After missing out completely on the alpha demo, I decided to give the beta demo of Nioh (Team Ninja’s divisive Dark Souls-like title) a try before it expired. I was very into the aesthetics and general idea of the game (I’m interested in this period of Japanese history) from the time I first saw footage of it, but I was a bit dubious as whether or not the game would actually feel good. Souls-likes in general don’t have a very good reputation for feeling very good, and the Nioh alpha produced some very mixed feedback. I fully expected to pick it up for a little while and then put it down after spending enough time with it to figure out I just didn’t like the way it felt.
Well it turns out that I was wrong, because I played it all weekend! Admittedly I’d been feeling hungry for a new Dark Souls experience (I need to get to playing Dark Souls 2 and 3, but won’t have time for them for awhile due to a few big games I’ve been wanting to play coming out soon), and while it took care of that it also did some very different and interesting things. Be warned though: If you found Dark Souls too obtuse or frustrating, you’ll probably think the same thing about Nioh. The atmosphere may be different, but ultimately you get satisfaction the same you do in Dark Souls: By overcoming what seems to be a very high level of difficulty through actually getting better at the game and a little perseverance.
My first impression was that Nioh is actually a bit more difficult than Dark Souls in general (and from what I’ve heard, the difficulty has been very toned down from the alpha demo), though in the end it probably comes out pretty even (with one notable exception that I’ll mention later). I had that reaction because even regular enemy characters feel much more capable in using their weapons at first. As you might expect, that’s all sort of an illusion that reveals itself as such as you get better at using your own weapon of choice. And when it comes to weapons, Nioh has quite a bit to offer. There are a handful of different feeling weapons to choose from, but there are also skill points that can be put into developing your abilities with each one. This is not a replacement for leveling up character stats, as you’ll also be doing that along side of these skills. You can even put points into leveling up Ninjutsu (arts that don’t correspond directly to a main weapon, such as throwing shurikens and kunai) or Onmyo magic (elemental and spiritual based arts).
The depth that each weapon has doesn’t stop there though, since there are also three different stances that can be taken with a weapon: High, mid and low. There are many benefits and drawbacks to each, but basically high stance is more offensive, low stance is more defensive and mid stance is in between the two. These again result in the ability for a single weapon to feel quite differently depending on how you’re using it. To round things out, there are also five different pieces of armor and two slots for talismans that you can use to get different abilities and boost your defense.
Since the alpha demo had weapon durability degradation, weapons and armor were dropped by enemies like crazy. They got rid of that degradation altogether in the beta demo, but they kept the high equipment drop rates. This means you’ll have so many pieces of equipment to choose from at any given time that you’ll have to do a good amount of inventory maintenance to make sure you’re using your best stuff. You’ll also find yourself needing to worry about selling off or getting rid of equipment before too long. This all seems like it would be overwhelming, but it flows surprisingly smoothly. It’s all very easily managed from a combination of the menus that you’ll find at a shrine (this game’s equivalent of a bonfire) or from the regular menu accessed via the start button.
Now let’s get back to enemy difficulty. Of course there are regular enemies and bosses that are considerably more challenging than your run of the mill humanoid enemies. Various types of demons will appear when you walk into specific areas that are sort of like Nioh’s version of black knights. They have quite a bit of health and seem very challenging at first, but are fairly easily defeated after you get the hang of things. The beta demo also features two different bosses: Onryoki and Hino-enma. Onryoki is very much a Dark Souls boss in that he seems hard at first, but all you really need to do is learn his patterns to win. Hino-enma, however, was my single biggest point of frustration. If I were to compare her to a Souls boss, I might pick one like Orphan of Kos from the Bloodborne DLC. There are patterns, but they’re so tight that if you make one mistake you could easily end up dead. The damage output is just that ridiculous. I’m not even sure how many times I attempted to beat her on my own before I finally decided to just summon another player for help (surprisingly this demo allows you to do that) for the first and only time in my play-through. I hope she’s the exception and not the rule.
I’m really looking forward to playing the final product, and I’m very heartened that a company other than From Software seems to have finally made this formula work for them. I think there’s a lot more enjoyment to be had from it, as long as some variety is introduced through story, setting and embellishments on the core systems. Everyone be excited for our Warring States era Souls future!