|Dev: Team Ninja|
|Pub: Sony Interactive Entertainment|
|Release: March 13, 2020|
|Players: 1-3 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Violence, Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes|
by Lucas White
Just when it was starting to feel like the PS4 was really hurting for good original content, Nioh came along. Team Ninja’s distinct take on the “soulslike” experience captured an audience unlike anything Koei Tecmo had seen in a long time. After that much success with a brand new IP, a sequel was inevitable. So here we are with Nioh 2, which is exactly that. Fans of the first game will be instantly familiar with the structure, but the approach is quite different. Nioh 2 has more of a community vibe, with custom characters, expanded online play, and a big emphasis on helping (or challenging) other players. Some of Nioh 2 lands oddly, especially its storytelling and tone, but for the most part it brings enough new stuff to the table to ensure Nioh will continue being a “thing.”
Nioh was about William, an Irishman who found himself in the middle of a Japanese, supernatural blood feud involving Nobunaga Oda and demon-summoning rituals used to create unstable super-soldiers. That game told a story revolving around this character and helped establish the series’ identity beyond “Dark Souls rip-off.” Nioh 2 starts several years before the events of the first game and seems to have little to do with that story. Instead, it’s more of a personal journey for the protagonist, who is completely customizable with a surprisingly great and detailed character creation suite. The twist here is, in a world that is under siege by Yokai (Japanese demons), you happen to be a half-breed with dangerous, Yokai blood running through your veins.
This Yokai blood is the crux of Nioh 2’s identity. While William could imbue his weapons with various powers in the first game, now you’re given opportunities to morph into the enemy and take advantage of their inhuman abilities yourself. That includes transforming your body, as well as inserting souls dropped by foes into your own guardian spirit to enable bonus abilities and summon techniques. Right out of the box, your character in Nioh 2 has an entire suite of actions that weren’t in the previous game. On top of that, Team Ninja has refined the basic controls quite a bit, polishing off some of the rough edges around even basic movement. Nioh was great, but Nioh 2 fundamentally handles better.
It’s a good thing Nioh 2 handles “better,” because this is a much more aggressive sequel. It varies based on which weapons you choose, but there are built-in mechanics that even massive Odachi users can leverage to keep up with intense opponents. As a Yokai-ish person, you can not only transform into full-on Devil Trigger Yokai mode, you can also slightly shift in order to perform special maneuvers. The one I used most was a bonus dodge, which was limited in use due to its own meter usage. However, if used during certain telegraphed (and super deadly) enemy attacks, it became a fancy counter move that acted as a shortcut to big damage. When you do fully transform, you get access to a whole new set of moves that depend on your guardian spirit and can really unleash some pain in the heat of the moment.
The biggest problem, however, involves the circumstances for those transformations. Much like Nioh, Yokai can summon little circles of bad juju called the Yokai Realm. If you end up standing in those, your ki (stamina) depletion is way worse and you have to use a ki pulse (timed reload) to get rid of them. In Nioh 2, there are sections of super difficult territory in which the Yokai Realm takes over a big area you have to reach the end of to purify. In these spaces, the ki penalty is applied throughout, enemies are stronger and more aggressive, and they can still create additional Yokai Realm puddles. You can transform here, but it’s a small burst of power that likely won’t last as long as you want, whenever you want.
The problem with this Dark Realm space is that it’s a massive disruption to how Nioh 2’s gameplay loop works. This isn’t just a difficulty complaint; it’s a balance and teaching problem. The Dark Realm sections are just nasty, especially early in the game. You have to get through the first mission or so before you can even start to address it with skill options, and even then the game likes to box you into tight spaces with big baddies and no room for error. Oftentimes, the cleanest way to survive these encounters is to play like a coward and rely on stick and move tactics, which conflicts with the spirit of the rest of the game. Nioh 2 is tough even when you spend time grinding, but Yokai Realm spaces feel tossed in without as much thought put into building the rest of the experience around them.
Speaking of things that feel off, Nioh 2’s approach to storytelling is really awkward. The first game had what felt like a proper opening, setting the stage and introducing the scenario loud and clear. It was also even-toned, establishing a mood and generally sticking to it. Nioh 2 is one of those games that starts with a motion comic-like slideshow peppered with vague lore narration, which may be one of gaming’s worst recent trends. Then you get a little bit of introduction to your character, but since that’s a small segue into the character creation suite, there isn’t much to it. After that, while you’re battling across the smoldering remains of Japanese villages, your progress is marked by goofy misadventures with your wacky merchant buddy. Comedy is fine, but because Nioh 2 is much less driven by the protagonist, everything story-adjacent feels disjointed and unsure of what it wants to be.
Nioh 2 is absolutely a bigger, badder sequel to a game that wasn’t ostensibly planned to be as much of a hit as it was. Much of this sequel’s foundational elements have been refined or improved, making this sophomore effort already a much more polished experience. Truly, Nioh 2 fits right in with Dark Souls, though it is a little more of a grindhouse adventure. This time, Team Ninja opted to drop the character-based narrative, allowing for player customization all the way through. This results in a more confused tone and muddled sense of direction, but makes a lot of the player interaction, online features, and loadout building feel more like a big deal. Anyone looking for a challenge will be stoked to live in this world, although less seasoned folks might crash into walls within Yokai Realm sequences. Still, Nioh 2 is a great sequel, with tons of depth and secrets to explore alongside the masocore combat loop. Team Ninja has really changed its output style over the years, and it’s nailing this scene for sure.
Writing Team Lead