LOS ANGELES — A skeleton took me out with a devastating blow. I got my revenge on the surprisingly fast bag of bones the next time through, but this time, a bony archer hidden in the corner took me out. Both untimely ends happened over the course of five minutes, as I got my first taste of Nioh, a samurai-and-specter action RPG for the PlayStation 4.
An oft-delayed Koei Tecmo/Team Ninja exclusive title for PlayStation 4, Nioh has been in the works going back to PlayStation 3. It may finally get a release sometime this year, though, so I went hands on with this action title during E3 2016. While I died — a lot — I'm excited to see more of the Nioh in during its next beta trial scheduled for August.
The Plot or Why You'll Be Dying So Much
If you're unfamiliar with Nioh, the story goes like this: you play as William, a swordsman who travels across war-ravaged Japan battling both samurais and demons. During the trailer, a voice whispers that you'll be free from death as long as it exists — which is reassuring to hear since you'll be taking a lot of dirt naps during this journey. So what's William's motivation to participate in this Sisyphean circle of life and death? It seems he's on the trail of a mysterious demonic entity with an apparent score to settle.
Dying Never Looked So Good
When I wasn't getting hacked, slashed or clubbed to death, the world of Nioh looks absolutely gorgeous even at its most forbidding. During the "Of Withered Grass and Yokai" mission, I made my way through a ruined shine. The crumbling walls were overrun with ivy while the halls seemed to be illuminated by a green, otherworldly light.
Slowly making my way forward, William's platinum blond hair swayed delicately to and fro, cascading down over his plated armor. I stopped my forward progress to loot the body of a fallen warrior, noticing the dried blood splashed across his armor, revealing a rather gory gut wound. After my successful grave robbing, I had the misfortune of running afoul of a large oni. I didn't get a real good look at him before he bashed my skull in, but there were some of the prettiest red flames flickering in his eyes.
Prepare for Die, Samurai-Style
From my demo, where I made minimal progress, I can tell you that Nioh is not for the average gamer. No, good reader, this fantasy action RPG, this title is for those who are gluttons for punishment, like the battle-hardened folks that love the Dark Souls series. This is a game where even the weakest of opponents can take you down with a surprise attack, leaving you to gnash your teeth and start again. It's like Ninja Gaiden, Souls and Capcom's Onimusha had an angry unforgiving baby.
Despite my many defeats, though, I'm eager to for more Nioh. The art style is breathtaking and switching between a three-stance battle system (high, mid and low) calls for a lot more strategy than your plain old hack-and-slash title. I'm also intrigued by the stamina system. And maybe, just maybe, I might be one of those Dark Souls-grade sadists, which is news to me.
I'm not going to lie to you, Nioh is going to be a tough game. Team Ninja took its penchant for rage-stroke inducing difficulty and baked it into this title. You're going to battle wrathful oni, ticked-off skeletons and other types of horrors throughout the game, and there will be plenty of deaths (mostly your own). But overall, Nioh is a game that challenges you to think out of the box and be a better gamer, something I think everyone can appreciate.