vignettes into the story after completing missions. While these vignettes into various characters offer much needed charm, the story lacks a sense of cohesion and progression that the action of the game provides in spades.
In the end, the action and combat are all this game really needs. Sure, if the story had been more refined, "Nioh" could have been special. But the way in which this game's mechanics make you feel like a samurai straight from the 1600s is addictive in and of itself. Now, if you'll excuse me, there are more ninja that I need to cut down.
*** (out of ****)
Publisher: Koei Tecmo, Sony Interactive Entertainment
Rating: M (for Mature for blood and gore, and violence) ___
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