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Welcome to my Nioh review diary. This will be the parchment on which I document my struggle to git gud with yet another Japanese RPG. How will it end? With me dead, probably. Nevertheless, I will be adding entries fairly frequently to this review, as I make my way though the game’s grisly worlds.
If you’re interested, please bookmark this page and remember to return regularly.
Entry #1: introducing Nioh
Time played: 3 hours
Chapter: 1, escaping the Tower of London
Mental state: good, but blood pressure is worrying
Note: although I’m still downloading the bulk of Nioh’s bytes, the game does allow you to play a bit of the story prior to complete download. It doesn’t seem to be like a Final Fantasy XV-type demo scenario either. It’s quite nifty, and Team Ninja deserve a hat-tip for that.
I’ve played my fair share of seemingly difficult games before. Bloodborne, two titles in the Souls series, and Trackmania Turbo have all frustrated me to the point of uninstallation. Since I’m still downloading Nioh, I don’t have that option.
While I write this, frustrated that the game continues to LOL at my terrible decisions and virgin button combos, I can’t deny that there is something both revolting and sadistically endearing about this game.
From Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo, Nioh will probably be the toughest RPG you’ll play all year. Some sites are praising that very fact, writing blurbs dedicated to its steep learning curve, calling it a perfect palate cleanser for Souls fans. But can difficulty alone determine whether a game is good or not? I’d argue no.
But let’s start off with some of the basics.
You play as William, a Western bloke who has a penchant for slicing necks using swords and splitting eyes using axes. He’s effectively a Western samurai, but when you first meet him he doesn’t seem like much. You begin your journey trapped in the Tower of London — a place I genuinely never want to ever visit after playing this game — and are tasked with fighting your way through its defences.
Later, I read, you get to practice your martial arts on monsters dubbed Yokai, but I haven’t yet reached that point in my pathetic attempt.
I’ve been stuck in this point of the game for nearly four hours now — largely because I’m clearly a shit gamer, but also thanks to this title’s stupid difficulty curve. Sorry, correction — it’s practically vertical. It starts off impossible and gradually worsens.
Nevertheless, gameplay mechanics are simple enough to grasp. There are loads of containers and eventual corpses to loot in which you’ll find the likes of healing potions (medicine) or new bits of kit that you can equip.
Nioh will probably be the toughest RPG you’ll play all year
Combat seems straightforward — it’s effectively the familiar strong- and light-attack based hack and slash antics — but there’s underlying strategy. Stamina, or Ki, management comes into its own during battles. And I don’t mean only when facing bosses or severe enemies, I’m talking from the very first British guard you meet.
You can block too, and change your stance to counter your opponent. Timing is absolutely essential. Taking hits drains stamina, sprinting and dodging also depletes it. Ultimately, if you aren’t thinking through this game every step of the way, you will be murdered.
It’s a lot like third-year linguistics, I hear.
Of course, you can save progress along the way — although the game doesn’t actually tell you that you can. Little altars allows William to pray to his God for strength (he knows he needs it), but they are fairly infrequent. In chapter one, I’ve come across one so far, and after the 20-odd times I’ve died today, I’ve got to know it very well.
But look, Nioh does deserve some credit. Team Ninja really knows how to kick the smug out of gamers using nothing more than pixels, and I wouldn’t suggest that the game’s enemies are bulletproof. You are forced however to practice vigilance, be succumbed by constant stress and overfocus on every single enemy. For me, that’s just not fun.
Of course, this is but a mere taste of my thoughts regarding Nioh thus far, and will be updating this review meticulously as I get my ass continuously handed to me. So my views might change. But for now, if I hadn’t just put my controller down and calmly walked away from my console, I just might’ve lobbed it through a window.