Platform: PS4, PC
Genre: Soulsborne Action RPG
I shuddered when my editors assigned me to Nioh 2. I still have recurring nightmares of suffering through the hellscape that was From Software’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. That was my first experience of the vaunted Soulsborne genre, and it was a harrowing one that I would’ve preferred not to repeat. Alas, it was not to be.
After a hellish first few hours, I ultimately found Nioh 2 to be much more accessible than Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, in more ways than one. Is it still a tough as balls game for gamers with masochistic tendencies? Of course, it is. While I still needed to ‘get good’ in Nioh 2 as much as I did in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, there were many gameplay aspects that helped me get through combat.
I miss Capcom’s Onimusha games. The last Onimusha title was 2006’s Onimusha: Dawn Of Dreams for the PS2, and I’ve been aching for a similar experience ever since. No game ever scratched that itch until Nioh 2.
Team Ninja’s effort shares many similarities with the Onimusha franchise. Both are set in the Sengoku Period in Japan, feature famous historical figures like Nobunaga Oda and filled with supernatural elements.
In Onimusha, Nobunaga Oda is a demonic bad guy, but in Nioh 2, the story essentially had me helping him in his mission to unify Japan, going from place to place to clear out Yokai and meeting other historical figures like Tadakatsu Honda and Hanzo Hattori.
Accompanying you in this journey is none other than Hideyoshi Toyotomi himself, though he starts off as a goofy adventurer who tags along with the player. Unlike the first Nioh (which featured a named protagonist named William Adams), Nioh 2 features a robust character creation system that allows players to make their own half-human half Yokai protagonist.
I usually don’t like character creation systems in most games, as no matter what I do, I can’t seem to make my character look good and distinction enough without wasting too much time tinkering with it. However, Nioh 2 has no such problem, and I felt satisfied with the options it gave me.
The plot in Nioh 2 is basically an excuse for players to insert themselves in an origin story for Hideyoshi Toyotomi. For better or worst, you’re Japanese Forrest Gump. Warring feudal lords and Yokai/demons are tropes which have been explored in the past, including the aforementioned Onimusha games.
All that doesn’t really matter because the meat of the game is its combat and gameplay. You’re not going to play Nioh 2 for its compelling story. Still, I appreciate the fact that the developers have clearly done a lot of research for the Yokai and spirits in the game. There’s even an encyclopedia entry of sorts for each one, which will satisfy the lore and culture enthusiasts out there.
Nioh 2’s combat is a radical refinement of the Soulsborne genre action RPG gameplay, with layers upon layers of complexities and customization.
There are nine types of weapons to wield in Nioh 2, ranging from traditional katana and spears to complex weapons like chain-hook kusarigama, dual hatchets, or the transforming switchglaive (which is an absolute blast to actually use).
It’s a testament to how good the combat in Nioh 2 feels that even weapons that would usually be too technical for me to use in games like these (like switchglaives, which can transform from a scissor-type weapon into a scythe). That’s not all, as players can wield these weapons with a high, medium, or low stance (which can be changed with the pressing of merely two buttons at any time).
High stance attacks do high damage but drain your stamina quickly, medium stance techniques are reliable and offer defensive bonuses, and low stance attacks are fast but don’t do a lot of damage. Each stance has a different set of moves and unlockable techniques. You are allowed to hold two melee weapons at any given time.
Imagine the different amount of player builds you can adhere to in Nioh 2, thanks to the sheer number of weapons and stances. Oh, and that’s not even mentioning the ranged weapons. This is especially important because I hate how ranged weapons in other action games are often too weak or insignificant to use in real combat, so much so that they’re not worth using.
In Nioh 2, that’s not the case. I loved using the bow and arrows, rifles and even goddamned hand cannons that hits like a two-ton truck.
These ranged weapons actually feel good to use in combat and have actually saved my butt countless times.
Since Nioh 2 doesn’t have conventional one-hit-kill stealth attacks like in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, these ranged weapons take their place, allowing me to easily one-hit-kill any normal human grunt or Yokai by shooting them in the head.
Surprisingly, I even used these ranged weapons against large powerful enemies and even bosses. A few satisfying shots from my hand cannon, and down goes that gigantic ogre Yokai or whatever that humongous spider Yokai is. My point is this if even the ranged weapons feel extremely good to actually use in a primarily melee-focused action game, then that’s kudos to the developers for a phenomenal job.
Just like other Soulsborne game, dying in Nioh 2 means that you lose all your accumulated EXP (referred to as Amrita in-game). You’ll have to go back to the exact location that you died to retrieve it. If you die again while trying to retrieve it, it’ll be gone forever. Nioh 2 adds to that with a new mechanic; the location where you died will become a Bloody Grave if you fail to retrieve it.
A Helping Hand
You won’t be able to see your own Bloody Grave but other players can, and that’s where part of the online gameplay comes in. You can activate these Bloody Graves and revive dead players as Revenants. Killing these Revenants will give you not only items and Amrita but also something called Ochoko Cups.
These Ochoko Cups will allow players to seek the assistance of other players by summoning them to your side by activating Benevolent Graves, where they will follow you until they die or some significant amount of time has passed. Players can put Benevolent Graves anywhere they want. When other players activate your Benevolent Grave, you’ll receive more items, and of course, Ochoko Cups.
This gameplay mechanic was a huge help in my Nioh 2 playthrough, so much so that I wouldn’t attempt to even progress further while playing without activating a Benevolent Grave and having another player by my side; they’re AI-controlled, by the way.
This becomes a crutch of sorts for me, to make up for my severe lack of individual skill. Strength in numbers and all that.
However, it becomes a problem later on when I’ve relied on these AI companions too much. This is apparent as Benevolent Graves becomes rarer and rarer as I progress deeper into the game, while in comparison, the number of Bloody Graves has increased exponentially. It’s terrifying when all I see are Bloody Graves; a strong indication that the path ahead is going to be super hard.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice had the parrying mechanic, but the two biggest gameplay mechanics that are unique to Nioh 2 even amongst Soulsborne games are the Ki Pulse and Burst Counter.
Both are essential to survive the game’s combat and making the game a tad easier. But just barely.
In Nioh 2, stamina is referred to as Ki. Players require Ki to perform actions like run, dodge, block, and attack. Running out of Ki in hectic combat usually means death (which I attest to). After attacking, blue orbs will gather around the player. Timing and pressing the R1 button (which also changes stances) allows players to instantly replenish lost Ki, which in turn allow players to perform more actions in a pinch.
Burst Counter is a parry mechanic in Nioh 2, allowing players to parry right before an enemy hits you to stun them momentarily and deal a hefty amount of damage. What makes it unique is how they can only be used against specific and dangerous red-aura attacks, and how just about every enemy has at least one of these attacks to throw out at you with only a second’s notice.
These red-aura attacks are unblockable, so you can either dodge or use Burst Counters. Both actions come with pros and cons. Time a Burst Counter wrong and you’ll get hit by that attack, which will most likely result in a quick and sudden death. However, timing a Burst Counter just right and it can turn the tide of battles.
The Yokai enemies in Nioh 2 will also drop Soul Cores, allowing players to use their moves. These can be equipped to your Spirit Guardians, acting as super-powerful attacks that range from throwing spears from a distance, flip forward with demonic hammer strikes. Both Soul Core abilities and Burst Counters use Anima, a kind of magic MP meter in Nioh 2.
It’s worth pointing out that the combat and playstyles available in Nioh 2 is so dynamic that I’m still learning about more mechanics and additional details about 30 hours into the game. It’s a stark contrast to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which forced me to use only a katana as my main weapon, and I simply had no choice but to use the parrying mechanic for any hope of survival.
Dying Never Felt So Good
I started out hating Nioh 2, for how punishing the game’s difficulty was. I gritted my teeth and kept improving. Every time I finally push through and earn a victory also means that the very next battle could very well be a disaster. Nioh 2 is very much a Soulsborne game, and it is very challenging, unforgivingly so.
Unlike in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I could actually increase the stats of my protagonist, effectively making him stronger. However, don’t expect to be overpowered and things to start being a pushover.
No matter how over-levelled I was, I still died a lot. No matter how many points you dump into improving your health stats, you will always die in two or three hits, even by a common grunt.
Better stats and more levels do help you, especially in terms of how damaging your own attacks are, but it will still be hard as balls. That can be frustrating when you die from a stray arrow or a slash from an enemy grunt, but it forced me to learn a valuable lesson; always respect your enemies and never let your guard down, even if it’s just a pathetic umbrella Yokai.
For instance, I hit an obstacle just a few hours into Nioh 2, as it seemed like I could never beat the second main story boss, no matter what I did. I died countless times and spent several hours just grinding in the level, but when I finally defeated Enenra (I will never forget this vile name), the victory felt euphoric and rewarding.
Team Ninja has balanced Nioh 2 in such a way that for every death, there was a way of balancing it out with ways to solve it. It’s never too unfair or insurmountable, especially if you take the risk and able to take advantage of the many gameplay aspects the game throws at you.
If only the team put a tad more effort into its levels and design; while not exactly terrible, the game isn’t going to be remembered fondly for its many dark locales & winding passages. The Dark Realm bits, on the other hand? They’re fine. These areas not only keep you on your toes and require you to at least master the Ki Pulse techniques (since they make you recover less ki than usual automatically), they come packed with hard-hitting yokais. Challenging stuff.
Speaking of repeated tries, Team Ninja has somehow made the loading times in Nioh 2 super fast. Dying in other games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is made more annoying thanks to long loading times on console versions. This game solves that with only a few seconds of loading time between death and respawning.
Natural Soulsborne Evolution
As extremely hard as the game can be, Nioh 2 is proof that the Soulsborne genre can still be polished, refined, and utilize unique mechanics, all of which makes it worth suffering through. Team Ninja’s latest title is definitely more accessible than Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and certainly an early contender for Game Of The Year 2020.
- Satisfying and deep combat with limitless possibilities
- Ki Pulse and Burst Counter mechanics enhances combat.
- The ability to summon other AI-controlled players from Benevolent Graves.
- Robust character creation system
- Incredibly fast load times.
- Beautiful graphics.
- Punishingly hard.
- You’ll die a lot.
- Substandard level design.
FINAL SCORE: 90/100