Before Nioh finally releases worldwide on Feburary 7th, 8th, 9th this year in all regions, Koei Tecmo gave gamers one last chance to try out the game, most likely in its finished format by releasing a ‘short’ demo on PSN. I say ‘short’ because you could finish a run of this in 3 hours if you’re good at action games, but to do everything in this demo, beat the all the bosses using every weapon build could take you maybe 30-40 hours. This demo has one stage which is used twice, one for the normal run, and one for a twilight run which is a much harder version with tougher enemies, and also one sub mission with a particularly difficult boss fight.
For those that are unfamiliar with the game, the best way to describe it is that the game appears at first to be very much like a Dark Souls game. You’re a badass samurai William Adams in this game and enemies are placed very similar to Dark Souls. You’ll need to run through the gauntlet of enemies and defeat the boss. The combat at first also appears to be like Dark Souls with a stamina meter that you have to watch carefully, the enemies hit hard so if you’re out of stamina, you can’t dodge as well if at all.
As the game goes on, you’ll find that much of the work has been placed on a deep combat system that has layers that action gamers will really enjoy. The first major addition is stances, which allows the player to employ combat in the high, mid and low stance by flicking between each using R1 and Triangle or Square or ‘X’ button respectively. Each one has different uses and you can experiement with each to see which is the most effective for the various enemies. With the high stance, you get strong attacks but your wind-ups are longer, and you dodge roll rather than strafe. The dodge roll also has less invincibility frames (iframes) so its more susceptible to getting hit if not timed properly. With the medium stance, you get a balance of the low and high stance in terms of quickness of attacks. With the low stance, you can attack a lot faster and each attack doesn’t deplete the stamina gauge as much. The strafe also has a larger window of invincibility.
The game also has a large array of weapons each with its own skill tree, combos and techniques to learn. There are possibly 30 to 40 skills in each one to learn, so that a player can replay the game entirely with just the one weapon, or they can branch out and try multiple weapons and level up slowly should they choose. The weapons also vary in pros and cons. The single katana is the easiest weapon to use, its fast and efficient. The spear has great length. The axe is brutal especially in high stance, but has long lead up times. There’s also a kusarigama, which is a badass pickaxe on a chain. I have no idea how you can’t hurt yourself using that, but then again that’s why I’m not a samurai.
An addition to the souls formula is the mechanic of ki pulse, ki being the stamina. After using ‘ki’ the player can press R1 when William is glowing, the stamina bar will also turn blue which will refill the stamina bar instantly allowing the player to effectively continue attacking. The combat develops a beautiful rhythm of hit, hit, hit, refill stamina bar, hit, hit, hit, refill stamina bar, strafe, strafe, hit, hit etc. That is if you’re skilled enough to avoid attacks from the enemy. When you get hit, it does upset the rhythm, which then means the stamina bar doesn’t refill, and you’re left standing right in front of the enemy without stamina and not being able to move or dodge.
The enemies are tough as well, most of the grunt soldiers will kill you within two or three hits and the larger enemies take significant damage from you in one shot. But most let you back up and consume ‘elixir’ (health potion) so you can stay in the fight. ‘Elixirs’ are fairly easy to obtain and they also replenish at shrines (checkpoints) so the game isn’t unfair in that regard.
The minibosses and bosses are difficult at first, but as long as you memorise their attacks, they become obvious, especially now that the player has so many available skills and attacks available to them, there’s always a way to kill them.
The end boss of this demo, the Ogress isn’t too difficult, so long as the player reads her attacks and dodges or strafes in time. The boss also highlighted how effective the combat mechanics were as well. To begin with, I was having a difficult time getting one or two shotted to death with the low stance which allowed for quick movements. Then I switched to high stance and had a LOT more success though I still couldn’t kill her. I went back to low stance, used a lot of quick attacks, while using the ‘ki’ pulse mechanic to replenish my stamina gauge. That allowed me to do more damage than usual and I was able to defeat her. But either way, it could have worked with any of the stances or weapons, which really shows the depth of the combat.
Overall, this ‘short’ demo, which took about 7 hours just to complete the Ogress normal level, really shows off the combat of this game. The full version is said to be about 50-70 hours long, so there’s going to be a lot to do. If you’re after a new Souls game, Nioh is really the best offering out there.