Is your resolve strong enough to keep you alive in the harsh lands of Japan? Raise your weapon. Become the Samurai you’re destined to be!
Nioh is a dark action role-playing game developed by Team Ninja for the PlayStation 4. The development surrounding the game was sporadic from 2012 until 2015, when it was announced to be a PlayStation 4 Exclusive, and released world-wide in February 2017. Oddly enough, Japan was the last to receive the game, 2 days after its initial release on the 7th in America. The game’s development started as early as 2004 mainly as a multimedia project based on an unfinished script by Akira Kurosawa, who was a Japanese filmmaker. Team Ninja was given the project, and the development that followed lasted for four years. The original script was based on the life of the historic Western samurai William Adams, but as these types of things go, the story was embellished with elements of the supernatural. Upon release, the game has received a lot of positive feedback, being compared by most critics, very fondly, to the Souls series.
Based on a True Story
The setting for the game is during the Sengoku period of Japan, specifically 1600, a time of social and political upheaval with near-constant military activity and war. During this time, there were three warlords fighting to unify Japan, most notably Tokugawa Ieyasu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Oda Nobunaga. It was during this time that William Adams and his second mate Jan Joosten settled in Japan and became the first ever of very few Western samurai. Soon after Adams’ arrival in Japan, he became a key advisor to the Ieyasu.
Most of the key facts have, predicatably so, been changed and embellished in the game, one of which is that Jan Joosten doesn’t even feature, and another is that William, upon arriving in Japan, had an extensive knowledge and experience of combat with different weapons, as though he has studied Kenjutsu, which quite literally means “the art of the sword”. Despite this, the story of the game is very intriguing. The game start off with William narrating, telling us about Amrita, a mystical golden stone found in abundance in Japan, and is being sought after by Queen Elizabeth I‘s government to gain victory over Spain.
William is held prisoner in the Tower of London, but breaks out with the help of his guardian spirit Saoirse, a being born from prayers of his home village who has saved him from death when he was a young boy, and now prevents him from dying. Edward Kelley, who is seeking Japan’s Amrita, captures Saoirse with his own Ouroboros spirit, and uses her to find Japan. William, who was originally a sailor, goes in pursuit of him, arriving in Japan in 1600 on the ship Liefde, and fights the various Yokai, which catches the eye of Ieyasu’s ninja servant, Hanzo Hattori, who offers to help you find Kelley in exchange for assisting Ieyasu.
Death… Death Everywhere!
I started this game knowing nothing, having only seen some trailers and thinking it looks really good and fun. Imagine my frustration, when having no knowledge of the fact that this is comparative to the Souls series of games, when I was repeatedly failing at winning the multiple enemy encounters. It was only later when using the Shrines to save the game that I saw the enemies had come back, and I realized that I am playing something similar to Dark Souls, which I have, unfortunately, not had the honor of playing. I have seen many people say this is in some aspects harder than Dark Souls, so I was a little comforted to know that I wasn’t the only one struggling to get an understanding of the mechanics, despite the fact that the game doesn’t overload you with information. It gently gives you a basic understanding of the controls, Square and Triangle for Light and Heavy attacks, X to dodge, L1 to block, etc. and only later do you get introduced to the more complicated aspects of the combat system.
After your escape from the prison, William reads about the weapon proficiencies of the samurai, and you choose two types of weapons to add bonus points for either Strength, Dexterity, or Skill into your character’s stats, then you choose a Guardian spirit, that will also add a point to your stats, but also give you passive bonuses for combat. Make sure to read these bonuses thoroughly, because they help out quite a lot. I opted for the dodging and agility, despite my initial impatience wanting to mow down all my enemies. I am thankful for my choices now, but there are other options, for boost in attack and such. Now come the tricky bits.
Combat consists of many facets, one of which are Stances. You get the High stance, Mid stance, Low stance, and Sheathed stance, which means 3 are used for combat. Each stance is important in their own right, so do not think that you will only stick to one stance for the entire duration of the game. Mid stance I have found is good for general use, but Low helps a lot when facing enemies who attack fast, as you attack fast in turn as well, with a sacrifice to attack damage per hit. High stance is mostly used for strong damage, but you sacrifice speed. This makes sense, because holding a weapon high around shoulder level requires that you use more strength and will tire you out quicker. Your attacks, as well as receiving damage, causes your Ki bar to deplete. A green Ki bar (which can also be seen as a Stamina bar) will deplete quite quickly over time while you attack, and block or dodge. But waiting for that to recharge in the middle of a fight can be… fatal. Which is why you are introduced to the mechanic of the Ki Pulse.
As you attack, a red bar replaces the green for the amount of Ki you use in an attack. When you’ve finished your onslaught, blue lights appear around you and float towards you, at the same time as a blue bar replenishes the red section. Once the blue bar has fully (or partially depending on your situation) replenished the red parts, you press R1 to replenish your Ki/Stamina in order to continue your attacks. However, watching your bars to get the timing can be difficult while fighting can be difficult. Fortunately there is another visual cue that occurs around William in the shape of little blue lights that gather around him and then fly towards him. When the lights glow their brightest, that’ll occur at the same moment as the before-mentioned blue bar. If done right, you can regain almost all of your Ki through these Ki Pulses. If your stamina runs out and you are hit, you are stuck in a period where William is stunned and vulnerable to attack, trying to catch his breath. You do not want this to happen. If it does happen though, be sure to repeatedly mash the dodge button so that you can get away in time before being killed. Retreat is a very good strategy in this game.
The Art of War
As I mentioned before, my lack of experience led to many a death for William, which made me take a step back and assess the combat more scrutinously. Remembering that stances are involved, it might be wonder about the usefulness of each stance, and when each should be used, and how. I visited the in-game Dojo (basically the tutorials), and then did some research on the history of the Samurai’s swordsmanship. I didn’t find a lot regarding the stances themselves, but I learnt that there are techniques that the Samurai developed over time to increase their proficiency with their swords. These techniques require focus, for steps to be followed, and watching your opponent carefully. I applied this to the game, in combination with the Ki Pulses and figured out that there is a timing in every fight against every foe, even in the amount of steps they take during an attack that leads to another attack. Almost like a musical rhythm.
Samurai, during times of war, followed a code for living, taught during their training, which carried through into war. This code would call for certain formalities on the battle field to be followed, concluding that war could be “conducted” in a civilized manner. (But as we know, this can rarely if ever be the case). As such, being sneaky and underhanded, like Ninjas who are assassins that strike from the shadows when you least expect it, was despised among the samurai. Which is why when I saw Hanzo in the game being a servant to Ieyasu, I was surprised. In fact, he wasn’t the only ninja. All this aside, the armor and weapons used in the game were accurate from what I could gather. Samurai armor was designed to protect the wearer from arrows and blades, while not sacrificing mobility. This is evident by the inner parts of the arms being unprotected, but the outer parts of the arms, shoulders, torso, head, thighs, shins, having armored plating. Samurai sword techniques aimed specifically to target those vulnerable parts, and this is captured in Nioh as well.
Nioh is a phenomenal dark fantasy RPG, and despite the embellishment of a true story, I truly enjoyed the experience. Even in my initial frustration where I could not keep William alive because of my lack of experience, I could not stop playing. I knew there was more to this, and that it couldn’t be an impossibly difficult game from the beginning. If you take into account that the game is comparative to a Dark Souls game, it’s completely understandable. Couple this with the tips I gave you above, and the knowledge on swordsmanship in samurai culture, and you’ll be well on the way to becoming the samurai you have always wanted to be. The combat is very involved, but so is the graphics and scenery, and even the soundtrack. I was not bored with any of the sights that I saw, and the soundtrack kept me going, even during the boss fights. The story pulls you into a fantastic world, although I can’t help but wonder how a game without the yokai would have been. Either way, this game is very worth the play and money spent. The game is being sold at BTGames for R825.00!