Video game review: The brutally difficult ‘Nioh’ pays off for serious players

Todd Hailstone

Four stars

Nioh Reviewed for PlayStation 4.

When I sat down with Nioh I figured I was in for a challenge. The action role-playing game is strongly influenced by the notoriously difficult (and excellent) Dark Souls series, and it delivered on my expectations and then some.

Set at the tail end of Japan’s Feudal period, Nioh’s story follows Irish traveler William as he attempts to stop villainous alchemist Edward Kelley from using demons to influence Japan’s raging civil war.

Team Ninja’s hybrid of historical events and over-the-top fantasy can feel confusing. History buffs might recognize the characters and locations as important, but too often I found myself disinterested in the hobbled-together narrative. It does improve toward the end, however, effectively building to a dramatic conclusion.

Nioh’s combat, meanwhile, is outstanding. It pulls heavily from Dark Souls’ tactical, position-based fighting, cranks up the speed and adds a layer of complication with its stance-based fighting styles. Nioh is without a doubt the best-feeling action game I’ve ever played, featuring five different weapon types that fundamentally change the way your character behaves, along with special techniques to unlock with each one.

Eighty hours in, it feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the combat system. Add in ninjutsu and magic, and you have a deep and rewarding game.

The developers do seem to have cut corners in other spots. The music sounds good but gets repetitive, with several tracks recycled. Level and enemy designs are done well, pulling heavily from traditional Japanese oni, but a lack of variation makes it feel samey in the later stages. That becomes especially problematic when you’re forced to run the same stage 40 or 50 times trying to beat it.

Bottom line: This game is brutally difficult. Casual players might want to turn the difficulty to easy or avoid Nioh altogether. The masochist in me relished it, though, and when I finally triumphed, the rush of euphoria was worth all the pain.

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