To the far east lies the land of Zipangu a land brimming with golden palaces and sparkling jewels. Kublai Khan, ruler of the mongol empire, sent a large army there, but the warriors of Zipangu used “miraculou” stones” to put up a strong defense.
The Travels of Marco Polo, Chapter 6 , 174-175
Nioh is a 3rd person Action RPG created by Team Ninja, the famed creators of Ninja Gaiden and the Dead Or Alive series. In Nioh, players are faced with little direction on how to proceed in the game, open areas filled with difficult enemies and bosses, and collectibles that affect the player in many different ways.
On the surface, Nioh seems to borrow some elements from the Dark Souls series of games. Dark foreboding areas populated with enemies waiting to ambush you. Enemies that vary from humans to monsters. Enemies that have varied attacks that you must defend from and counter, forcing you to learn their patterns of attacks.
Even with those similarities, Nioh differs from Dark Souls in many ways. Nioh‘s story adopts Japanese mythology, folklore, and settings as its core. Samurai, Yokai, and many other giant monsters are set in your path. Many are unique, terrifying, and absolutely fun to battle through the use of an interesting fighting mechanic.
[Click the images for samurai-sized versions.]
The dark fantasy story is mostly told through the perspective of William, a 17th century Irishman. William is lightly based on the historical figure William Adams, an Englishman who became a samurai during the Sengoku period, a period of great political upheaval in Japan.
William is one of many pirates contracted to deliver a mythical and powerful stone (Amrita) to England. England and Spain are in a war for world domination, and Amrita can give England the power it needs to win. Amrita is only found on the island of Zipangu (Japan), an island of mystery that houses many dangerous opponents.
Amrita, some call it a miraculous stone, the Philosopher’s stone… The Queen of England remains locked in combat… with Spain – the country where the sun never sets – for control of the entire world. Her forces weakening with every battle, the queen and her inner circle turned to divination and alchemy, hiring pirates like us to find Amrita for them. With that power, they managed to defeat the invincible Spanish Armada. But now it seems they want to keep their methods a secret.
The game begins in April 1598, with William in a cell in the London tower. The Queen of England has decreed that everyone involved in obtaining Amrita has to be imprisoned to secure the secret of their military might. With the help of his Guardian Spirit, Saoirse, William is able to escape his cell. From this point forward you control William, with the goal of fighting your way out of the tower, escaping England, and sailing back to Zipangu.
Nioh empowers William in many different ways. From guardian spirits, Ki, and Core Stats, Nioh allows the player to build William to fit their play style.
Shrines are scattered throughout the game. Shrines allow you to pray at them, creating a save point and replenishing your health.
Shrines also allow you to:
- Level Up
- Change Guardian Spirit
- Make Offering
- Receive Kodama Blessing
- Summon Visitor
Guardian Spirits are Elemental beings that can assist William in a few different ways. The Guardian spirit has a skill called Living Weapon. When the Living Weapon Orb fills up William can activate the Guardian Spirit to use their individual ability to help William in battle. Throughout the game, William collects different Guardian spirits. Each Guardian spirit has different abilities, and can be changed at shrines.
Guardian Spirits are also helpful in death. When William falls in battle, his Guardian Spirit disperses and his Amrita and other items are deposited into a grave. When William rejoins the living he must find the Guardian Spirit so that everything he lost will be restored to him. If he does not find the Guardian Spirit he loses it permanently.
As William performs actions like running, attacking, or blocking, his Ki (stamina) depletes. If he runs out of Ki, William is defenseless against his opponents until it replenishes. William can quickly replenish his Ki by using his “Ki-Pulse” ability. The Ki-Pulse ability replenishes the stamina that was drained directly before Ki Pulse is activated. Depending on how you time using it, the replenishment could be nominal or great.
In order to become a powerful warrior capable to defeat the terrifying enemies on Zipangu, you will need to gain Amrita to increase your Core Stats. Amrita is gained by defeating enemies. Once you have gained enough Amrita, you need to return to a shrine to level up.
- BODY Affects Life and resistance to poison and paralysis.
- HEART Affects Ki.
- STAMINA Affects Life and how much weight you can carry.
- STRENGTH Amount required to activate the special effects of heavier weapons and armor.
- SKILL The amount required to activate the special effects of more technical weapons and armor.
- DEXTERITY Determines the effect and capacity of your Ninjutsu.
- MAGIC Determines the effect and capacity of Onmyo Magic.
- SPIRIT Affects the power of your Guardian Spirit.
Weapons and Armor
When beginning the game, you are asked one simple question:
“The samurai is master of many armaments, and trains for combat in every imaginable scenario. If I were to use another weapon, which one would I choose?”
Choose which weapon you want to wield.
- Sword Attribute bonus Heart +1
- Dual Swords Attribute bonus Skill +1
- Spear Attribute bonus Body +1
- Kusarigama Attribute bonus Dexterity +1
You choose a primary and secondary weapon type that you prefer to use. When using weapons that match your primary or secondary weapon type you gain that bonus.
Which two weapon types you pick are wholly dependent on your preferences. William can be equipped with any weapon type, even if they aren’t the the ones you picked, you just won’t benefit from the weapon attribute bonus.
Early on in the game, you are completely dependent on gaining weapons through defeating enemies or other ways. These weapons might not be the weapon types you picked, but if they are more powerful you may use them instead.
Some primary and secondary weapon type combinations are:
- Sword and Spear
- Axe and Kusarigama
- Dual Swords and Axe
In addition to your melee weapons, William can also use ranged weapons such as bows, rifles, and hand cannons.
Weapons also “level up” the more you use them, which you can track by checking the Familiarity stat.
Armor, like weapons, are found throughout the world of Nioh. Armor often provides stat bonuses to attributes, but the weight of the armor counts against the amount of weight you can carry. Heavy armor might protect you more in a fight, but there is only so much weight your character can hold.
Armor and weapons can also be crafted in the Forge.
When you face an enemy, you have a choice of three different fighting stances, high, middle and, low.
- The high stance creates more damage, slightly slower attacks, and lowers your defense.
- Middle Stance balances damage and defense between High and Low stance.
- Low stance creates the least amount of damage, but allows for faster strikes and bolsters your defense.
You can change your stance during combat, switching between high, middle, and low will increase the amount of attacks you can launch, and also help preserve Ki. Which stance you choose is dependent upon the weapons you are using, the enemy combatant’s attacks and movement, and your health. It is also dependent on how you, as a player, like to play the game.
When battling enemies, charging into a fight is ill advised, only strategy will help you win. Attack, retreat, defend. Preserving and managing your Ki is crucial.
As you are escaping the Tower Of London, you mostly fight English Soldiers. After escaping the tower, you enter another land, a world populated with Samurai, Ninjas, Yokai, and giant demon bosses. The enemies are varied and fantastic. Some Yokai are comprised of characters that look like a walking raven (Raven Tengu), a rock wall (Nurikabe), and a Japanese cyclops (One-Eyed Oni).
The Bosses are even more fantastical, such as Nue, a hybrid creature that combines the appearance of a monkey’s face, tiger body, and snake for a tail. The Onryoki, is a giant beast with wild white hair and flaming horns that wields two giant chained metal balls that he whips around to strike you with.
Some of the best components of Nioh are:
- A beautiful, dark, and frightening landscape dotted with aggressive and powerful enemy combatants that seek only to destroy you.
- A plethora of weapons and armor to gain.
- An open world that presents you with multiple paths to explore on your journey.
- Brutal combat that will challenge you to understand your enemies patterns and react to them appropriately.
- Minimal information on direction and goals.
- A new fighting mechanic that allows you to change stances to combat specific enemy types.
- Incredibly fun and engaging combat.
Nioh is an action game with deep role playing elements. The amount of different stats the player manages is astounding. Incredibly, the role playing elements do not detract from the hack and slash action of the game. Perhaps not perfectly balanced, but very near so.
I found Nioh to be a deeply engaging game that kept me coming back for the fun combat mechanics and to see the incredible enemies that inhabited this world.
Nioh was released in February 2017 as a Playstation exclusive and was generally well received. It has since been released on Steam. Three additional DLC modes have been released for Nioh, Dragon of the North, Defiant Honor, and Bloodshed’s End. A sequel is forthcoming, called Nioh 2, with an anticipated release date of sometime in 2019.
Matt Drought lives in Milwaukee. His last article for us was E3 2018: Xbox Press Conference.