Nioh Review - Soulslike doesn't mean anything anymore (if it ever did)

Some loves do not end, they make huge rounds and then come back. The same goes for ideas: initially announced as a cross-media product based on the unfinished film by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, Nioh eventually found its way to the shelf after thirteen years. The result? Tremendously original.

It is spoken of in practice since the first beta session of the title as “the Japanese answer to Dark Souls"(Notoriously, From Software's registered office is in Catanzaro). Behind this boutade, however, there is more than what it may seem: not so much why Nioh in fact it presents elements common to the Souls series in a distinctly Japanese context, but precisely because the comparison with Miyazaki's series has been raised en masse, to the hysterical search for a yardstick at all costs with which to measure the last child of Team Ninja. Yet character is probably the last thing Nioh lacks, so much so that the comparison (and stubbornly wanting to insert it in the alleged Soulslike vein) it is close to what the final result is.

If it ever made sense to talk about Soulslike, after Nioh the label becomes almost an insult


[…] Let's limit ourselves, rather, to the label of Soulsclone, more intellectually honest and less limiting from a conceptual point of view (because if a developer wants to do something else, he doesn't have the need to follow the Dark Souls lead).

To learn more:
Galeotta fu: the "Soulslike" label

Plot, not Lore
Nioh shares the philosophy of the Souls series, but immediately affirms its identity

One of the characteristic features of the Souls series, already traceable in the progenitor but then definitively cleared by Dark Souls (and Bloodborne), is having built description after description a mythology. And we talk about mythology not because our autarchic streak has suddenly awakened and we want to ban Englishisms, but because “mythology” that comes closest to the meaning of lore. Stories that have their roots in ancient times and that the oral tradition has obscured, hiding details and changing others, wrapping everything in an aura of esoteric charm. And this is where Nioh begins to fight, from the very first bars of the game, its war of independence with From Software: where Miyazaki and his have implied and whispered, Team Ninja relies on a more precise canvas and immediately focuses on the picture (with historical and political hints) on which the story of William (the protagonist of the game) is then painted . And where the Souls series draws elements from literature and the imagination, in particular from Western culture, Nioh decides to take its cue from events that actually occurred in our world, immersing everything in a purely Japanese context (as we said). A declaration of intent, practically clear from when the title starts for the first time: an England in the midst of the Anglo-Spanish War turns all its hopes of defeating the Invincible Armada to alchemy and the Amrita stones, present in abundance in Japan. Although the introductory section is set at the Tower of London, the events will then move immediately afterwards to the Land of the Rising Sun, allowing historical figures of the time (such as Hattori Hanzo) to make their appearance in various ways during the game.

Basically Lore versus Folklore, and the message doesn't go unnoticed.

But if the setting looks to the east, the playful setting shares the birthplace with the protagonist of the opera e it is decidedly Western. In a market that seems to have made the expression "open world" the answer to the fundamental question about life, the universe and everything else, Nioh structures the experience with an approach to missions, set in micro-areas (on which, however, you return, on the occasion of some secondary quests or twilight missions, more difficult and playable "in rotation" but more generous in the rewards) definitely less intricate than seen in a Souls, also including the progenitor Demon's Souls. So much so that even if you cannot move between one sanctuary and another (in essence, the equivalent of From Software's bonfires or lanterns, with some extra menus linked to the possibility of building some minor support objects or managing some perk ) there is no lack of this possibility, nor do we get to accuse Team Ninja of laziness or lack of content. Indeed, from this point of view Nioh is very rich, and the developers (you don't pay) are gradually introducing new missions. In short, a perfect and fitting example of what we defined long ago the generation of the gameplay. And all this without yet having gone into the details of what the gameplay of the product is.

To learn more:
In Search of Wonder: The Gameplay Generation
Another championship
Is the term Soulslike really necessary?

Let's clarify immediately: the lines you are about to read they don't want to belittle From Software's contribution to contemporary industry. On the contrary, whoever is writing feels in debt to the Japanese house (or rather, with those inside the Japanese house who believed seriously and to the end in Demon's Souls, a horse on which not even Sony itself had bet at the time), who undoubtedly got into the chair and showed everyone the main players in the market that there was still room for more old-school approach products, without too many frills and viscerally linked to their gameplay (and to using the gameplay to punish the mistakes of those on the other side of the screen). On the other hand, however, it must be recognized that From Software has implemented a lesson forgotten by many, but very clear in the minds of those who have played and developed role-playing games in the first hour of the mass video game. Precisely for this reason to speak of Soulslike, when in hindsight games that share the spirit of the Souls series can be traced even before the birth of the series itself, it is almost like wanting to forget everything that happened before Demon's Souls.

Either way, whether a label like Soulslike ever made sense or not, Nioh transcends it.

Team Ninja did what was expected of Team Ninja, creating a truly profound and rewarding product, pad in hand

Pad in the hand indeed the philosophy will also be the same, sadistically punitive towards the player and his mistakes, but the mechanics just don't. Nioh goes much deeper, reaching layers of depth that do not find correspondences in the products signed by From Software, so much so as to leave even the veterans of Dark Souls displaced (not to mention murdered deaths, until you become familiar with these new mechanics) . The concept of Ki, for example, at first glance seems to be simply the equivalent of the stamina at Miyazaki, renamed simply to give the whole a more Japanese flavor. But Team Ninja she didn't just take the stamina bar and cover it with some Teriyaki sauce: the idea of Ki rhythm, which allows you to recover valuable units of the indicator if you press R1 at the end of a combo. Timing is of the essence, because depending on when the trigger is pressed the recovery will be more or less marked. Too soon, and the bar will fill up with a negligible amount of Ki. Too late, and not even that meager amount of energy will flow back into William's body. The end result, however, has a terrifying impact (and we're absolutely complimenting the product) on gaming economics. On the one hand you can pursue the enemy with less downtime, in short, play more aggressively and taking fewer breaks than you would have to take between skirmishes without using the Ki Rhythm. On the other, however too much bravado could result in game over, because everything is played on a razor's edge: timing mistakes or lingering too long in front of the opponent means ending up entangled in his counterattack, losing health and in the worst cases even life. But that's not all, since even the usable weapons can be read in many different ways, depending on the style of play and the needs of the moment. William can put his hand to any weapon using three different grips, which they directly impact on executable combos, on their speed and on the damage they can inflict. The high grip is slower, but more lethal when its hits hit, managing to inflict more damage. The downside, however, is not paid only with the deficit in speed, but also bearing in mind that more openings are left to the enemy, who can take advantage of it. The average one is the classic compromise, the equivalent of the "normal" situation, good for taking measures and attacking while managing to maintain a good margin in terms of defense. The low handle, finally, shortens the range of attacks available but allows tremendously fast attacks, which are well suited to both a hit and run approach and to longer compositions, given that once an enemy is "stuck" the cadence of the blows she is higher and freeing herself is more difficult for him (but always paying close attention to the consumption of Ki).

On this basis, as happens in every title of the genre, the class of weapon used is grafted, each with its own characteristics. The axes, heavier (in the moveset but also in the damage inflicted) give way to katana and the very fast double katana, passing through solutions that allow you to keep more distance such as spears or to range more in terms of radius and maneuver like the Kusarigama. A package that would already be very respectable, but that it acquires a depth in depth when, as you fight using a weapon, Nioh grants points to spend to buy new techniques, which can then if necessary be associated only with specific handles. In our case, for example, we "hooked" to the high handle of our ax an attack, to be performed in the closing of a combo, capable of lifting the enemies into the air and inflicting very heavy damage, while the medium handle while maintaining the pressure on the triangle allowed the classic "spin attack", great for making low kills when enemies decide to attack by surrounding the player. And, icing on the cake, William can equip two weapons at a time, taking advantage of the ability to quickly switch from one to the other without having to open the pause menu (which does not block the flow of the game, being in real time). Summary of what we have read so far: a lot of stuff, with the result of setting up an incredibly deep, versatile and customizable game system.

Without enemies up to it, the above would be useless: Nioh however does not disappoint

All this good of Kami, however, would be an end in itself without some enemy on which to vent it. And this is where Team Ninja is faithful to its origins (After helping Omega Force in the development of some musou titles) unleashes fearsome opponents and mini-bosses throughout the (limited, as mentioned) extension of the game maps. William and the player must not test the thread of their katana only against "simple" human opponents (who still hit hard and punish any defiance of the couple) and then against the classic and very fierce ritual bosses at the end of the level, but also against the Oni who are hiding in some parts of the map. Enemies more difficult than the average opponent, which precisely for this reason, once eliminated in case you run into a game over after defeating them, do not return to haunt the playing area (unlike fighters in human form and size). Enemies that by the way bring to the maximum the need to use the Ki Rhythm, since they are able to make their world overlap with the real one, making the recovery of forces drastically slower in these infested areas: however, managing to restore Ki with a perfect rhythm it is possible to eradicate this contamination, eliminating the problem and allowing William to breathe more calmly. To close, finally, there is the possibility of using throwing weapons (from rocks to more distinctly Japanese objects, such as shuriken) and a sort of equivalent of magic, which together with firearms and equipable bows complete what is the endowment. exploitable during the game experience. Elements in a certain way secondary, given that their use has a cost in any case in terms of the resources available, but which frame the playful and allow you to deal more intelligently with certain situations (an arrow in the enemy skull, if he is not wearing a helmet, knocks him down instantly).

Customize the frame-rate as well
Some smudges, but on the artistic side Nioh gets it right and is also appreciated for the possibility to choose between frame-rate and resolution

Before venturing into the (necessary) examination of the performances obtained on the field by Nioh, it is equally necessary to spend a few words on artistic component of the title. As it should be clear by now, these are two components that go hand in hand and have various points of contact, but which are in fact two different aspects of the product. And Nioh addresses this diatribe by sharing a lot with the Souls series, managing to carve out a precise identity on an artistic level, thanks to an undoubtedly fascinating creation of the game environments and capable of giving damn successful glimpses and even bosses and more generally enemies characterized already from the first brushstrokes, even in a context that certainly cannot be painted as technically indisputable. Perhaps thanks to the troubled development, in fact, the technical performance is not always very clean and is forced to allow itself some compromise, with elements not always drawn on the screen with the attention one would expect from what (in fact and for the moment) is an exclusive PlayStation 4. On the other hand, however one can only applaud the extreme personalization that, even under the technical side, Team Ninja has allowed the player, who can choose whether to flow of the experience by pushing on the resolution, blocking the frame-rate at 30 frames per second or allowing him to oscillate more freely, or instead decide (and, in our opinion, the best solution is undoubtedly this) to make the resolution variable to try to guarantee 60 fps. Objective not always achieved, with some uncertainty in the most demanding phases for the hardware on which the title is running, but which is still achieved for most of the experience pad in hand. Personally we would like that, especially in such titles, which undoubtedly push on the visual side but at the same time have a password in fluidity, the rest of the industry follows this model and allows the player to choose what to favor: for the moment, however, we can only be satisfied with this first step taken by Team Ninja, especially if we consider that in any case Nioh is one of those products to be included in the category of video games with an elephant gestation ( in the specific case, over the decade).

Verdict 9/10 Less Soulslike, more Nioh-like Comment Soulslike, never like in this case, is a decidedly reductive label. Undoubtedly, From Software (as mentioned) must be recognized broad merits, especially because in spite of the predictions they have resurrected an attitude that the rest of the industry had set aside too hastily, but equally undoubtedly Team Ninja has not limited itself to copying the task in class, but he read the theme delivered by Miyazaki, made it his own and wrote a novel similar in intent but completely deeper in the realization. Pad in hand Nioh is satisfying, complex and full of different interpretations, and manages to make the player breathe for the duration of the experience an air that does not seem like a simple imitation of any Souls. A strong, precise and convincing claim, which enriches an already incredibly rich lineup like that of PlayStation 4: watch out for swearing though. Pros and cons Not a simple Dark Souls clone
Lots of content
Incredible play depth ... x ... But all the more reason not for everyone
x Some technical flaws

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