Ni-Oh Impressions

Back in the 90s FPS games were known as Doom clones. After GTA III made it big every open world game that came out became known as a GTA clone. Remember Mario Clones? Sorry, I meant platformers, which choked every console until the fifth generation of consoles with the surge of releases. If you weren’t jumping, if you weren’t collecting, you simply weren’t playing video games.

Now we have Dark Souls clones. Yeah–that’s what happens when you get a game that focuses on combat from the third person perspective with a lock on camera and resource management (stamina meter). RPG mechanics and environmental exploration? Incremental statistical growth required to use certain weapons? Challenging difficulty? BLABLA Dark Souls clone. You’re a Dark Souls clone now. Great job cloning Dark Souls you fucks.

Yeah, I know–you can’t deny the influences. Ni-Oh has bonfires in the form of shrines. You level up at these shrines and only these shrines. Ni-Oh has bloodstains. Except…in Ni-Oh you activate the bloodstain to summon a revenant, which is where a real life person gets an A.I. representation, and you fight. If you can kill them you get your chance at collecting some really good loot.

Loot? That’s right! This is a loot game. Yeah, that kinda loot game. Like a Diablo loot game. See, there’s rarity designated by color, and when you walk up to a blood stain a radial visualization of what that character can possibly drop. If they have pinks, where I’m at in the game, you want to fight them because your opportunity to collect something better than what you’ve got increases. It’s a really great risk vs reward system that becomes fairly easy to manage once you become proficient at the game OR if you use a particular weapon. When I used the slower great axes I always had interesting fights with them and now since I’m using the katana I’m having an easier time facing revenants. Fights are still interesting, especially when the fight spills out into an area that attracts unseen enemies, but for the most part I’m rocking those idiots and I’m collecting fat lootz BOY.

Eventually we’ll develop proper language for games that carry influence from Dark Souls. To call this game a Dark Souls clone is a massive injustice. In fact I had no interest in this game because everyone was calling it “Samurai Souls.” I get it–it’s easier to just call a thing a clone of another thing because then fans of that second thing can get interested in your first thing. But as someone who has played and enjoyed all the souls game I can say I’m soulsed out and I’m ready for new styles of play.

This game takes some gameplay elements and arranges them in a different game altogether. As I said there’s a strong focus in loot. Mechanical skill is still important however I found myself grinding out to find better gear when I ran up against some tough bosses and hey…it kinda works! You still need to learn enemy move patterns–that will prove critical to one’s success with this game. You watch their attacks, dodge or block, and then you strike once you see an opening, likely after their attack animation.

This becomes easy since the enemies lack variety. You fight dudes, zombies, and oni, and after a few levels you begin to see those enemy types repeat over and over again. Each level seems to have one, or maybe a small handful, of enemy types that are specific to that area, but this doesn’t happen often enough to give the game a sense of variety. Since you return to levels frequently to complete different missions, this may be a detractor for some. In fact I have read that criticism come up plenty of times in professional reviews.

I like the way the missions are handled. Instead of a fully connected world, you arrive at a world map and pick which level you’d like to play, with multiple side missions occurring at each level. Again, this may seem repetitive, but it does allow a blessing to occur that I am extremely positive on–load times. They’re five seconds. And this is because the game isn’t trying to load an entire world. It’s loading a level.

Now level design is certainly not as detailed as Dark Souls. You’ll see some random clutter that you can break open, you might see some homes that attempt to appear lived-in, but for the most part everything is bare and what touches you do find are copied throughout the level. Again, this isn’t the biggest problem because of the combat, which I’ll get to next, but it was clear the developers weren’t worried about creating a world that the player becomes involved in.

At least when it comes to the level design–there are cutscenes, as the game attempt to tell a story, but I couldn’t care less. Basically an Englishman is looking for the Philosopher’s Stone in Japan, which itself is suffering a crisis of invading Oni. Characters appear, and sometimes I’m treated as though I should already know who these characters are, but for the most part I’m not finding anything compelling about the story in Ni-Oh, which is probably why I so easily lost focus when other games started coming out.

Combat in this game feels fucking amazing. The game was made by Team Ninja, who seems to have watched the developing Dark Souls phenomena, took notes, and adapted to what they think would be a better experience. I don’t know if it is, but I certainly like the combat in this game. It’s fast, it’s responsive, and it’s fairly deep when you get into switching stances. The game rewards player by refilling some of your stamina gauge, which in this game is called ki, once the player presses the R1 button at a particular moment after dodging or swinging a weapon. Pressing R1 in combination with a directional input on the DPAD switches stance, of which there are low, medium, and high. So you are given reason to experiment with switching stances in the middle of combat.

There are a few weapon types that carry the three weapons stances, and each stance has it’s own weak and strong attack. Combos are composed of weaks attack strings and strong attack strings. Every weapon has a skill tree that you advance as you go through the game, and some skills unlock different combos and moves you can perform, such as parries and the ability to regain ki while dodging.

You can also switch between weapons quickly, allowing you to play a way to deal with different enemy types. For most of the game I had been using a combination of the great axe and the duel katanas, but after getting some really good loot I began to use the katana and seeing it’s strengths I may stick with it. It’s adaptable in just about every circumstance, the movesets are all great, and like I said–it’s the strongest weapon I’ve got. All the weapons are fun to use, however, so if I find something stronger I may switch once again.

The game also has skill trees based on Ninja and Onmyo Magic, which are comprised of stealth and throwing shurikens and casting spells respectively. I’ve dabbled with these categories a bit, since the game really wants you to level your character with every stat and not just stick to one build, but I haven’t really dived in too much. I mostly stick to using the regular weapons.

Finally there are great ranged weapons that become useful in picking off enemies who are poised to ambush. They’re also great in moments when you’re against a tough enemy and you want to peck at their health while back peddling into a more proper arena for combat. You can hold two ranged weapons at a time and they include bows, rifles, and hand guns. They are all very powerful especially if you hit a critical shot, which is usually the head. Each ranged weapon has different ammo types, and they are very rare to find throughout levels. I’m almost always out of ammo.

Living weapons also exist, and holy shit this game has so many mechanics going on. Living weapons are like super moves you can use after charging them via collecting amrita, the game’s version of souls. Triggering a living weapon will summon your guardian spirit, and you will enter a state of uninterruptible, modified, and more powerful attacks and invulnerability. Guardian spirits all affect this state in different ways, and you can change between these at shrines or before entering a mission. This leads to great moments where you’re fighting a tough boss, you get them down to about a third of their health bar, and then you trigger that living weapon and hope it’s enough to kill them successfully. It’s not always a push to win button like super moves tend to be in hack and slash games, but when used correctly it can aid the player quite helpfully.

All of this combines to form a combat that feels fluid, complex, and fun, as well as unique. The player can approach this game like Dark Souls, ignore the other systems entirely, and choose to build their character with only their favorite weapon in mind. Once the player takes advantage of the other systems this game has to offer I feel like the game will really open up and show them the potential Ni-Oh has to offer.

When I had these impressions in mind, I thought I would write shorter blog posts about the games I want to write about. As always, this isn’t the case here, as Nioh is just such a big game. It’s long too–I don’t think I’m halfway through and I’ve played close to twenty hours at least.

Stay tuned for impression on the other games I have been playing during this insane period of the industry. The next game is a fighting game with terrible netcode. you mean every fight game that has ever existed? Oh.

samurai jons




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