Over night the chirping of a single friend grew into a gaggle. “What, how did you beat her?!”, “It’s all about the low stance, spin behind her…”, “…the Kusarigama is obviously the way to go”. Clearly the earlier message of “Dudes, you have to download this game, now!”, that I chose to ignore, got through to some of our online compadres, most of them being major Dark Souls fans.

Recently burned and weighed down by scepticism, I cast aside the pile of unfinished games next to the TV and hit download. I realised this demo was time sensitive and in retrospect, what my biggest fuck up was. Not downloading the demo, no, rather downloading it so late. But Nioh, you forced no expectations, made no bold claims, and you totally took me by surprise.

The game started by asking me to choose my preferred frame rate setting*, that’s pretty particular but I made my choice. I clumsily made my way through the tutorial and sort of, kinda understood the mechanics (read: not at all). It was time to follow William, the Irish Samurai, into 1600s Japan. More specifically, the blood-bathed, monster-filled Sengoku period.

“Warfare was the spirit of the samurai’s everyday life, and he could face death as if it were a domestic routine…He who realised the resolute acceptance of death at any moment in his everyday life was a master of the sword.”Victor Harris, Translator’s Introduction to Miyamoto Musashi’s A Book of Five Rings.

After approaching the first enemy and slaughtering him mercilessly, the game didn’t seem all that impressive or difficult. That opinion lasted all of 30 seconds. Enter enemies two and three.

They hunted me down…

…Right back to the start of the level and put an end to my first life right where it begun. It became apparent very quickly that Team Ninja had drawn heavily from the Souls series. The result of paying little attention to the tutorial shone bright. The combat mechanics were much more intricate, precise and detailed than I gave them credit for…choosing the correct stance in important and I soon found out that recharging your Ki at the end of a combo is absolutely crucial to surviving battles.
 


 
More trial and error (read: dying) and the similarities with Dark Souls became more evident…except Nioh has giblets. The developers really didn’t try to hide the similarities, instead they embraced them as tools of humour; a welcome respite from constant death and failure. It seems as though Dark Souls is to Doom, as Nioh is to Half Life; the evolution of a genre and the excitement that comes with that.

Where to go?
To the left? Death.
To the right? Death.
Open that chest? Death and ridicule.

When you can’t ‘git gud’, grinding can be the only way forward.
 

Image: PS4 Share

Image: PS4 Share


 
The levelling mechanic gives room for players to employ various styles of gameplay. From strength builds wielding large axes and dual katana dexterity builds, to magic builds and ranged weapon specialists. Skill points can also be gained to introduce new weapon-class specific attacks, new finishing moves, grappling and counter techniques, the ability to craft Shuriken, with more to be revealed in the full game. It’s deep and once the full game comes out players will be putting a lot of time into developing, and arguing about, the ‘perfect class’.

There are similarities with Diablo 3 too. Re-crafting gear to change appearances or to change individual stats on weapons is a thing. Due to this, a wide range of armours and weapons should be viable, unlike DS3, where devastating magic was an antiquated dream of yesteryear.

When levelling stopped helping my cause, slaying the ghosts of fallen players yielded impressive gear – making up for my lack of skill. The now-dead players appear as a red grave at the spot they were cut down by a NPC enemy. These graves show what level the player was and what kind of gear to expect after defeating them. Summoning at the grave brings forth a NPC-clone of the player. They certainly aren’t friendly. These battles can be intense, so be sure to have a bit of an action plan in place to avoid battling the clone and a horde of enemies at the same time.
 

Nioh Gameplay

Image: PS4 Share


 
New gear equipped and the journey continued. Hours of trial-and-error and trying to figure out where to go. I made it to that big reddish-browny gate.

Cue a creepy cut scene with a giant blood-crying, flower-forming beast of nightmares. Then, cue the next death screen within 60 seconds. More Dark Souls PTSD flashbacks…except the death screen…such short loading times! Take that Bloodborne ‘Loadborne’.
 

 
Attempts one through five to defeat the Ogress were most unsuccessful. Accepting that you’re not going to beat the boss on the first go is one way to save your sanity it seems. Play around, learn her move sets and test her range. Take a break. Then come back with a strategy, for “strategy is the craft of the warrior” – Miyamoto Musashi.

The final attempt took what felt like an eternity to finish – probably closer to 15 minutes. It was tough but not impossible, and it was definitely most satisfying.

It took one level in a short demo to completely sell me on this game. Discovering that multiplayer is a breeze to sort out was heartwarming. Discovering how easy it was to connect with a friend, even better still. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Nioh has been in development since 2004.
 

Image: Facebook

Image: Official Nioh Facebook


 
Two more levels were made available after surviving the first ordeal: a one-on-one duel to the death with another Samurai in a beautiful field on a cliff’s edge, and the ‘twilight’ version of the first level, which replaces enemies with lava monsters, flaming skulls and all other sorts of demonic foes. Both of these levels were fucked-up hard. I didn’t even manage to make a bit of progress in the twilight level, let alone face the blood crying, flower-forming beast of nightmares 2.0. The regret of not downloading Nioh earlier set in as the demo abruptly closed.

 

 
The head of development at Team Ninja, Yosuke Hayashi, recently did a Q&A on Playstation’s website noting that the difficulty in some areas will be toned down to make “the challenge something that players could be more accepting of.” Hayashi also promises a free PVP update, more one-on-one Samurai battles, more Guardian Spirits, and the ability to change William’s appearance after completing the game…So yeah, there’s more than likely going to be a New Game Plus option for Nioh.

The long wait for February 8th continues.
 

*

PS4 – Movie Mode: Stable 1920×1080 at 30 fps, with anti-aliasing
PS4 – Action Mode: 1920×1080 at 60 fps
PS4 – Variable Frame Rate: High resolution with variable frame rate that may go over 30 fps.

PS4 Pro – 4K Movie Mode: 3840×2160 at 30fps
PS4 Pro – 4K Action Mode: 1920×1080 at 60fps