If Demon Souls was a seed, and if Dark Souls is the fully grown flower, then Nioh is a different flower, but one that looks similar enough that people could look at both of them and go "They look pretty similar when you get down to it".
Indeed, Nioh is built upon a mechanical similarity to Dark Souls much in the way that many platformers can be quantified as a "Metroidvania". I've been at odds with Dark Souls since 2 not really taking the game as far as I wanted, and much of it feeling so familiar and tired. Sure, Dark Souls 3 did a lot of interesting things and was - in my person opinion - a much better game than Dark Souls 2. But it was... you know, a franchise. You've got bonfires, souls, bosses that have at least one really fucked up one-hit-kill ability that's gonna make you post nasty shit on the internet. It's not detrimental in a serialized format, there's just less wow-factor after 3(5 if you count Bloodborne and Demon's Souls) games where the most exciting thing that happens is a sick cutscene where the A.I. fights a boss battle for you(It was a fucking sick cutscene though).
With Nioh, and a fresh set of eyes for the genre that Demon's Souls established way back when, it has taken familiar concepts and mechanics and added enough to it to be it's own unique entity, but also familiar enough to get the hang of quickly, or at least enough to convince you that you know what you're doing.
|Nioh and his best friend|
I know there's a learning curve for all games, but with the difficulty of the game holding strong, I felt like maybe I was doing something wrong. Eventually I found my way to the boss of the first level and while he killed me a few times, he was actually pretty easy. (Good thing you fight him 500 fucking times throughout the rest of the game). And I actually noticed that while I was at first getting killed all of the time, eventually I was able to hold my own and never really had much of a hard time with it after that. For example I probably only died to a small portion of the bosses, and the ones I did die to I died to multiple times. I actually found that the bosses of the game were quite easy compared to something like Dark Souls where some of the dumb shit they do makes me want to throw my Playstation through a window.
The biggest divergence it takes from just following the formula into making its own way comes from the crafting system. Since Nioh is a loot game, with all kinds of random modifiers and benefits, the potential to find just what you're looking for is nice enough that if you don't find something cool, you can take it to the Blacksmith and reroll the special effects on it and see if you can get something better. You can do this with armor as well as weapons to ensure that you are truly where you want to be. The higher the rarity for the item the more modifiers it can have. So as you level up and find better and better items, the chances for having an effective swath of abilities get higher.
One exciting part of the game I didn't quite see coming was the usage of allies in missions. Sometimes you'll find a mission where an NPC ally is actually there helping you along. It's rare enough that missions don't turn into a common occurrence but when it happens it's a nice break from the traditional "Go through mission, cleave countless enemies, level up, find Kodama's, beat boss, repeat" as it gives something I think is unique. In the world of a Dark Souls, or even Bloodborne, most of the people are roided out on monster juice or insanity and so when you come to Nioh and see that there are allies willing to help you, it's a nice breath of fresh air in what would usually be an oppressive environment.
|Nioh and his other best friend|
I'm not great with this period of history but it appears most of the figures in this game are based on real people, with the character of William being a reference to the sailor who washed up on Japan's shores way back when, acclimating to their culture and then became a samurai. It's actually really fascinating to see this era of history portrayed with such an air of fantasy, relishing the conflicts of this period of Japan but also filling it with crazy demons, Edward Kelly is like a crazy alchemical spirit stealer, my waifu is a cute ninja girl, my other waifu is a one eyed blacksmith, and I rescue these little green tree spirits that wear bowls and cups on their heads. It's great.
One thing I did really like from the story is the language. All of the Japanese characters speak Japanese, while the non-Japanese characters may speak English or Japanese depending on who they are talking to. For example, your best friend Hanzo Hattori will at one point start talking to you in the most adorable engrish I've ever heard(Even though he talks to you in Japanese for most of the game), and it's a fantastic way to portray the language barrier. Because even though William can understand Japanese thanks to being possessed by a magical talking cat, he never really talks to anyone with the language. He speaks English the entire way through. I really liked that they took the care to have the respective Japanese voice actors actually speak Japanese or English depending on what they want to tell William. It's very authentic and I appreciate the effort.
You also get what is called a "living weapon" which is powered by your spirit, an animal-like creature that has different stats depending on which one you have equipped. You collect these through the story from what is called "spirit division". Mechanically it's a meter that builds up when you collect Amrita(Think souls from Dark Souls) and allows you to burst out this powerful but time sensitive weapon that converts your health bar into a time gauge that ticks down and once it reaches zero, your weapon disappears. When you take damage the bar decreases much faster but leaving your actual health unchanged, allowing it to act as somewhat of a damage buffer if you're in a really dire situation. I unfortunately always forgot that it existed and never really used it much. It seemed like whenever I would remember its existence I would have just got done dealing with a difficult scenario where it could have helped.
It does extra damage and while it is helpful, I mostly just equipped the one with the stats that would best benefit me at the time, and not really worry about actually using it. Once you equip one, you gain a small number of benefits. Each one is different and while some of them have the same benefits, most of them require a certain level in a certain skill in order to deepen your "bond" between the spirit, and when leveling up that particular stat, will give you more benefits. Some for example start off with a small health boost, but if your stat is at 12, you'll get a boost to close combat damage, and over 13 will get you a ki increase, etc, etc.
The real joy in this game is all of these figures coming together and working so beautifully. When I first started the game I was so sure that I would only use a sword because I'm a cool samurai and all, and using any other weapon doesn't really appeal to me. But one day I discovered a Kusarigama that had a very neat set of abilities. My sword wasn't really that great and I see every Revenant in the area has one, so I equipped it and used it. It did increased damage from behind, and had a modifier where if you use the low attack(Which is a less powerful stance that allows you to attack rapidly) it requires less ki. Which results in you being able to attack more. So I simply walked up behind most enemies and spammed the attacks and they died so quickly I was completely shocked. I was having trouble because of my lack of decent weapon, and this Kusarigama solved all of my problems. I then respec'd my character into the Kusarigama and never looked back.
Speaking of Revenants, in the Dark Souls franchise there exists "bloodstains". You walk up to a bloodstain and activate it, and you can see how other players just like you died. But this game takes that a different route and instead, allows you to summon these deceased other players and fight them for a chance to gain the items that they have equipped at the time of their death. There's currently no PVP in Nioh so it's just you against a powerful A.I, but as your gear and abilities level up they become quite easy.
It's random chance from what I can tell, but upon death they can potentially drop their gear. I'm pretty sure the Revenants you find are only around your level, so it ensures that in a pinch you can always try for better gear. And what better way to check out that gear than to see it in action!
All of your stats come together. Your armor has these modifiers, your weapons have these modifiers, you can join clans that give you additional modifiers depending on which one you join, your spirit gives you modifiers. There is also a system that reminds me a lot of the Badass System from Borderlands 2, where you complete misc tasks in the game, earning points that you can spend for additional modifiers that will get better as you skill into them. Except in this game it's based on titles and you earn "a Prestige point" for gaining a certain number of them. You gain titles by doing things like: Getting kills with certain weapons, killing a certain number of a particular enemy type, use magic enough times, use ninjustu enough times. Basically just do a whole bunch of stuff and you'll get these points that give you small bumps to specific modifiers and abilities over time.
In Dark Souls the way of the game was just "Well, I've got this armor and I've got this weapon I guess" and that was about it. You could use magic and pyromancy, but that was about it. Nioh takes it so much deeper and gives you so much to work on, gaining better loot, rolling new modifiers on said loot, finding a synergy between all of your gear until you've got a powerful build.
|Nioh playing pranks on his best friend|
I utilized a mixture of magic and ninjustu to become silent and invisible, then would position myself behind tough enemies and by using a rapid attack, could kill very powerful enemies very quickly. Even bosses, as long as you can get to their backs before they turn around. It was a very satisfying experience, to look back on where I was struggling in the beginning of the game, and then overcome that by becoming a spinning sickle and chain of death.
Nioh was the big kick-off for gaming in the year 2017. I've been struggling a lot recently with depression and a lot of anxiety, causing my absence from writing as much as I want to, but it's a very good game that has a lot of moving parts, and I am very hopeful for what the rest of the year holds.