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.
How would you rate the Nioh alpha demo? (40 votes)
- Very good33%
- Very poor3%
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Beat the Oni boss mini bosses and I think the game is SO Damn Good. Combat is on point and every encounter seems like a tense duel. The levels are pretty big judging by the first seen here. The boss was an easy piece of .... though, would have liked him to be less predictable, but he's the very first boss so I guess that's alright. The enemies being overpowered is a necessity due to the nature of the Ki system, but I agree that some tuning is in place for combating multiple foes.
Graphics are HORRIBLE, but it's in alpha so hopefully they have time to improve them. The alpha absolutely sold me on the game. All in all, I can't remember a demo had this much impact on me. I think you guys are selling it short
Couldn't find this on the NA pan store
I have only started, but I love the tension of the duels, and the animal spirits is a nice touch! You have to been very tactical, will attempt to complete it tonight! I think it could be a hidden gem!
@Mega-Gazz It should be live now.
Enjoyed this better than Dark Souls and ive only played an hour. Its fecken great!
@Mega-Gazz Gotta go in the "free" section of the psn store and look at demos, doesn't even show up when you search it.
I loved Bloodborne but felt like it was too soon for Dark Souls 3 and haven't bothered picking it up yet. This however I'm having lots of fun with so far, I prefer the Japanese setting to Dark Soul's western fantasy which helps.
I am surprised the editors of this article only mentioned Dark Souls in their comparative points. I downloaded this demo the second I saw Koei Tecmo was the developer. I love and crave the Souls series but I was stoked at the idea of a current gen Ninja Gaiden! Both Souls and Gaiden require determination and practice to master their own respectable art form. I only had 20 min last night to try it out and left feeling disappointed. If Tecmo would focus on retaining the fast/brutal/challenging/...PERFECT combat of Ninja Gaiden 1 or 2, and then focus on adding RPG or even Dark Souls leveling...I WOULD BE IN HEAVEN!!! So far the controls feel too loose and I had trouble focusing on the enemy I intended to...not Gaiden'esk at all! Bring back the right trigger straightens the camera behind the character for fast camera control, add a bigger more open level design, plus add a bunch of RPG elements and I think this game could be Souls killer.
I like it but agree with article there are balancing issues and the diffculty comes from the wrong elements in combat. I like Dark Souls because I never feel cheated and death always feels like I was to blame, like I've got greedy and gone for one hit too many for example.
I wonder if it expects you to take time to learn the controls and grind to higher level before moving on.
I also found myself facing the wrong direction in this game because it lets you run away when locked on. The problem is its not so easy to turn around and attack as it is to turn and run so I died a lot by getting hit in the back.
All in all I liked it but I want to see them release a beta with adjusted balance and controls.
@sonicmeerkat thanks, I was searching and after NI it wouldn't even let me put next letter in.
@Mega-Gazz Yeah had the same issue, very strange to say the least.
Not the kind of game I want from Team Ninja
I remember a time where From Software made a game called Ninja Blade, which blatantly mimicked Ninja Gaiden. Seems like the studio's are going full circle.
@DominicanGlory do you mean the mini-boss in the house or the main boss in the boat?
Overall, Nioh is actually really promising. I found myself becoming a lot more wise to enemies as I played, and with the likes of the spear, I was able to fend off 2/3 enemies simultaneously.
And the things that distinguish it from being a complete Souls rip-off is the skill tree system and the stances when it comes to combat. It really opens it up and allows for more possibilities.
Although having said that, the most annoying thing about enemies is that they all behave in exactly the same way: run straight in your direction and kick the snot out of you. They feel less like real enemies and more like drones hell bent on destroying you, but they all feel the same regardless of weapon or type.
And the level design feels very linear at the moment, and that leads to a sense of frustration as it doesn't feel like there are many options to take if you're finding a route difficult.
Even so, I think it's shaping up to be an entertaining romp - let's just hope the technical aspects get cleaned up and that things become more varied in terms of enemy behaviour and type.
I'm definitely excited to see how it develops.
I'm sure I'll come under fire for saying this but I actually found it a little too hard. Now I'm no stranger to the Souls series, I've played 100's of hours and have Platinum Trophies for Dark Souls, its sequel and Bloodborne. As said in the article though, they seem to have just made it crazy hard for no real reason other than to beat Souls as the tough kid on the block. There's a fantastic game in there though and I'm praying it's potential is met
@LocalPenguin I agree ... I thought the demo was pretty difficult!
@LocalPenguin Yeah, I think we all agree. It's unfairly punishing and cheap in places; they need to rebalance it a bit.
@LocalPenguin @get2sammyb I am with you! Bloodborne goty edition was my first experience with the soul games but I loved it and finished it...this was infuriating at times, so cheap! This can't be the difficulty they are going for...
I thought it was generally very unimpressive . But then again i'm a souls and witcher 3 fan. Nioh felt like a low bugdet and unpolished souls game to me.
I played this last night for about half an hour. It's pretty cool! I like the setting and the combat is interesting, with the various stances and different weapons promising lots of options in battle.
It's way too hard, though. I'm not really one for these super-hard RPGs like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. I went into Nioh expecting it to be difficult, but the first enemy you encounter shouldn't be able to one-hit-kill you! The controls, and particularly the camera, definitely need work, too.
There's a really strong game here, I think, but as many have said, it definitely needs rebalancing. Will be keeping my eye on it.
This game is too hard to be enjoyable right now.
@Quintumply Dark Souls is a piece of cake compared to this game XD
I don't mind hard games when they're enjoyable, this wasn't for me. I'm just not into the Souls series' style of movement and combat which seems to be the trend in these types of games now. Ah well.
Dude looks exactly like Captain Boomerang in the 90's
I'm a huge souls game fan and I like the fact that there are different devs out there trying their own souls like game. I would love to see someone take the souls formula and make a cut scene heavy and story driven souls like game, similar to what lords of the fallen did. Only problem is that the story was cheesy af and the game had really horrible balancing issues in ng+, specially with the last boss.
It can either be linear or non linear. I only played a little bit of Nioh so far and agree with pretty much what everyone saying, but don't forget it's still early. I thought the graphics were descent enough my biggest concern is the balancing problems with the one hit kills, trying to fight multiple enemies at a time is merely suicide. I got hope for this, I hope they get this right
Well the idea of collecting souls from defeated enemies to power up was in Onimusha years and years before Demon's Souls came out. This game also resembles Onimusha in terms of the armour and enemies. The "you drop your stuff when you die and have to collect it before you die again" thing was, for me, first encountered in Diablo 2, about 10 years before Demon's Souls. So actually, those two games are more what those ideas bring to mind.
Also, totally coincidentally, but Ni-Oh is Oni backwards (the "h" in "Oh" is just put there for when it's written in our alphabet, it's really just Ni-O) so that also reminds me of that great Capcom series. Apparently the game is also based on an unfinished script by Akira Kurosawa that was called Oni. This game, the script and Onimusha are all set in the same period in Japanese history, too.
To be honest, I don't agree with the harder than souls comparison.
just like the souls games, running into an area without investing into levels and gear will make your experience much more difficult, always plausible, but very difficult.
After an hour grinding in the demo, I felt very comfortable with my character, focusing my level ups on one particular weapon style (namely katana, mid stance) and mastering that, the level ups in the stance made a substantial difference in my ability to perform combat maneuvers.
as to the multiple enemies, I'm very pleased with the difficulty tuning here. it's about positioning and timing. I had to tactically dodge both attacks while refining a quick strike here and there to soften then up, and execute a decicive strike when one enemies stamina would drain.
Overall i found the combat variety with me in great control of my Anime-Geralt executing flashy combos, to instantly perform a nice degree of evasive maneuvers to position myself. rolls, dashes, and sprints chain smoothly to navigate the battlefield with ease.
and on the other hand the game rewards the steady hand. Tactically you could win fights holding perfectly still, waiting for your opponent to slip up, and allowing your blade to do the maneuvering for you
Completely agree with this 100%
Thought it was great, agree one hit kills! waaa!
The ranged combat is important thought. Much better than From’s games. Lots of potential and Team Ninja are legends. Give it a few months.
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