By Marisa Alexander / April 23rd, 2020
|Publisher||Sony Interactive Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 13th, 2020|
|Age Rating||Rated M for Mature|
There are few things better than becoming a samurai cutting through demons, undead and humans alike. Nioh was a wonderful game, having a refined combat system allowing players to dodge, attack, and dominate enemies. As such, Nioh 2‘s announcement was one of the more exciting things revealed for me in this console generation. Come release, it is basically more of the same, which is both a good and bad thing. As a note, I played this game around the time the original version was out, along with recent versions that altered the game’s balance. As such, I will attempt to address both sides on the game’s difficulty.
The story starts off with a tale about an ancient yokai arriving to a village, where it was revered at first. Over time, however, the people of the village began to fear the yokai, beginning to show malice towards it. In response, the demon went into a rage, despising humanity. In turn, one man wielding a holy blade defeated it, saving the people from the demon’s wrath. After that, we shift to the viewpoint of our protagonist with their mother, handing off a dagger before being murdered by a man with a staff. Later on, our hero becomes a yokai hunter, with their latest job offered by a man named Tokichiro. From then on, the two will team up to realize their dreams and collect spirit stones.
Compared to Nioh 1, the plot in this game is not as engaging due to two main reasons. The main protagonist is a custom character and a silent protagonist, who very rarely shows emotion to any current event. This makes it rather awkward in situations where they should be speaking but are not. The other contributing factor is that the main antagonist actually doesn’t speak all that much either. The man with the staff is very much a behind the scenes manipulator, compared to Edward Kelley who had a more active role in the events leading up to the Battle of Sekigahara in the first game.
With that said, it is still a delight to see many of the interpretations of the real life figures featured in the game. It was especially interesting to see Dosan Saito, Yoshimoto Imagawa, and Nobunaga Oda interpreted the way they were. It helps that the games portrays most figures as competent warriors and warlords, including Yoshimoto, who forever has been ridiculed thanks to his defeat by Nobunaga. Due to this, it was very exciting to see what role each character will serve, be it original or historical.
However, the main draw of Nioh is the gameplay and it has been perfectly preserved in this iteration. You will hack through a multitude of enemies, nimbly dodging attacks, blocking mighty blows, and then counter-attacking in turn. This time, however, you have a few new tools to play with. There are two new weapon types: the switchglaive and the dual hatchets. These are quite fun though somewhat gimmicky, the former switching stances across attacks akin to the odachi and the latter able to be thrown. Instead of Living Weapon from the previous game, you can undergo a transformation called Yokai Shift due to being half-yokai. This grants access to guardian spirit attacks, a unique chain of attacks, and different attributes depending on what yokai form you undergo. There are three forms: brute, feral, and phantom. As an example, feral has a unique dodge where you can continue where you left off of your attack chain. Phantom meanwhile focuses on more ranged attacks. Brute is all about heavy swings and guarding against most attacks.
Personally, Yokai Shift is not as fun as Living Weapon. You lose access to your weapon skills in Yokai Shift and feel much weaker in comparison. I also prefer Living Weapon due to how it felt that you and your guardian spirit were truly working in tandem. Thankfully, this game also introduces yokai skills and burst counters, both requiring a new gauge called anima to use. These make the game much more fun, as each yokai in the game has a chance to drop a soul core. You can attune these to your guardian spirit akin to a piece of equipment, granting skills based on the yokai itself. These offer much appreciated utility, as they can provide wide coverage, adjust positioning, and much more. Burst counters meanwhile differs from your yokai form. Brute smacks the target away, feral is a dodge, and phantom is essentially a shield. When successfully performed on any attack that flares with a red flash, you will counter and stagger the enemy, granting a sizable anima increase as well. They even have uses outside countering attacks, as phantom can guard from attacks including grabs and feral can dodge cancel even when out of ki.
Along with these new tools comes new yokai and even new attacks for returning enemies. Many of these newcomers are great additions, alleviating an issue many had with the previous game which was the enemy variety. These range from very weak yokai such as the gaki who are small potbellied undead, to larger and more dangerous monstrosities like the enki, a large savage monkey wielding a spear. There is also a new realm where all of these creatures are stronger called the Dark Realm. The Dark Realm is essentially a much larger Yokai Realm, pools spawned by yokai when appearing or after performing certain attacks. In the Dark Realm, your ki regeneration is hampered but your anima gain is heightened. Located within is a stronger than average yokai that anchors the realm to the world. When defeated, the Dark Realm is dispelled and any yokai inside has their ki drop to zero.
However, not all of these new additions are well thought out. There are enemies like the ubume which mainly wastes time screaming, occasionally attacking, and kept dodging out of attacks. Boss quality in this game is also hit or miss, compared to Nioh 1. There are many of the main human bosses in this game that become slogs to fight unless you learn how to cheese them. Despite being staggered after two attacks, they automatically block any attack that comes their way. There are methods to play around this, such as doing two attacks then using a high ki damage on block move, but even then that is not fool-proof.
A couple of the yokai bosses are also more frustrating to fight rather than fun. In particular, there are two giant boss fights, exactly how many there were in the base game of Nioh 1. Neither of these fights are fun at all with a very bothersome camera, unreliable audio cues, and far too slow paced for my liking. If anything, the yokai bosses overall are better than Nioh 1‘s, but the human bosses are overall worse than the first game’s. This is a bit of a shame since there were excellent fights with the humans such as Sakon and Yukimura. Hopefully the DLC rectifies this, with even more new additions to the enemy roster.
Realistically, both games are described as difficult action games, brutally punishing the player for failure. Due to how there were updates that adjusted the difficulty, was the game perhaps too difficult? In my opinion, neither game was ever very difficult in the first place. During this game’s initial release, it took me until Yoshimoto to even die once. Even then, there were very few instances that I died to begin with. I even ran through the final story mission in new game plus under geared and under leveled, and beat it my first try. Apparently, players were being killed in one hit despite being above the mission’s level, though I only had that happen once throughout my entire playthrough. Even then, this was by an enemy introduced in Nioh 1‘s DLC that was completely overpowered to begin with.
Personally, I play these games due to feeling like a complete badass as well as looking for a challenge. Nioh 1, for instance, was perfectly challenging across the entire game, only becoming truly difficult on Way of the Wise. I hope the same for this game since as it stands, it is now too easy for my liking even though the first playthrough was challenging enough. When these type of games become too easy, they become awfully boring since they rely on the challenge to provide entertainment. This goes for Dark Souls, Nioh, and, as my latest review indicates, dungeon crawlers like Mary Skelter.
Presentation-wise, the game is very well-done from a graphical level. All the human and yokai models are beautifully rendered, along with the many environments featured in the game. There is the strange lower quality skeleton or body used every now and then, but this is few and far between. However, it also doesn’t do much to look better compared to the first game. There are numerous reused assets in this game, where even many of the moves introduced were already DLC from Nioh 1. There are instances where the game reuses assets cleverly, such as Honnoji Temple, changing lighting and environmental aspects to give it a new atmosphere. Then, there are a couple sub mission exclusive areas re-used, which is disappointing as I look forward to new areas rather than old, unless cleverly implemented.
Across my experience, there was also very few technical issues. There was always the prevalent questioning about hitboxes, though this is unfortunately an issue inherited from the first game. Sound quality was overall excellent, just like the first iteration. Though unique to this game is a complete English dub for all the characters. The English cast is merely okay, as many of the voices did not fit the characters whatsoever. Tadakatsu Honda, known as a great warrior who never suffered a single wound in battle, sounded oddly scratchy and lighter than I expected. Beforehand, if a character was foreign, they would speak English barring Hanzo for just one scene. Thankfully, the Japanese dub retains this quirky charm.
Overall, I loved Nioh 2 as it provided many of the same positives as the first game. I am having a hard time deciding which I prefer, since both have their own merits. What this game has over the previous is a better tool set, be it the yokai abilities or the tinkered abilities lending to neat attack chains, and a better assortment of yokai to face. With twenty main missions and numerous sub missions to go through, the $59.99 price tag is well worth it. After all, I put in over 40 hours total and that number will only continue to rise. If future DLC allows the game to evolve to even greater heights, then this could become one of my personal favorite games of the year.
Personal copy was used for this review
Action RPGKoei TecmoNioh 2PS4Team Ninja