Given their (in)famous habit of churning out Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball sequels, it's easy to forget that Team Ninja can produce excellent games bereft of breast physics. Anyone with fond thoughts of Hyrule Warriors or Dissidia Final Fantasy can attest to this, but Nioh looks set to fully cement this fact among gamers at long last.
Borrowing elements from the story of Westerner-turned-Samurai William Adams, just with added monsters, the game follows a power struggle over Amrita, a mystical golden stone found primarily in Japan. With the English and Spanish both desiring it to have power over one another, Adams quickly finds himself at odds with his own nation and races to stop one of his own countrymen unleashing hell upon the world.
While the description “The Last Samurai meets Dark Souls” has been bandied about the internet ever since the first trailer, it’s not entirely untrue. It’s obvious at a glance that Nioh owes a lot to From Software’s saga, and yet it uses the system as an inspiration rather than a crutch. There are more varied mechanics and systems here surrounding the use of melee combat, ninjutsu, and onmyo magic, each playing off of one another with surprising ease. The combination is far more harmonious than Bloodborne's own excellent combinations, and despite the bewildering array of options, the fact it still boils down to timing a conservative approach to combat means they nevertheless tie in together remarkably well.
Despite their plentiful nature, weapons do not solely dictate your combat style, with a variety of stances also influencing your speed, ferocity and how much ki (effectively stamina) you burn up. The ability to switch between these mid combat, along with the chance to abruptly refill our ki bar and the super-empowering Guardian Spirits you collect, means you can keep coming back to find whole new ways to combat foes.
The world itself is beautiful, wholly embracing the bright and exaggerated designs of Japan's mythology while tapping into a wealth of legendary figures. The enemy Yokai in particular provide a wealth of memorable foes, and even Oda Nobunaga is depicted in a somewhat different light than his typical villainous self. In fact, the only weak link of the game stems from Adams himself, who is something of a blank slate and someone you'll barely remember amid the far more colourful world.
If nothing else has pushed you into doing so, Nioh is the single best reason to buy a Playstation 4 today. This more than makes up for Team Ninja's involvement in Metroid: Other M and even gamers who hated Bloodborne would do well to give this one a chance.
NIOH / DEVELOPER: TEAM NINJA / PUBLISHER: SONY INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT, KOEI TECMO / PLATFORMS: PLAYSTATION 4 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW