Ever since Demon’s Souls released, a new genre was born. Dubbed ‘Souls-Like’, these games harken back to the days of old, brutally difficult and absolutely demand your attention. A few studios tried to mimic the formula but Team Ninja (Developers of the famously difficult Ninja Gaiden series) threw their name into the hat with Nioh, which was received very well. This sequel was also received very well and now a complete package with all the additional content is my first jumping in point with Team Ninja’s attempt. With a stress ball in hand….it’s time to die a lot.
You play as Hide, a half-human, half Yokai who hunts down Yokai as a mercenary. Yokai are demons that take many forms and devastate the lands during the Sengoku era, famous for constant bouts of war. In battle, Hide loses control of his Yokai spirit but is rescued by a travelling merchant who uses a stone to calm him. The merchant requests Hide’s assistance in collecting the rest of the stones but after a brutal betrayal Hide finds himself alone until the wandering samurai Hideyoshi Toyotomi comes to his aid.
Watch the Nioh 2 launch trailer below:
Getting this out of the way now, there will be many comparisons to the Souls games from here on out. While the Souls series opts for more emergent storytelling that requires the player to piece things together, Nioh 2 is more upfront and it doesn’t always work. While the majority of the cast are fantasy versions of real-life people, they usually boil down to being exposition dumps or are generally one-note. The exception being Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who is completely bonkers, like Majima from the Yakuza series. Overall, the story isn’t the focus and while it’s not bad by any means, I never felt the story propelled me into the next area.
Nioh 2 does everything it can to say “I’m not a Souls knockoff, trust me!”, and boy, does it change things up. Maybe it’s because I jumped into the sequel first, but new players be aware, this game won’t even make the beginning of your journey easy. The bread and butter of the combat is very similar to Souls, so let’s focus on the differences. The biggest difference comes in the Yokai system. You pick a Yokai form and throughout battle you fill a meter that turns you into your Yokai form and you deal massive damage, and this meter stacks on respawn.
This is a simple system but gives players struggling a fighting chance. Even if your Yokai meter isn’t full, you can still use your Yokai related abilities with the Anima bar, this bar refills when you attack the enemy’s Anima bar or purify areas around an enemy. These moves depend on which Soul Core you have equipped and can save you in a pinch. The Anima bar is also used for Burst Counters and these function like the Mikiri Counter from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
Each weapon has 3 stances (high, mid, low) as well as an affinity bonus for those who stick with it. Also, each type of weapon earn XP and you dump them into a massive skill tree. This is great because it gives so much flexibility just with weapons. There are, well a lot of armour types. This is where I figured out what type of game this is. Nioh 2 is a loot-based game, it throws so many variations of weapons and armour at you, it gets nauseating. Seriously, I hope you like scrolling through hundreds of items checking the massive stat list to pick the perfect gear. Some people love that, but I certainly don’t.
The aim is to give flexibility to players, so I get it. After sifting through everything, you explore kind of like a Souls game, twisted paths with shortcuts, spawn points that respawn enemies when you use them, just how I like it. I say kind of because Nioh 2 ditches the connected levels of the Souls series and opts for a clear level based approach, but commits a cardinal sin. When you replay a mission, any unlocked shortcuts must be redone, bad form Team Ninja.
As someone who has finished every Souls game, I was genuinely shocked at how hard of a time I was having, first off, dashes use up way too much stamina and even basic enemies have too much health. I just didn’t like what I was playing. That is until I gave into the summoning system. The only time I summon in a Souls game is for plot reasons, but in Nioh 2, it’s a prominent feature. By offering the hundreds of gear types you amass, you gain the ability to summon NPC characters to join you in battle and the games takes a totally different turn. Once I was in the swing of things I was having a great time, there are some nightmarishly difficult bosses but summoning turns the tide almost every time.
Graphically there are some nice assets and animations, but the art style might not work for everyone. I liked it for the most part, though it can look a little busy. Framerate is flawless and 60 is achievable on many systems, though the options are a little sparse. The voice acting is solid in Japanese and not so great in English and the soundtrack doesn’t quite hit as well as I expected it to. As a visual and artistic piece, it falls short of the quality in a Souls game but it does a very good job.
While there is a basic tutorial system, Nioh 2 needs to go into more detail for new players because there is a difficult button layout to comprehend and it takes a good few hours to get it down. The balances made to achieve the difficulty level is pretty good, but the amount of damage enemies take and damage they deal, lends a sense of artificiality to the game, difficult enemies in Souls games stood out, whereas here, it feels like every enemy has been suped up, though this can be bypassed with summons. I really don’t like loot based systems, I prefer Souls approach to a few armour sets with substantial upgrades. I think it lends to too much menu time and it takes you out of the experience.
On the other hand, that level of min-maxing is part of the genre, so it’s easy to see why it’s in the game. All in all, I really like Nioh 2, there is a ton of content and I haven’t even mentioned the end and post-game content or DLC, seriously there is well over 100 hours of content in one package. There are things here I simply don’t like but I respect how Team Ninja have tried to stray away from their inspirations and given Nioh’s fanbase, it’s working well. Those up for a real challenge, Nioh 2: Complete Edition is absolutely worth your attention.
Nioh 2 Complete Edition was reviewed using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Developer: Team Ninja Release Date: 5th February 2021 Reviewed On: PC Also Available On: PS4, PS5