Yokai slaying goodness…
The original Nioh was one of my favourite games of 2017; its harmonious amalgamation of Soulsborne architecture and hack n’ slash combat transcended the established conventions of its pioneers. From its labyrinth style environmental design to the strategically difficult reactionary combat, the Soulsborne DNA coursed through the intrinsic foundation of Nioh, while establishing key elements of its own. Its combat was undisputedly satisfying and far more robust than the foundations it stemmed from and its layered gear system added an entrancing level of customizability. The original Nioh was a pristine example of impeccably designed moment-to-moment gameplay, which was fine-tuned to an unparalleled scope of preferences. It might have lacked environmental diversity and immersive novelty of FromSoftware’s impeccable repertoire, but Team Ninja’s illustrious near-masterpiece is undoubtedly one of the most exhilarating games of the generation. Its sequel adds many quality of life elements that result in a more enjoyable experience but lacks a sense of creative ingenuity that would set itself apart from the established subgenre. Its various systems are improved upon and its masterfully crafted combat is just as responsive and satisfying as it was three years ago. With added combat mechanics, a plethora of new weapons and abilities, and an exceptional display of variously designed Yokai to slay, Nioh 2 is a mechanically sound masterclass in gameplay design and an exceptionally engaging, albeit predictable sequel. Granted its improvements feel like a half measure, lacking the definitive leap in progression that monumental sequels require to alleviate any semblance of repetition and similitude. From consistently reused assets to its marginal improvements and differentiations, Team Ninja’s latest ultimately feels like Nioh 1.5; a revamped and definitive version of the original but not the iterative leap that the series deserved. Despite its relatively safe foundation and lack in novelty, Nioh 2 is still an exhilarating gameplay experience that rivals the meteoric heights of the Soulsborne genre and is ultimately one of the best action RPGs of the generation.
As with its predecessor, Nioh 2 takes a bevy of different historical elements and intricately weaves each facet into its core DNA. From notable historical figures such as Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Tokichiro) to the illustrious plains of the reverent Sengoku period, Nioh 2 is a lavish display in the amalgamation of historical and fictitious creation. Its cinematic semblance is a notably pleasant quality, in a similar construct to its predecessor’s previous efforts and the structure of FromSoftware’s latest, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. While its cementing pieces and forms of exposition lack a formative sense of cohesion and deliberation, its core narrative is carried by the idiosyncratic personalities of Nioh 2’s engrossing side characters. Straying away from the dedicated protagonist of the original Nioh, its sequel implements a robust character creation tool, allowing players to not only customize to their individual preferences but also project and personify themselves in the manner they see fit. Given the one-dimensional and monotonous persona of the original protagonist, William, the inclusion of a character-created silent protagonist for Nioh 2 was ultimately the smarter approach as the two share the same level of personality and charm. Each character’s intriguing, layered background story is beautifully illustrated in that iconic painting-esque animation displayed in the original, possessing a pristine image of tranquility and fluidity that is simply mesmerizing to behold. These dream-like pieces of exposition lack the emotive quality and sense of poignancy encapsulated in the original, but still deliver a welcomed slice of serenity in a cascading realm of relentless intensity. The environments continue to illustrate the original’s historical approach to fantastical realism, with gorgeously ambient scenery and monumental landscapes being vicariously explored through your personified avatar. From the lavishly vibrant art design to its impressive level of detail, Nioh 2’s level of graphical prowess may not match the unfathomable perfection displayed in Sony first-party titles but manages to surpass the founding pioneers of its subgenre. In another superlative demonstration in superiority, Nioh 2’s technical performance is an astronomical achievement that easily outshines FromSoftware’s current repertoire. From a resolution focused, 30fps movie mode to an exceptionally fluid 60fps action mode, Nioh 2 continues the series’ remarkable level of accessibility and player choice. Given its combat heavy stature and its notable reliance reactionary strategy, Nioh 2’s 60fps action is an absolute godsend, resulting one of the most mechanically sound and gratifying gameplay experiences of the generation.
In the illustrious world of video games, gameplay is always king. As with the monumental staples of the Soulsborne genre, Nioh 2 is an absolute masterclass in game design. Its robust and fluid combat system is just as visceral and satisfying as it was in 2017, striking anresounding equilibrium between the methodical combat of the Onimusha series and the frantic intricacy of Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden. Each brilliantly layered element, from the diverse set of combat stances to the masterfully strategic Ki Pulse mechanic, returns in its original pristine form, resulting in a gameplay experience that feels almost identical to its predecessor. With a diverse set of unique weaponry, each tool of decimation is accompanied with a laundry list of unlockable skills based on the selected stance, resulting in such a preferential and accessible gameplay experience that unilaterally caters to the player’s choice. The newly added Switchglaive is a glorious favourite of mine; it acts as viscerally rapid weapon when utilized in low stance – in a similar fashion to the untransformed state of Bloodborne’s Saw Cleaver – it then takes the form of an elongated blade with extended reach in mid stance, and completely transforms into a devastating scythe in high stance. Guardian Spirits also return in Nioh 2, providing that elevated sense of transcending power that is rightfully adored and beloved in the action genre. Living Weapons from the original Nioh have been replaced with the Yokai Shift, a mechanic that allows players to become possessed by their Guardian Spirit, taking one of three different Yokai forms and unlocking new powerful attacks and abilities. The Brute form is a slow, heavy hitting beast, the Feral Form is exceptionally swift, visceral, and agile, and the Phantom form is elegantly transcendent. Another foreign and wonderful mechanic in Nioh 2 is the satisfying burst counter. Similar to the perilous attacks in Sekiro, enemy attacks that glow red can be negated and countered through the use of a burst counter. The burst counter allows the player to temporarily transform into their Yokai Shift form and if timed correctly will interrupt the enemy’s attack and deal a significant amount of Ki damage. The timing for executing a successful burst counter will vary based on the Yokai Shift form, however if used incorrectly it will leave you vulnerable to the enemy’s visceral attacks, enforcing a profound notion in high risk and high reward mentality. Upon defeating a Yokai, you will occasionally receive a Soul Core in the midst of its regular spoils. Soul Cores are items that hold the remnants of a fallen Yokai’s power and can be attuned to your Guardian Spirit for additional stat increases. Additionally, each Soul Core provides a corresponding Yokai ability when attuned, allowing the player to either utilize a momentary ability of the fallen Yokai or even temporarily transforming into the Yokai itself while performing its idiosyncratic attack. Lastly, Nioh 2 introduces the Dark Realm, an infested reality shift into the demonic setting – inhabiting similar negative properties to the Yokai Realm with reduced Ki recovery and it can only be dispelled by defeating a particular Yokai enemy. These novel gameplay elements add a relative layer of differentiation from the original Nioh, but never truly transcend the sequel into a status of its own. From the challenging fortitude of revenant enemies to the robust, yet familiar gear system, a substantial amount of the original’s foundation remains unchanged in Nioh 2.
You may have noticed I have yet to mention anything in regard to Nioh 2’s level of difficulty; Nioh 2 is undeniably challenging, yet arguably the easiest Soulsborne game I have played to date. Its level of challenge and difficulty is notably relentless and evokes an intimidating aura of intensity and authenticity. With a continual emphasis on studying enemy attack patterns and logical movements, and Nioh 2’s reactionary combat opportunities and counter mechanics, its implementation in rewarding combat and gratifying difficulty strikes a harmonious balance in pristine fairness and masochistic struggle. Despite this warranted praise, the fundamental core of Nioh 2’s gameplay systems heavily rely on its gear and level based structure. Given its mission based structure and how each mission is assigned a recommended player level, players can easily equip different sets of superior equipment to increase their damage and defensive stats, and can also surpass the recommended player level by straying off the beaten path and partaking in Nioh 2’s robust side content. With this empowering combination, momentous battles and boss fights feel relegated to the fixation of a player’s level as opposed to their established skills and reflexes. This system is more akin to the standard conventions of the traditional RPG as opposed to the established notions in difficulty fostered by FromSoftware. Nioh 2 is also the only Soulsborne game where I defeated numerous bosses on my very first attempt; I was able to defeat the final three bosses without a single death during each admittedly intense encounter. Adding to Nioh 2’s omitted themes of difficulty and formidable challenge, players are also able to donate weaponry and equipment in exchange for Amrita – experience currency used for levelling your character – removing the profound sense of accomplishment and arduous skill that would typically follow a triumphant victory. While its robust gear system tends to meddle with Nioh 2’s core sense of balance and structure, its loot and RNG tendencies are unsurprisingly addicting and engaging, with a remarkably euphoric aura imbued in every rare instance and discovery. Additionally, the exceptional weapon familiarity and soul match system return in this iteration, further cementing the franchise’s pristine execution in player cadence and accessibility. As with its combat and gameplay mechanics, many of the original Nioh’s underlying systems remain untouched and unchanged, resulting in an immensely enjoyable, albeit familiar experience the second time around. In addition to the collectable Kodama, Nioh 2 introduces the absurdly adorable Scampuss – a spherical Yokai in the form of a corpulent cat. These cute little creatures temporarily roll alongside you and provide a momentary buff to Anima generation – an effect gauge that provides the player with the ability to perform the aforementioned burst counter and Yokai abilities. Side missions also return in Nioh 2, with a majority of these optional quests using previously completed levels, while changing the placement of enemies or including different enemies altogether. Given their notable abundance and conspicuous aim for longevity, an unsettling realm of repetition and familiarity eventually sunk in. From recycled assets, levels, and boss encounters, it is difficult to not feel fatigued by their lack of novelty and ingenuity. Regardless of the evident familiarity, the rewarding shortcut implementation and impeccably intricate level design from the original are an absolute delight to whimsically discover and explore. Multiplayer in Nioh 2 is impressively implemented and a notable improvement over the limitations demonstrated in its predecessor. From the hassle free implementation of player summons to the new Expedition mode, which provides exclusive coop missions that function with a different set of rules, playing with your friends is a far more accessible and convenient experience, encompassing a greater focus in preferential choice.
Nioh 2 is one of the most safe and pedestrian sequels of the generation, but this negative formality never detracts from its unadulterated sense of exhilaration and euphoric satisfaction. Its copious systems remain untouched and unchanged, evoking a residual sensation of familiarity and comfortability – a profound embodiment of the proverbial saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. From the innovative soul match system to the exceptionally engaging Ki Pulse mechanic, the original’s novel implementations continue to thoroughly impress and manage to outshine the established conventions of the Souslborne subgenre. Its notable dip in relentless difficulty and lacklustre boss design is a disappointing realization, with encounters lacking the insurmountable provocation and articulate design displayed with the Nameless King from Dark Souls 3 or the Guardian Ape in Sekiro. Nioh 2 remains as one of the most visceral and captivating gameplay experiences of the genre and generation; its exceptionally gratifying, albeit familiar combat is masterfully crafted and lightyears ahead of its competition. From the replicated systems of intricate ingenuity to the novel introductions of counter mechanics, adorable new collectables, and satisfyingly visceral abilities, Nioh 2 is cultivated into such a rich gameplay experience with unprecedented levels of preferential choice and player engagement. A technically and mechanically sound experience that lacks a pristine sense of identity and independence; Nioh 2 inherently feels like a definitive edition of the original as opposed to a fully fledged sequel. While this direction may seem inevitably disappointing, it ultimately doesn’t matter as more Nioh is always a good thing in my book.