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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Nioh.

Transcript Edit

Neo is dark, stylish, a little too fast to keep up with at times, blandly attractive, and was memorably portrayed by Keanu Reeves in the three Matrix films. But enough about that; let’s talk about a video game. "Ni-oh", spelled like someone got startled just as they were explaining what gas constitutes the majority of Earth’s atmosphere, is a new Dark Souls clone from Team Ninja, and sadly, we still haven’t come up with anything better than "Dark Souls clone" for the genre name; I’ve heard people trying to get “Soulsy” going, but that sounds more like what you’d call soul music after it’s been piped into an elevator.

Nioh is good news for all the weeaboos in the room who were furious that Dark Souls was set in Western-inspired fantasy despite being a Japanese game and wanted to be slitting up samurai demons on a fucking pagoda all day. As I said, it’s by Team Ninja, and it’s published by Koei Tecmo, so you should know what to expect: lots of ninjas, lots of traditional Japanese architecture, and all the women show off more thigh than a Kentucky Fried Chicken advert and/or have tits like two tanukis fighting in a bin liner.

Our main character is William, an Irish sailor with the mysterious ability to see demons and guardian spirits, because he is Irish, and therefore, constantly drunk. After his own guardian spirit is stolen from him by a bloke who looks like Emperor Palpatine on spring break, William pursues him to Japan at the onset of the historical Edo period, accidentally becomes a samurai embroiled in the conflicts of the time, and goes down in history as the first-ever weeaboo, which is roughly how the locals pronounce his name.

A lot of the characters are based on real-life figures; William Adams was a British sailor who ended up living in Japan and then advising Tokugawa Ieyasu. The game takes two major liberties: William Adams wasn’t Irish (this is the Saboteur thing again where we make the English person Irish because the Irish are the more marketable non-empirical bastard alternative), and secondly, as far as we know, William Adams never fought a giant electrified cat. Some knowledge of actual history might be useful, because after we got to Japan, I swiftly lost track of what the fuck was going on; some names would be thrown at me in a narration over still images, there would be a cutscene of William looking confused in yet another house of some important Japanese bloke, and then we get dumped on a forest path to kill a round of gits. 

Which brings us to the combat! It’s faster-paced than Dark Souls combat, but not quite as rushed as Bloodborne combat, which was like dusting off a nervous cheetah. It’s at times quick and at times cautious, but generally kind of stylish, almost like it’s a cross between Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden, funnily enough. But if you thought Dark Souls combat was a bit complex with all that stat-boosting, double-handing, and titanite business – titanite being upgrade material and not something you say to complement your wife’s vagina this evening – then I’ve got bad news for you! 

Picking what weapon you want to swing about of the billions that your enemies disgorge like last night was free taco night at the weapon restaurant is just the start of your problems, matey-o. Do you need to be fighting in Low, Mid, or High Stance? Is the "Living Weapon" meter full? Are we using the Ki pulse in the morning and evening and after every meal like a good boy? To what button combo did we assign the kick, the parry, the sheathe strike, and the gentle finger up the bum hole? Does the toughness rating of our string vest matter as much as the defense multiplier? Do we need to be forging our weapon? (Probably not, since the enemy will probably vomit up nine better ones in the next mission.) But what about ninjutsu? What about onmyo? (Wasn’t he one of the Wombles?)

It’s a little daunting, but if Dark Souls combat is like learning to ride a motorbike, then Nioh is like piloting a huge yacht: there are probably lots of little things you could learn to do to smooth out the ride, but at the end of the day, all you really need is "push stick to go forward", which isn’t that difficult, as long as there are no solid objects between you and anywhere else in the universe. I got by sticking to sword and spear and mainly Mid Style, except when trying to get things down from high shelves. In the end, the combat’s good in the same way Pornhub is good: it’s highly varied and versatile, so there’s bound to be something that appeals to your depraved tastes, but if you try to make use of all of it at once, you’ll swiftly go blind.

And speaking of inevitabilities, let’s compare Nioh to Dark Souls some more. The gameplay structure is the same: each time you die, you come back to the last bonfire, I mean, shrine and the enemies respawn, you collect souls, I mean, inraku to level up, and the one enemy that’s a wheel can absolutely go fuck itself. But the rather glaring difference is that Nioh is mission-based rather than the Dark Souls-style single, cohesive world, and between missions, you go to a map screen. So Nioh is to Dark Souls what Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, right down to a higher density of tasty thighs. 

Hence, Nioh goes for a much more fixed structure: the plot missions must be done in order, each one ends in a boss fight and has a fixed number of hidden collectibles for you to find, consisting of green jelly babies in funny hats who bestow special bonuses. There’s one that increases the rate that enemies drop healing potions, and the rest can all piss off. One increases the weapon drop rate, for fuck’s sake! Why the hell would I need that? I’m already using 90% of the weapons I find for arts and crafts projects. 

As for the boss fights, they’re exactly the sort of thing I want in a Soulsy game: I walk in the door the first time, and I’m almost immediately smeared across the back wall like breakfast marmalade. Then I throw myself at it again and again, getting more and more cross because the hitboxes are, as ever, fucked, and the boss with the pointy spear can somehow use it to simultaneously stab an area the size of a shipping container. But just as I’m about to rage quit and start making whiny, defensive posts on the Internet, I figure out the patterns and finally succeed, getting that lovely, self-satisfied high that is, after all, the reason I seek out hard games, and go to bed that night clutching my todger with renewed vigor. 

It wasn’t the difficult boss fights that caused me to start losing patience with Nioh; it was everything leading up to them. The story’s too oblique to be involving, and the level design’s kind of shit. Dark Souls has you exploring the rafters of cathedrals and you can fall to your death through the exposed cleavage of a giant statue of Lynda Carter, and meanwhile, I was most of the way through Nioh and thinking to myself, "Ooh, can’t wait to see where the next mission’s set! Will it be a Japanese village, a forest, a cave, or a Japanese village in a forest with a cave?" These are sarcastic thoughts!

Look, I know that just because Nioh’s combat and gameplay invite comparison to Dark Souls doesn’t mean it needs to do every single thing that Dark Souls does. If it wants to focus on the combat mechanics rather than resurrecting the corpse of Sir Christopher Wren to head up the map design, then fine. But I like exploring as well as fighting, and a bit of scenery can really enhance smacking things about; that’s why I put pot plants in my grandma’s bedroom. Things far too often got too corridor-y and same-y maze-y for my taste; I’m pretty sure the frozen village level in Nioh could be faithfully recreated in the Wolfenstein 3D engine, or in a patch of mud by a toddler with a spoon.

Addenda Edit

  • Finest sword in the East: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Soulsy enemies are like old people in that nothing good ever comes of them getting behind a wheel
  • Can never have too many wall scrolls

Extra: Will Save the Galaxy for Food Edit

My new book, Will Save the Galaxy for Food, is out now! It’s a sci-fi comedy with all the usual sci-fi comedy themes: redundancy, hopelessness, and existential dread. Available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook from all good retailers and some dodgy ones.

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2

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