Ever since Demon’s Souls proved a difficult game can be successful, a number of developers have attempted to capture the same success. Lords of the Fallen and to a lesser degree The Surge, prove that it’s more than just making giving characters stamina, realistic mechanics and enemies that do an extreme amount of damage. However, in the past decade, no one has quite matched From Software’s accomplishment. Team Ninja, the company that brought us the amazing Ninja Gaiden reboot, tried their luck with Nioh but it fell short. Now that they’re back with Nioh 2, does it achieve what fans are looking for or should this just be From Software’s? Here’s our Nioh 2 Review.
Nioh 2 basically shows the impact spirit stones have on the world by following Tokichiro’s quest for power and a series of side stories about how it shaped the world around you. Those familiar with Asian history or at least played a number of Japanese games might recognize a couple of names and faces like Oda Nobunaga or Hattori Hanzo but it really comes down to a vague series of events that lead to you killing this or that. Some of the backstories is explained through the character directory, though there is enough action and fun cutscenes to at least keep you interested, assuming you can make it to the end.
Staying true to the genre, Nioh 2 is brutal at the start and despite getting easier, it never quite relents. Whether you do the optional tutorial or not, the core gameplay loop will come down to managing stamina through a resource called Ki. A good number of enemies can be overcome by simply waiting your turn but there is so much more to the experience.
If you want to be successful at Nioh 2, there are two things you need to absolutely master, attack patterns and every mechanic. Every enemy, no matter how powerful, can only do a finite number of moves. The trick isn’t just learning what is going to happen, as much as figuring out when is it safe to attack.
Enki, the second yokai you encounter, loves to do this spear combo. It can be disrupted if you want to risk it, otherwise, it will do either a lot of a couple of hits and finish. The ideal situation is the powerful finish, as that indicates the attack is over and you’re safe to attack. How well you adhere to the dance will dictate your success and let me tell you, there have been many times I got greedy and even at 1 HP, I was bested by my enemies.
Bosses are generally designed around certain play styles. The first three, Mizuki, Enera and Yatsu-no-Kami, come down to dodging, burst counters and blocking. These are by no means the only way to win, just that they all have certain moves that are easier if you master said skills. Based on your own skill and if you’re not inexorable, different skills can actually turn the tide of battle rather quickly.
This is perhaps Nioh 2’s biggest strength. It isn’t esoteric to the point where there is only one way to win, but rather, you’re given such an array of skills that your build and play style will dictate how you play as much as the boss does. Whether it’s using the yokai shift, a transformation technique, to either block or disrupt an attack or giving your weapon a certain attribute that an enemy is weak to, you have the power and it can and more importantly will make a difference. But, more importantly, once you get it, things open up without ever losing their bite.
For a game designed around playing specific ways, there is also a good number of options. Every weapon and piece of armor has over 20 different designs that give you a more personal touch. Even if you obtain better gear that looks ugly, you can simply swap the look. You can also swap out certain skills so they better match your build, with more options opening up as you progress.
Despite doing so many things right, Nioh 2 sometimes fails to get balance right. Certain situations will pit you against multiple foes or so many different disadvantages that it can seem unfair. In a lot of cases, these can be overcome by being more careful or planning ahead but a few are just rough. In addition to that, the difficulty progression can be a bit confusing. At first, it gradually increases, decreases significantly and then increases to an extreme degree. A more gradual increase or at least including some of the easier stages before things get real would probably make it a lot more accessible, without taking away from the bite.
When you’re not desperately fighting against hostile forces, Nioh 2 is simply a beautiful looking game. Not only are the models nice to look at, but enemies and locations are also diverse and interesting. Some of the bosses are more inventive than you would think and a few have animations that allow them to stand out. Twilight missions take this to another level by giving everything a crimson hue, resulting in a hauntingly beautiful world to explore.
Nioh 2 Verdict
The more you play Nioh 2, the more you understand its charms. Often times the problem isn’t the game, as much as you’re playing the wrong way. Even if I just want to chop up every enemy with my sword, there will come a point where you need to use bows, guns, items and everything else to come out alive. Sometimes it will be hard, a few stages rely heavily on specific tactics but it’s fun, rewarding and fascinating if you’re willing to give it a chance.
[Editor’s Note: Nioh 2 was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]