Nioh: Complete Edition (PC) Review

By Renan Fontes 07.11.2017 5

Review for Nioh: Complete Edition on PC

What does it mean for a video game to be "Souls-like?" For most, it means playing like, or sharing design elements with, Dark Souls. It's easy to call a game like Nioh Souls-like. It's an action RPG with stamina management, an emphasis on difficult boss fights, and developing character builds. There are similarities between the two, but a case can, and should, be made for just how unique Nioh actually is. Team Ninja has crafted an action RPG that, while similar to Dark Souls on the surface level, is teeming with depth and nuance that simply isn't found in other Souls-likes. It's well designed, well written, and well worth taking another look at it now that it's finally made its way to PC.

Nioh's genius can be seen as early as its tutorial. By starting William's journey in London instead of Japan, Team Ninja gives context for the cultural clash William will experience for much of the narrative while demonstrating how Nioh is more than just a Souls-like RPG. In a way, it almost feels silly to say the tutorial differentiates itself from Dark Souls because, for all intents and purposes, the Tower of London is a Dark Souls stage.

Cramped, dark, with mostly diegetic sound, the Tower of London evokes a very Soulsborne atmosphere. Combat is mostly done with humans in tight environments, and the dreary lighting gives off a sense of foreboding for what might come next. Combat is straightforward, relying mainly on stamina management, and the main boss of the stage is a heavy hitter twice as large as most of the enemies fought in the tower. To drive the point further, William has no access to any of the skills or gameplay mechanics he'll gain after shortly arriving in Japan. What's left is an introduction that is derivative by design. The tutorial is meant to invoke these comparisons between the series all for the sake of cutting the thread of familiarity when the game starts proper.

Screenshot for Nioh: Complete Edition on PC

William, and any Soulsborne fans, are taken out of their comfort zone almost immediately and are told to survive in a foreign land. In more ways than one, the controls are deliberately counterintuitive to any genre muscle memory. The action button and sprint are swapped, attacking is done with a face button instead of a shoulder button, and item use is designated solely to the d-pad. Failing to adapt to the control scheme only leads to disaster, but it's meant to do so. The decision to remap the controls to seem as punishing as possible for Dark Souls veterans might come off a bit superficial, but it's all done to give the control scheme a proper identity of its own; attacking with a face button allows for quick manoeuvring between striking an enemy and sprinting, and item usage is reserved for the d-pad because the HUD places items on the bottom left of the screen. There is an economy between what is happening on screen and what is occurring on the controller at all times.

When William finally gets to Japan, he is greeted with a land worlds apart from the Tower of London. The colour scheme is brighter, hallways are replaced with open fields, and new skill trees and abilities open up, which solidify Nioh as an action RPG in a league of its own. With the combat stance system, William has access to three different stances that change the speed, power, and capabilities of whatever weapons he has equipped. High stances allow for stronger attacks at the expense of stamina and speed, low stances are fast but deal little damage, and mid stances serve as a comfortable in-between.

Screenshot for Nioh: Complete Edition on PC

Stances are more than just weapon alterations; they serve a purpose in combating enemies, as well. Some enemies will be naturally sturdier, meaning William will need his high stance to force a guard break. Other enemies might attack from ground level, forcing William to use his low stance to reliably attack them. In giving a reason to stance switch during battle, combat becomes more dynamic, and locking William into one set stance is discouraged. Even though every weapon plays differently and can have their combos manually edited, the design philosophy behind stance switching remains universal. An axe will be able to break an enemy's guard with more ease than a katana, but it still follows the rules Team Ninja has set in place.

As mentioned previously, William can edit his movesets to an extent. By either levelling up or using rare consumable items, William can gain Samurai points that he can use to level up his skills. Each weapon has its own skill tree that gives way to new combos, stat upgrades, and quality of life enhancements to the general mechanics. Out of these three, it's the combos that feel the most rewarding to purchase and experiment with. William has enough at his disposal starting out, but being able to customize how his attacks chain into each other allows for a degree of genuine gameplay variety that isn't always present within the genre.

Screenshot for Nioh: Complete Edition on PC

On top of being able to edit his combos, William has access to magic, ninjutsu, and Guardian Spirits, all of which serve as valuable tools on his journey. Magic can add elemental properties to weapons and debuff enemies, ninjutsu provides an assortment of offensive ninja tools, and Guardian Spirits all have their own stats and special abilities that can be levelled up to benefit William. While magic and ninjutsu are optional assets, Guardian Spirits play a key role in any given build, so it's important to take careful consideration in choosing the perfect spirit for William. When fully charged, the Guardian Spirit can be triggered to activate a "super" state for William where he takes no damage and can attack enemies with incredible speed and ferocity.

For added variety, William can equip four weapons at once: two melee and two long-ranged. Weapon switching is as fluid as stance switching, ensuring that the combat is always dynamic. The flow of battle can change at any second and it's always at the behest of the player. William's wide array of gameplay abilities encourage fast paced action that requires perception. Nioh's combat is about living in the moment to moment and never losing sight of what is occurring on screen. No mechanic shows this better than the Ki system.


 
Taking the place of a traditional stamina meter, William's endurance is gauged with Ki. Ki governs how far William can run, how much he can attack, and how long he can keep his guard up, but most importantly, Ki can be replenished in-game with some quick reflexes and a handy ability called "Ki pulse." By Ki pulsing, William replenishes a fraction of his Ki immediately, allowing him to continue fighting when he would otherwise have to stop due to a lack of stamina. This interpretation of stamina management is by far the most novel idea Team Ninja has brought to the table. With stamina becoming more of a mainstream mechanic, it only makes sense for it to evolve. This method of minor replenishment is one that completely changes the flow of action for the better and gives Nioh a genuine gameplay identity that can't be replaced by its contemporaries.

While the gameplay thrives in its variety, the same cannot be said for the overall enemy design. There's a nice balance between human and monstrous enemies early on, but it quickly becomes apparent that most of the non-boss enemies have already been seen by the third mission. Bandits and smaller Yokai serve as the traditional fodder enemies present in just about any action RPG, and larger Yokai act as situational monsters for when the level design calls for them. Unfortunately, the level design doesn't call for much variety in which enemies are present. They always tend to be well placed, but it can be tiresome wading through the same enemies over and over again. Most stages will feature some mix of bandits, mace-wielding Yokai, and disembodied spirits flying around for the killing. Thankfully, bosses more than make up for the underwhelming enemy design, offering a unique and legitimate challenge with every stage.

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If stellar boss fights aren't enough to make up for the lacking enemies, the gear system certainly will. Pieces of equipment are sorted in tiers of rarity, and which piece drops is left almost entirely by chance. It's possible to grind for a certain set of armour, but most of the game will likely be spent utilizing what William naturally finds. This is a fantastic way of avoiding the pitfall of "optimal" gear that so many other RPGs fall into. William's equipment is going to change - and often. From a gameplay standpoint, it allows for his stats to fluctuate throughout the story while also encouraging players to potentially stick to a specific build. From a narrative perspective, it's a subtle way of adding immersion to the story. William's journey takes place over several months; it's only natural he would be switching around his attire from time to time.

On the subject of story, Team Ninja has outdone itself in regards to writing and presentation. At its core, Nioh is about loss and recovery. William has lost his spiritual guardian, a piece of himself, and must find her. Japan has lost its stability and must find a ruler to recover some semblance of balance. This is a personal tale rooted in the political happenings of the time period, and them running parallel creates one of the most thematically sound video game narratives in recent memory. More importantly, however, the way the story is depicted is what makes William's journey as impactful and memorable as it is.

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Each scene's framing feels especially cinematic with the cinematography placing careful consideration into where characters are placed and how they interact with one another on screen. Too often, video games fall into the trap of jumping back and forth between characters during dialogue without much style or flair. It's a simple approach that gets the point of a scene across, but it's not one that leaves a lasting impression. Even the smaller scenes here come off remarkable simply by how they are framed.

Not every scene can be a full-fledged cutscene, nor do they need to be, so whenever William acquires a new Guardian Spirit, a scene evocative of Southeast Asian shadow puppetry plays out. These scenes feature the Guardian Spirit's owner monologuing about themselves, giving William context of their life and plight. Each guardian scene makes use of one colour backdrops where the shadowed imagery displays the character's story. These moments, though brief, are some of the most powerful in Nioh and go a great length to developing the cast without treading into expository territory. What's more, the shadow puppetry is simply beautiful from an artistic perspective, demanding total attention of the player and standing out as one of most memorable elements of the narrative.

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Packaged in with this PC port are all three main DLC packs: Dragon of the North, Defiant Honor, and Bloodshed's End. Though the base story ends in a satisfying fashion, closing out William's, and by extension Japan's, arc, these three pieces of DLC act as a strong epilogue that ties some loose ends with the cast and country: specifically Hattori Hanzo and the historical Siege of Osaka. In addition to adding new stages and story to go through, each DLC includes new weapon types, Guardian Spirits, and gear for William to play around with. They were worth paying for as extensions of the base game and are more than welcome as inclusions in the PC release.

It should be worth mentioning that Nioh: Complete Edition is on the demanding side in regards to performance. Weaker computers will likely struggle with running the game perfectly - and this is a game worth running perfectly. From its gameplay to its story, every moment is one that demands the player's attention, which offers something unique and satisfying. Team Ninja has taken a genre and refined it to the point of redefinition. It's time to put the term "Souls-like" away; Nioh is the new standard.

Screenshot for Nioh: Complete Edition on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

To simply label Nioh as "Souls-like" would be to imply that it is in any way derivative of the Dark Souls formula. It shares its similarities, yes, but Team Ninja has crafted a different beast entirely. William's journey to recover Saoirse runs brilliantly parallel to Japan's journey to recover order. Combat is fluid and variable thanks to quick weapon switching and an emphasis on recovering stamina mid-action instead of simply exhausting it in bursts. The overall presentation and aesthetic of Japan is breath-taking and unforgettable. The enemy variety is lacking, but that's easily overlooked by just how engrossing each boss is. With all the DLC present, Nioh: Complete Edition is an excellent way of experiencing Team Ninja's masterpiece for the first time, or just revisiting William Adams for another trek through Japan.

Developer

Team Ninja

Publisher

Koei Tecmo

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

i have no idea why people like this game.

i find it incredibly dull and boring.

unimaginative levels that are mostly japanese villages or caves and 85% of all enemies are just guys in armour.

combat and controls are needless complex and the chain-sickle weapon is so over powered and broken it renders every other weapon class worthless.

and dont even get me started on the endless inventory trash.

Insanoflex said:
i have no idea why people like this game.

I recently wrote a review on it if you'd like some ideas.

i read it.
none of the problems the game has were addressed.

Insanoflex said:
i read it.
none of the problems the game has were addressed.

"While the gameplay thrives in its variety, the same cannot be said for the overall enemy design. There's a nice balance between human and monstrous enemies early on, but it quickly becomes apparent that most of the non-boss enemies have already been seen by the third mission. Bandits and smaller Yokai serve as the traditional fodder enemies present in just about any action RPG, and larger Yokai act as situational monsters for when the level design calls for them. Unfortunately, the level design doesn't call for much variety in which enemies are present. They always tend to be well placed, but it can be tiresome wading through the same enemies over and over again. Most stages will feature some mix of bandits, mace-wielding Yokai, and disembodied spirits flying around for the killing."

There's one paragraph addressing one of your problems which I'll also add is the only one I really feel is an issue.

I found all the levels imaginative and loved the Japanese aesthetic. Every cave and village was distinct from one another. Weather certainly helped distinguish stages from each other. Honestly, I'm regretting not gushing about the level design more now. There's a lot to appreciate, thanks for reminding me.

I see nothing needlessly complex about the combat. It's fun, engaging, and the customization is great. It's not so complex where it's convoluted. You never even have to edit your moveset if you don't want to. As for the kusarigama, so what if it's overpowered? I don't really see how that's an issue. It's fun to use Like every other weapon in the game. Practically any weapon will be overpowered if you know how to use it well, and it's not like there isn't a learning curve with the kusarigama. 

Clearing out the inventory is simple enough. If there's trash, take it out, it takes a second.

I'm sorry you didn't like the game, but don't tell me I didn't address any issues and that you don't understand why anyone would like the game when I just wrote 2000+ words from the perspective of someone who did like the game. I don't mind that you have grievances with the game and I'm more than happy to discuss why you didn't like it when I did, but have some tact.

We both write for the same publication, let's be respectful.

We both write for the same publication, let's be respectful.

no disrespect intended

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