A bizarre pre-release alpha demo for samurai Souls clone Nioh launched on the PlayStation 4 this week, and given that it's one of the rare releases that's piqued both Sammy and Ramsey's attention, we figured that we'd run a dual impressions article on the upcoming Koei Tecmo exclusive. Find out what we thought below.
Sammy Barker, Editor
I'm going to try to write this Nioh piece without lazily mentioning Dark Sou—too late! As an editor, it's my job to remove all clichés from the reviews that we run on Push Square, and that includes words such as "visceral" and the ever-present "like Dark Souls" simile. But Nioh really is like Dark Souls – frankly to an absurd degree. More importantly, though: is it any good?
Y'know what? I like it – but it's clear that Team Ninja's got its work cut out if its hoping to drop its samurai slash-'em-up onto store shelves this year. The gameplay loop is lifted directly from the aforementioned From Software titles which shall not be named; you collect "souls" with each kill, and these can then be traded for levels. Die, however, on your journey, and they'll be dropped, giving you a single opportunity to collect them.
It's a fun format that I'm not bored of yet, and I quite like the moment-to-moment action here – even if it does feel like you're attacking with a feather duster at times. Different stances enable unique tactics, and a skill tree teases tons of unlockable manoeuvres which can augment your chosen discipline. I particularly like the stamina regeneration mechanic that you can trigger at the end of a series of swings – it reminds me of Gears of War's active reload.
But while the foundations are in place, there's still a lot that needs to be tweaked. The balance isn't quite right, with shirtless samurais demanding several hits before they can be dismantled – while your armoured anime swordsman can snuff it with a single strike. If the developer really is taking inspiration from Dark Souls, then it would know that one-hit kills are not exactly common in From Software's games – the difficulty comes from learning the layouts of levels and reading attack patterns.
That's definitely there in Nioh, but it's obscured by the studio's obsession with punishing difficulty spikes. You can't, for example, take on two enemies at a time because you'll be toast in seconds – but while this is a similar story in, ahem, comparable titles, they at least give you the opportunity to retreat and restore order to the world. Here, sprinting samurais will chase you like overenthusiastic children until they eventually put you to the sword.
And running can feel wonky due to some strangely sensitive controls; it's hard to illustrate exactly why it feels wrong right now, but movement is awkward and loose. The graphics, too, are not up to par with other PS4 games – but this is an alpha test, so we'll let the developer off. There's work to do, then, but real potential in its structure and sword fighting.
Tweak the balance, tune the controls, and tighten up the graphics, and we may have an impostor worth experiencing on our blood soaked hands.
Robert Ramsey, Associate Editor
I made a joke last year about Nioh being a Souls game starring an anime version of Geralt from The Witcher, and as it turns out, that's basically the reality of Team Ninja's upcoming action title. Nioh so shamelessly mimics From Software's series that it's hard to avoid comparisons – in fact, it openly invites them, and I'm not sure that's such a good idea.
The Dark Souls games have been hot property for years now, with similar titles like Bloodborne only adding to the hysteria, so it makes sense for other publishers to want to get in on the action. That's fair enough, but as I said, Nioh, in many ways, is a shameless clone, right the way down to the stat-encrusted level up menu. There's nothing wrong with learning from the best, but by being so similar to a Souls game, I feel like Nioh is just asking for trouble.
Of course, I'm also hoping that it can actually live up to the billing. Much like Sammy, I'm cautiously optimistic after having played the alpha demo, and let's face it, it's about bloody time that we got a good samurai action game, complete with tense sword fights and honourable deaths.
Speaking of death, there's a lot of that here. I was whizzing through the demo with relative ease until a basic enemy hit me once and I died – and admittedly, that came as a bit of a shock. My instant reaction was that I must have done something horribly wrong, but that wasn't really the case – it's just that even the most generic of foes do a ridiculous amount of damage.
"That's fine," some will say; "Just don't get hit," they'll add – and that's a logical approach, but what's not logical is that these unfathomably deadly enemies are just little men with standard weaponry. They take about five solid hits to kill, but muscular Anime Geralt slumps to the floor after a couple of wild swings at most – it makes you question why you even have a health bar.
I'm all for a good challenge, but the worry here is that Team Ninja's gone a little overboard, like it's looked at Dark Souls and said "people like Souls because it's hard, right? Wait until they see how hard our game is!", completely missing the point in the process.
Even with these doubts, though, I have to reiterate that I think there's promise here. The feudal setting has a load of potential, the combat is reactive and satisfying – even if the controls are a little twitchy – and I really like the emphasis on loot, which already seems to be plentiful. What's more, the way that you can summon ghosts of fallen players for a quick scrap is an interesting system, and I imagine that it'll provide a great way to grind – especially since these spectres are somehow less dangerous than the first few foes that you encounter.
Nioh is still a title that's worth keeping an eye on, then, even if the alpha demo has, in some ways, opened my eyes to what could go wrong. I think first and foremost, this is a game that should play to its strengths – if it can capitalise on its cool sword fighting mechanics and offer up engaging encounters, it should be great, but there are definitely a few wrinkles that need ironing out.
What did you think of the Nioh demo? What do you think that Team Ninja needs to fix, and what do you like about the title so far? Unsheathe your sword in the comments section below.
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