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tgs 2016


Nioh May Be Like Dark Souls, But It's Fun In Its Own Right
by Kimberley Wallace on Sep 16, 2016 at 09:56 PM
Platform PlayStation 4
Publisher Koei Tecmo, Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer Team Ninja
Rating Mature

To say Nioh has had a long development history is an understatement; it's nearing a decade now with various teams from Omega Force to Team Ninja touching the project. Team Ninja stayed on the game after entirely rebooting its first attempt. Director Fumihiko Yasuda says Team Ninja's original vision was too "Ninja Gaiden" and not enough like an action/RPG. Since then, the game has been revamped with the genre in mind, and Team Ninja took inspiration from Dark Souls to create a challenging-yet-fun game that places you in the shoes of an Irish samurai named William during the Edo era (the 1600s in Japan). During TGS, I went hands-on with the game and chatted with its director, Fumihiko Yasuda, about how it's coming along and what we can expect. Here are my biggest takeaways.

Death Is Unavoidable

I confess I died five times during a 20-minute demo, but never once did I become frustrated. Nioh definitely takes the Dark Souls approach of learning through death, and that works to its benefit. During the demo, I experimented with many different tactics to overcome various enemies swarming a snowy field. My first instinct was to dive into the action, blocking and slashing at the enemy using strong and weak attacks. The strong attacks are obviously slower, and can be more risky to attempt, so I used more weak attacks to chip away at my first enemies. However, I soon found that one overzealous move can cost you everything. Once an enemy pulls off more than one hit on you, it's hard to come back from their combo, especially if they hit you hard enough to knock you on your back.

Using your bow can be a godsend, especially if you can line up a headshot before a foe sees you. This made baddies fall instantly to the ground, allowing me to get close for one last hit to polish them off. You also have bombs at your disposal, which can also give you an edge to start confrontations. Combat is less clunky and a bit faster than Dark Souls, more akin to Bloodborne. The best strategy is to study the enemy patterns, and never try to line up more than a few hits before rolling away. I felt a good rhythm of discovery and achievement throughout my time; the learning curve seems just right. 

Stances Change Things Up

So far we've seen three different stances you can swap between to change up your strategy during battle. If you want to be agile and evasive, a low stance is your best bet. If you want to be aggressive, a high stance allows you cause more damage, but you are also more vulnerable. You can also take a middle chance which is a good happy medium between the two. I found the high stance the best for executing killer combos.  

Building Your Character And Finding Better Weaponry Is Vital

As you defeat enemies, they drop glorious loot, and there's nothing quite like getting better gear and weapons to help you withstand tough battles. All the gear has both cosmetic and attribute implications, so William's appearance changes when you equip new threads. As you kill enemies, you level up and get skill points, but you can't assign your points until you find a shrine. At shrines you can also save your game, heal up, and change the elemental spirit attached to William, which gives him certain stat boosts and buffs. A variety of categories exist to distribute your skill points, but from what I saw in my demo, they're mostly tied to weapon proficiency, so you can end up being a sword or spear master, depending on your weapon of choices. 

It Puts You History, But The Story Is Pretty Minimal

Team Ninja focused more on the action gameplay than anything else, so don't expect some big, sprawling story. "This is an action game, so it's not really about creating a drama, so a lot of it will be just be action," Yasuda says. The cooler moments come in the historical figures, such as Tokugawa Ieyasu, that show up. Remember this takes place in the 1600s during the time of the Battle of Sekigahara, one of, it not, the biggest battle in Japan's history. Throughout the game, you fight or cooperate with various generals who participated in it. Throw in battling larger-than-life spirits that take on various forms. I saw everything from ones with more human forms to others that looked more animalistic to some that were a mix of the two. Just because the story isn't the focus doesn't mean that there aren't exciting reveals; William, an Irish man, has some paranormal powers and connection to the spirits that will be explored. Interestingly enough, The Irish character is based on a real person who became a samurai, and Team Ninja recreated many iconic places and settings for the game, such as Kyoto and Itsukuhima. 

Yokai Aren't Always Bad

In Nioh, Japan has been overrun with spirits. While you'll fight plenty, they aren't always evil; some will help you out. Yasuda said although Nioh is a dark fantasy, they also included some cute yokai as well. 

Bosses Are Brutal

After learning the ropes, I made it to a boss battle with a vicious ice maiden named Yuki-Anna. Yuki-Anna had a variety of attacks to throw at me, including some vicious ranged ones, such as her ice breath. She has has two health bars, so it really is a battle of attrition. However, if you get her health bar into the purple zone, she takes damage more quickly. Getting her into the purple is key, but you have to be patient to get there by wearing her down to that point and then going on a frenzy. I learned the hard way of what getting too close to her and attacking too aggressively can do; she hit me with a fast attack that turned into a combo, knocking me to the ground. I didn't stand a chance of getting back up, since her onslaught made it impossible to dodge. This marked my death. If you die, you lose your experience, but you can go back and collect it on the battlefield on your next attempt (it's marked as an icon with two swords). 

Co-Op Allows You To Take Down The Biggest Baddies

We got a taste of co-op in the recent demo, but just to reiterate, you can call in another player to help you take down certain overpowered baddies. You get some of the best items from doing this, and Yasuda said there was good feedback on this element from the demo. Also roaming the battlefield are the souls of other players who died at certain points, you can battle them and get their equipment. 

Team Ninja Has Been Taking All Your Feedback Into Account

Releasing demos has helped Team Ninja get your impressions and rethink certain things in the game. For instance, feedback caused them to add a dojo that acts sort of like a tutorial where you can practice. "We will never make this game very easy, but it'd be a shame if you threw away the controller and never touched it again." Yasuda says. "So we made some improvements [based on feedback], such as the U.I. and other game mechanics." Yasuda also talked about the effort going into balancing, saying some people found the game too button mashy in the demo. "We always want the player to feel a level of intensity and being threatened just like in the real martial arts, where you can't just slash your way through," he explains. "We always want people to feel challenged no matter how strong they get. In the future we'll try to be more meticulous and we'll have to keep working on the game balancing. We'll do whatever we can to prevent that from happening."

Yasuda joked that one of his favorite things has been watching the development team die over and over again, and just continually get better at the game. This is truly the draw here, and it's obviously aping a lot of Dark Souls, but i can't deny I had a blast playing Nioh. I played many games at TGS, and nothing created the intensity in my mind to think my way through battles like Nioh. Sometimes inspiration comes from seeing a working formula and doing something else with it. After a long development cycle, Nioh looks like it may just prove it's been worth the wait.

Nioh launches on February 9 for PlayStation 4. 

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