Imagine someone gave you a butterknife to fight off Bruce Lee in a locked room. You’re not leaving alive and that pretty much sums up Nioh 2.
The game is not impossible to beat but it rides high and mighty on the Souls genre and has a very interesting take on it too. High risk and reward are at its base, but there are a truck load of mechanics to master and shape your character’s fighting style.
Throw in an enormous progression tree for each of those styles and weapons, a little sprinkle of monster-turning ability and you’ve got a perfect recipe for controller-shattering boss battles.
The story takes place a few years before the first Nioh game and it’s set in ancient Japan. It’s about your character who is half Yokai because his/her mother is a full Yokai. Yokais are essentially demons, spirits, monsters and everything in between. They’re also twisted versions of current living things corrupted through greed, war and all sorts of nasty negative energy.
It’s a straightforward story for the most part. You go around villages and towns killing bandits and clearing Yokai presence. It’s not an open world game. Each section or village is labringthy and tight, filled with various enemies, which eventually leads to the boss baddie.
In typical Souls fashion, the game will respawn all enemies if you save at a checkpoint and you risk losing your unsaved progress till you don’t go back to the spot where you died and absorb your ‘grave’ back. Ya, it’s dark. Visually too, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Instructions of stabbing
Before you ask us, here’s the answer – No, this is not just another Dark Souls ripoff. It’s actually a quite wholesome and slightly different experience. The roots of the game are deep into Japanese folklore, which is quite intriguing and not as vague as other games in the genre. Each enemy type has an interesting lore behind it and the game’s eerie vibe down that ancient era.
The game just gives you all the instructions in the start rather than easing you into the basics. It might make first timers reluctant from going ahead with the game, but once you get past the information anxiety, it starts to make sense.It’s not like the game puts you in a bullring without the means to defend yourself. There’s plenty to grasp here even before you go off slicing monsters in the game. No, seriously! The game just gives you all the instructions in the start rather than easing you into the basics. But that’s part and parcel of the ‘Souls’ experience so to speak, and if you’re into that sort of spreadsheet masochism, then Nioh 2 is heavily layered with gameplay-affecting mechanics that you need to consider before pressing the attack button.
You spend hours (in this writer’s case: days) just trying to kill a single boss, and in the early stages of the game, even the regular demons can kick your character back to the checkpoint if you swing your weapon willy nilly.
Boss battles in particular are fantastic. Even though they’re painfully difficult, the satisfaction from beating enemy bosses is tremendous. The game feels rewarding with its fighting because it ties up very well with the spreadsheet of things you must do. You have to figure out the enemies’ movements and attack patterns and then carefully analyse the best way to act around those moves through trial and error. Or just watch a YouTube tutorial when push comes to shove.
It took us two days to get past the prologue… Not because the game is lengthy, but because it’s that difficult.
There are too many things to calculate and understand, and not just from the viewpoint of enemies, stats or inventory; the whole menu is filled with it. There are spreadsheets worth of things to understand and keep in mind. Some which went over our heads too.
You get a sword, long sword, axe, double axe, switchblade, double sword and a few more weapon types to pick and choose your playstyle. Each of those weapons have a high, mid and low stance, on top of which they also have a progression tree to unlock with skill points. And that’s just weapons.
You then have spirits that can possess you and grant you the Yokai powers. Those are divided into three – Feral, Phantom and Brute. Each of which also have unique abilities to counter enemy attacks differently. Some Yokai monsters you defeat in the game will drop their Yokai spirit, which you can ‘cleanse’ at the checkpoint and use.
Weapons and Armour which are not needed can be sold, broken down for materials or fused with others to increase their stats at the Blacksmith. You can even trade your weapons for rice at the checkpoint, which can then be traded with tiny green spirits for health potions and other important items. Don’t ask!
There’s even ninjutsu, you know, the art of covering your blade with poison, fire, water or electricity for elemental damage. You can even craft shurikens among other ninja stuff.
It’s the perfect playground to mould your character the best way you think is possible.
Dark but not entirely dull
Nioh 2 has some of the most memorable boss fights. Enemy character designs are absolutely gorgeous, in a grotesque way obviously. They all have a story to tell and have a standard Japanese folklore touch to them. If you’re a fan of Japanese folklore, be prepared to feel threatened and intrigued by these enemies. Fans of the previous game will feel right at home and might see a few familiar enemies too.
The eerie environment is ever so gloomy and feels like standard practice for making such games. We’re not particularly big fans of it and a change in palette won’t hurt anyone, right?
Currently, the game is only available on the PlayStation 4 with multiplayer built right into the game. You can invite another player to join in and help you take down enemies or you can take help from other players' AI characters if they’ve left a ‘calling card’ somewhere around the world. The calling card is a blue grave by the way…
Nioh 2 deserves your attention. It cannot be pushed aside as a Dark Souls rip off because it spins the formula way above the average Souls game. It’s hella difficult and if you take your eyes off the enemy for a second also, the punishment can lead to toe-tapping frustration.
However, the satisfaction from defeating enemies is gratifying and the combat system can be tailored to your needs and approach. Inventory and menu management is also a great way to maximise your chances for taking on the next level. It won’t be as easy as the Instagram challenges, but if you’re looking for one to get through your pandemic days, add in a Nioh 2 to your virtual cart. There are more frustrating things than the lockdown and Nioh 2 boss battles are above that list. (Punching bag not included)