Published on April 10th, 2020 | by Ignis
REVIEW: NIOH 2
Team Ninja are a developer that are known for 2 things: Making incredibly difficult video games, but matching it with incredibly tight controls best known for revitalising the Ninja Gaiden series on the original XBOX. Dark Souls is a series that is often known for it’s difficulty, with a focus on slow, deliberate gameplay with heavy punishment for missed or poorly timed inputs. So what do you get when you take the core Souls gameplay and give it to Team Ninja? You get Nioh.
The first Nioh was an incredibly underrated game. It took the fundamentals of the Souls series, the loot system of an action RPG system like Diablo with the fluid and tight control scheme that Team Ninja perfected over the years thanks to their work on Ninja Gaiden and it was most certainly a contender with FromSoft’s best work.
Does the sequel deliver the same punch? Let’s find out.
Story/Concept: Set in the late Sengoku era (Warring states, set after 1500) of Japan, you see yourself playing as a “Hiddy” a player created character who is half human, half Yokai (Demon for all you Western folk, but you just need to embrace the Japanese here because it’s everywhere in Nioh 2) who meets a conspicuous Spirit Stone seller named Tokichiro who introduces you to a Daimyo (Warlord) named Oda Nobunaga who has a dream to unify a Japan that has been at war with itself for nearly 100 years straight.
The first Nioh struck a brilliant balance between History and Fantasy, Team Ninja shows an incredible amount of respect to Japanese culture and history throughout Nioh 2 as well. Famous figures turning up exactly when you’d expect them to, famous battles taking place between two sides while mixing it the demon realm and the nation’s slow decent into becoming monsters thanks to the power of Spirit Stones. The story doesn’t really drag despite having a silent protagonist, because you don’t really have any power. You’re an underling being ordered to do work, and it’s a fantastic way to involve player created characters without needing to sacrifice an engaging story. It won’t be winning any awards for reinventing the wheel, but it is a very solid story with a refreshing premise that we don’t really see out here in the West. Japanese hierarchy is something very foreign to us and Team Ninja have taken something that is relatively saturated (The Sengoku era of Japan is nothing new in terms of setting for video games, Tenchu, Samurai Warriors, Onimusha just to name a few) and given a refreshing take on it.
Graphics: Nioh 2 looks great, it’s not exactly pushing the PS4 to it’s limits but it’s good enough. Team Ninja have never been a developer with a strong emphasis on Graphical fidelity, their focus has always been on gameplay and this is true for Nioh. Character models look great up close or afar, clothing and armour look beautiful even during cutscenes which are all in-engine, sometimes you’d swear it was CGI but it needed to be rendered in-engine to take into account the player character’s design and clothes. Animations are quick and punchy as you’d expect, the new Yokai shift and all of the various Yokai abilities all look excellent too, even if many of them are just reused assets from the first game from the lumbering Yoki and the slow, inexperienced footsolder to the rapid slithering of the Nurra-Onna and Ninjas ambushing you it’s impressive how well animated everything is, and with all various timings too.
Frame-rate is also rock solid at all times, over my 50 hours I’ve never experienced any frame drops during gameplay and the game holds a rock solid 60FPS at all times provided you choose the correct option. Now when I say option, Nioh gives you the option to prioritise graphical fidelity or frame-rate at the start of the game (Can be changed at any time, but I don’t know why anyone would). Take my word for it and pick frame-rate, this is first and foremost an action game and you need everything to run as smoothly as possible for that tight, punishing gameplay and you WILL experience drops if you decide to focus on graphics – the game doesn’t look good enough for you to sacrifice frames for it if I’m totally honest.
Gameplay: Nioh 2 has taken all the gameplay that made the first game so addictive and added layer upon layer. The core gameplay is still the same, you have your selection of 9 weapons (Katana, Spear, Dual Katanas, Axe, Kusarigama, Odachi, Tonfa, Hatchets, Switchglaive) each having 3 stances (High, medium and low) with each having their own distinct move set, a huge level of depth here when you have 9 different weapons effectively having 3 different movesets, there’s a ton to play around with. Unfortunately for those coming from Nioh, movesets are largely the same with a few tweaks here or there and each of the original 7 weapons getting a handful of new moves to play around with… There’s a lot to love here and a huge amount of depth but I do wish they’d added just that little bit more to each weapon.
If you’ve ever played a Souls game before, the basics of combat will feel really familiar thanks to using a life and stamina system similar to the Soulsborne games, with extra importance added to Ki (Stamina) management, being hit when you run out of Ki opens you up to Final Blows that deal huge damage – you can abuse it with enemies, but you can also be hit exactly the same. Nioh’s Ki Pulse system returns, allowing you to regenerate a portion of your Ki after a combo with a timed button press. It’s small things like this that makes Nioh so engaging, there’s a pool of depth to dive into with the ability to perfect so much of it.
Guardian Spirits makes a comeback though the Living Weapon system has been replaced with the new Yokai Shift system, instead of you imbuing your weapon with Guardian Spirits and having some cool fire/lightning animations on your weapon… Now you transform into a Yokai dependent on the type of Guardian Spirit you have equipped, it’s a cool change, though Yokai Shift does feel quite underpowered (Not surprising given Living Weapon broke Nioh in half, with Team Ninja spending the entirety of the games life trying to balance it). Yokai when killed now have the chance to drop Soul Cores, which when equipped to your Guardian Spirit allow the player to perform Yokai abilities – replicating a move from that Yokai’s arsenal which is by far my favourite addition to the game. It gives me hints of Soma Cruz from the Castlevania series, and rewards the player with more than simple loot for killing enemies.
Nioh 2 feels as tight in the control department as the first one did, and you have so much control over your character between stance changes, controlling your dashes and being able to change the length and speed of your attacks. Gameplay is impactful, it’s fast-paced and most importantly it’s incredibly fun.
I will comment on the games difficulty – Nioh 2 is not for the faint of heart, if you’re someone who does not like to die you’re best to steer away from this title right now. This game is every bit as difficult as the first (though I will say, it’s much more fair than the first game. Nioh had a habit of making you feel like the devs were out to get you, much less so this time around) even when playing co-op. You can have up to 2 players with you at any given time, and for all your single player types you can still summon an NPC to help you out if you’re feeling like an area is simply too tough though this time around Team Ninja have definitely balanced the game for co-op as well, especially with their changes to Expedition Mode, a co-op mode where players share a life-bar, with the bar gradually decreasing every time a player dies.. Forcing you to go back to the start if it reaches 0.
Sound: Nioh 2 (like the first game) has a very Japanese feel to it and much like it’s step-sibling the Souls series, utilises music very well. For the most part, music is absent – replaced by the sound of leaves rustling in the trees, the music is designed to feel like it would fit in the time period while sounding big and epic, boss themes have a sense of urgency and grandiose. There’s one very specific level later on in the game that utilises music for near the entirety of the stage and it’s very striking because of how deliberate their use of music generally is, it works really well at portraying a certain emotion and from bosses to enemy encounters to the gorgeous overworld themes, Nioh’s music sounds excellent.
Sound design is awesome too, enemies sound excellent, Yokai sound intimidating, whether it’s the creepy laugh of the Nurre-Onna or the roar of many of the games Yokai bosses they sound excellent and possibly my favourite thing here is the voice work that’s been done. The first Nioh had William entirely voiced in English (Because he was from England) and everyone else voiced in Japanese to make it feel more authentic, that same option returns but they’ve also included a full English dub as well. Honourable mention to the English dub for doing a solid job all around, but given how hard Nioh tries to be authentic I think it’s difficult to play the game without the Japanese turned on but both of them are excellent no matter which one you choose.
Awesomeness: The thing that I love by far about Nioh 2 is it’s dedication to historical events and weapons/armour. Seeing the armour set that Honda Tadakatsu wore in a museum, and then seeing it more or less recreated in Nioh 2 is incredible (With a few flourishes to make it fit into the Nioh universe), and there is a level of depth and attention to detail that is incredible, it was something that I adored when I played through the first game and while I think they’ve moved a little more toward the fantasy side, nearly all of their weapon and armour designs are either recreated from the real deal, or based on it to the point where it’s recognisable and that’s something that earns a lot of respect from me.
It goes beyond that, characters and their relationships with one another are explored to a surprising amount of depth, with lore about each character given that relates to their real-life counterpart. It’s a wonderful introduction for people to the world of Japanese history, and is possibly my favourite part of Nioh outside of awesome the game is to play.
Final Words: Nioh 2 is a sequel to the first game, and I was a little worried when they were announcing features for it that it was just going to be Nioh – the expansion, which I’m very glad to say was wrong. The sequel takes everything that made the first game and improves on it in every aspect by introducing more depth to a game that already has a lot going for it and is jam packed with content – your first playthrough could take you anywhere between 20 – 50 hours depending on skill level, and then there’s New Game Plus which offers a lot more to the table including an entirely new rarity of weapon.
This is one of the greatest works that Team Ninja have put out, there’s a level of polish here that’s hard to ignore. Tight controls that allow your character to be fluid and have complete control, enticing gameplay loop that keeps you coming back for more with a better balance on difficulty than the first game. Excellent voice work and sound, looking good while also keeping a rock solid 60 FPS (with the correct option selected) and a story that while not perfect, is certainly good enough for what it offers. The first game was excellent, the second is approaching a masterpiece, who knows what the third offers — or even the DLC offers to an already complete product.
Out of 5 Bugs!