Underneath my yellow skin

His Name is Nioh and He Advances in Japan*: Part One

Many moons ago, I heard tell of this game called Nioh. It was described as a samurai Dark Souls, and I was intrigued, but cautious. Souls-like has become its own genre, and most of the entrees are, quite frankly, trash. The ones that aren’t only make me long to be playing Dark Souls.  It’s difficult to strike a balance between being Souls enough to satisfy that itch while being different enough to not be a clone. Any-hoo, it didn’t matter because Nioh was a PS4 exclusive, and I didn’t have a PS4 at that time. I kept hearing about it, though, especially after it was released. It was widely praised, being called the child of Onimusha and Dark Souls, a cross between Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden (which makes sense since the team that did Ninja Gaiden, Team Ninja,  developed Nioh) with the loot drop of Diablo, and confirmed it was samurai Dark Souls. Most of the people who loved Souls adored Nioh as well, especially with the tweaks that recalibrated enemy toughness (too tough in the demo). When I bought my PS4, I thought about buying Nioh, but I’m cheap. I am simply not willing to spend $60 on a game, even though I would get plenty of bang for my bucks. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into all the Soulsborne games (if not thousands), so paying sixty bucks each would be reasonable. Side note: I am against pre-ordering, but FromSoft is one of my few exceptions, especially with Miyazaki at the helm. I am willing to buy anything he makes. JUST MAKE A NEW GAME ALREADY, MIYAZAKI!!

As I was romping my way through Bloodborne, the announcement that Nioh was coming to PC dropped, and I lost my shit. As much as I love BB (which is a great deal),  I do not love playing it on the PS4. I don’t hate it, but I’m a PC grrl at heart, and I firmly believe all games should be on the PC. In addition, if it’s on the PC, there’s a chance that it’ll go on sale sometime in the foreseeable future. This is simply not true on consoles. I bought BB two years after it was released, and I still had to pay $35 for the GOTY edition or whatever it was (it included the DLC). In contrast, I bought Dark Souls: Prepare to Die edition (which also included the DLC) for under $10 a year or two after it was released on PC. With Nioh on the PC, I could reasonably expect it to go on sale in a year or two at which point I would snatch it up.

The astute among you will have observed that it’s not years since the game has been released on PC; in fact, it’s only been a few weeks. By the way, it was $50 with DLC on PC, so it’s already cheaper than it would be on the PS4. Ian bought it on release, and he was loving it. He streamed the first part, which I watched because I’ve seen up to boss two (three if you include the tutorial boss, which I don’t. More on him later), and it ticked all the boxes for me. I was looking forward to playing it one day, but I was going to wait until it was under twenty bucks. I don’t mind playing a game several years after it’s released, and I have hundreds of games in my pile of shame just mocking me for not touching them. However, after I beat BB and was wondering what my next game would be, Ian and I were talking about Nioh. Late into the night, he gifted it to me, and I was properly stoked to be Samurai Geralt. This is another running joke with the game–the protagonist, William Adams, who is based on a real person, looks exactly like Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher series. William is Irish and a pirate, but he might as well be Polish and a witcher; he looks that much like Geralt, minus the scars. I’m down with that as Geralt is one of my video game boos.

I was excited to play the game, but nervous as well. It’s hard to tell what I will like and what I won’t, and while Nioh seemed like it should be right up my alley, it’s hard to say what will  click with me. In addition, while Nioh has similarities to Souls games, it has plenty of differences as well. Would it be the right mix of similar and different? The graphics are lovely in the cutscenes, but I had to knock them down in the settings because my computer has some problems with stuttering when the screen is effects-heavy (meaning fog and fire and shit). In addition, the environments themselves are not anything spectacular (so far). The first area is this fishing village, and it’s all very drab and dull. It’s also very same-y, and I got lost more times than I care to admit. There is a mini-map in this game, unlike in a series of game I’ll stop mentioning, but it doesn’t really help navigate the actual terrain.

I start out locked in a dungeon cell in the Tower of London (hello, Undead Asylum!) with only my gray bloomers on my chiseled, muscled body. I punch my way out of the dungeon cell under the tutelage of my Guardian Spirit, Saoirse (more on her and Guardian Spirits later), and then I promptly die to the first enemy (a guard) because I don’t have a weapon, and punching him  takes way too much time and energy. It’s part of the tutorial, of course, and it’s very Souls-like. I make my way through the Tower of London (picking up weapon and armor along the way. I have a ridonkulous helmet with a valve on it because I got the game on Steam. GET IT???? I couldn’t equip it at this point, but you can bet your sweet bippy I did once I got to the real game) with little difficulty. My time in Souls games has served me well, but the controls are different. I’ve gotten used to light and heavy attack being X and Y, but I still hit RB and RT from time to time. The biggest problem is that dodge/evade/roll is on A instead of B. HATE that. I could change the entire control scheme, but because how complex the systems are (more on that later), I don’t want to mess with it. I’ve gotten used to it, but it makes it hard to switch between BB/DS III and Nioh, then back again.

I reach the tutorial boss, Derrick the Executioner, and yes, that’s his name. Really. Derrick isn’t the name for a boss! Derrick is the name of the uptight dude from Accounts Payable! Anyway, I kick his ass no problem-o with my axe (and, yes, I gravitated towards the axe. My love for the axe knows no bounds), and Edward Kelley, the villain of the story shows up and infuses Derrick with amrita or stone power or something or the other. Look, I don’t know nor care much about the story. It’s ludicrous and weak, and it’s not why I’m playing the game. I like the historical info on Japan, but the rest of it? Negligible. It’s the first big difference from Souls, and I’m fine with it. Anyway, Derrick the Executioner comes back as a souped-up yokai (demon), and I handle him with no problem. After I get his health down to about half, my Guardian Spirit enters my blade which is now a Living Weapon. (This is obviously a pre-rendered cutscene because no matter what weapon you’re using, it shows a sword.) I use my Living Weapon to kill Derrick, and I’m now done with the first tutorial. May I say that I’ve seen YouTubers die to Derrick so I have a modicum of pride that I kicked his ass on my first try? Anyway, Edward Kelley steals Saoirse from me, I get shot by the guards, and I fall into the ocean below me. Somehow, I live, and next thing you know, I’m on a boat, motherfucker!

I have to pick my weapons, and I choose axe as my main and….I don’t even remember what I picked as my second. Not the spear because axe/spear is easy mode for nOObs (yes, the asshole faction of the Souls community has crossed over into Nioh because of course they have), but maybe swords? The odachi? One of those. It doesn’t matter because you can use whatever weapons you want; it mostly affects what drops you get, I think. Your first drop is a weapon in the ‘class’ you’ve chosen, and I seem to be getting a lot of axes. May I just take a minute to say there are a ton of systems in this game, and it can be overwhelming? Not only are there moves specific to each class of weapon, there are three stances per weapon. High Stance, Mid Stance, and Low Stance. You also increase your familiarity with your weapons as you use them, and you get samurai skill points, which you then can use on the skill tree in a billion different ways. You also have ninja skill points and magic skill points, which level up ninja skills and magic skills respectively.

Now, I’m all about the magicks. I think anyone who’s read any of my posts on Dark Souls knows this. First time I play a Souls game, I have a magic/caster build. So, of course I’m going to go for a magic build in Nioh! That’s a no-brainer. The problem is, I don’t know how the magic works in this game, and I don’t want to read the wikis as I play. I like to go in as pure as possible, which is why I’ve only watched up to the second (real) boss, and actually, the second boss I had seen before playing isn’t actually the second boss in the game. OK. I probably should just call them what everyone calls them as Derrick the Executioner has an actual boss bar. Anyway, I’ve been pumping points into magic more so than in other areas, which means that even though I’m currently over-leveled for the mission I’m doing, I still don’t have a ton of health. I’m slowly figuring out the magic system, and it’s pretty cool, honestly. I’ve heard it’s OP, but I’ve heard that about magic in Souls, too, and I never felt that to be the case. It’s a matter of trade-offs. I have low health and ki (stamina, and by the way, the ki pulse thing where you instantly regain your ki is awesome, but really hard to pull off. For me, anyway), which means I can’t take as many hits as the beefy tanks can.

I keep trying to find a second main weapon, but there’s not one I like as much as the axe. The odachi is pretty badass, but I just don’t dig swords in general in these types of games–I don’t know why. I like messing with the dual swords, but I don’t have the skills to use them properly. The kusarigama is fun to play with as well, but it’s another skill-base weapon. The spear is decent, but it’s pretty limiting as far as side-to-side except for the sweeps. I’ll keep messing around with the weapons, but, honestly, the axe/magicks combo is serving me pretty well so far.

There is so much to learn about the gameplay, but you also don’t have to master it all to make progress in the game. I pretty much stick to High Stance, which gives you big damage output, but makes you more vulnerable to attacks. I’ll throw in a Mid Stance from time to time, especially with the spear, but I rarely use the Low Stance. I keep meaning to play around with the stances, but it’s way down on my list of things to master in this game. In addition, as I’ve said many times, I’m old, and my reflexes aren’t as good as they used to be. I can’t switch things up on the fly the way other people can. Let’s add to that that I have two long-ranged weapons, and I can switch them during combat, too, and, well, it’s just too much for an old broad like me. I will say, however, that the long-ranged weapons in this game (bows, guns, hand cannons) are VASTLY superior to those in the other series. You can actually kill enemies with head shots, and it is glorious. It is so satisfying to watch an enemy’s head fly off and see those thousand points of damage.

Some basics: amitra is like souls or blood echoes. Elixirs are a mixture of the Estus Flask and Blood Vials, and I both like it and don’t. You start with a base of three elixirs at a shrine (bonfire), but you can pick up elixirs as drops. You can have up to eight at a time, and the rest will be sent to your storage. Now, I said often while playing BB that I would love it if you started with five blood vials every time you died, even if you had none in your storage. Nioh does this, and I’m grateful to always start with a base (you can increase that base number, I think, but more on that in my next post. Of course there will be another post–did you really ever doubt it?), but I don’t like that you can’t have over eight total. I understand the limitation during the level since you regularly pick them up as you go, but it’s not great for a boss fight–especially when you’re as shit as I am.

OK. This is getting long, and I’ve barely touched on the basics. Needless to say, I’m fully embracing Nioh in the same way I would a Dark Souls game (for better and for worse). which means consuming it in huge gulps. It’s a great game with several minute flaws. I will get to all of that in the next post. See you then!




*Normally, I would use a title like A Quick Look at Nioh or something similar, but I had a play on Rio stuck in my head for days and worked it out until I came up with this. I am inordinately proud of it, so there you go.

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