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Disclaimer: The following review is for a demo.

Nioh is almost exactly the type of game I would’ve easily fallen in love with if it weren’t so inexplicably frustrating for little more than the sake of being frustrating… but spoiler alert: I sorta fell in love with it anyway.

Admittedly, it took me a while to appreciate Nioh for what it was, as I’m not much of a console gamer, and I’m definitely not great at this style of game – but once I got into it, I found myself totally immersed in the horrific world Team Ninja created. Nioh boasts some exciting visuals featuring lots of visceral action, and some dark locations to adventure through. Though the game itself is enjoyable to play and has gorgeous graphics, what sets Nioh apart in my mind is it’s setting. Nioh is a historical romp set in the early 1600’s (a time in Japan’s bloody history where European explorers have only just begun to interfere in the country’s brutal internal power struggles.) and features loads of cool weapons and exciting supernatural beasts and monsters from east Asian folklore.

Nioh's starting menu, which features your save file's currently selected guardian spirit. Mine is a temple dog.

I mean how do you NOT fall in love with this cute little dog? I CERTAINLY DON’T KNOW.

Since this is only an alpha release demo, the game doesn’t feature much in the way of difficulty settings and combat-wise the game is F@#!*&G HARD. Though I may not be a fan of them, I have beaten both Dark Souls I and II, and even still, I spent more than my fair share of Nioh’s early steps grumbling and griping about “unfair encounters” and “over tuned damage.” Despite this, players who relish a challenge and enjoy approaching encounters with observation and critical thinking will feel right at home in this game as almost every truly difficult encounter can be picked apart and tackled in chunks by the gamer with light fingers and a discerning eye.

William dressed in heavy samurai armor.

The armor design is top notch! I feel like I’m on the set of a Kurosawa film on crack!

The demo was super polished and played well, so if that’s the sort of thing you’re into then you don’t need to look any further. For the gamer concerned with a more personalized gameplay experience, however, visual character customization is something that Nioh (in this current state, at least) lacks entirely, and instead features a pre-generated character by the name of William. Though I didn’t get enough information from just the demo to comment on his personality, I can comment on his utterly bland design: William is a milk toast white dude with a stereotypically gravely voice and a face that’s vaguely reminiscent of Geralt, from The Witcher – which isn’t ALWAYS a bad thing, but when your game feels this much like a Dark Souls clone, the last thing you want to have is a character that looks too much like another game’s protagonist.

I know that this next criticism isn’t one that concerns a large portion of the gaming population but given Team Ninja’s past portrayals of women, I figured it was necessary to point it out that (at least in the demo) the first two chapters of Nioh are a total sausage fest. Granted, I can at least say that the women in the game are not grossly oversexualized, but that’s probably only because every woman is either dead or about to be – which it isn’t actually much better.

William looking smoulderingly at the camera.

“Bet you’ve never seen a character like this,” she said sarcastically.

Despite my criticisms, Nioh’s demo is still totally badass. The aesthetic design alone far outweighs most negative aspects of the game, and the gameplay is both challenging and exciting – featuring a number of weapons, stances, and combos for players to explore. At the end of the day, while I might not be a fan of “git gud” culture, it was extremely gratifying to sit down, figure out the fight, and finally become skilled enough to triumph over a particularly difficult encounter.

Everyone needs a little help from a friend sometimes.

Seriously though get a load of this dog. I would not have made it through the game without this dog. I love this dog.

Nioh’s alpha release demo will only be available for play until May 5th, and those who manage to clear the first segment of the demo will gain access to a special DLC called “Mark of the Conquerer” which will grant a reward when the full version of the game comes out. Good luck – you’re gonna need it.


All images are copyright Team Ninja and part of the Nioh demo.

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