What’s Good About Nioh 2

Happy New Year! It’s 2022 and it’s January which means it’s gonna be a slow-release period until at least February because everyone thought it was a good idea to delay all of their games to then for some reason. This means that while I’m not happy that at least three things I’m interested in are all coming out within a week of each other with King of Fighters 15 coming out on Valentine’s Day/the day after (it’s not clear according to the Google Machine), Destiny 2’s Next Expansion The Witch Queen Coming out on the 22nd and Elden Ring coming out on the 25th, you can see why I’m excited if a little crunched for time and attention. But that’s Future Mo’s Problem (I do not envy the Poor Bastard). But we’re going to ring in the new year by talking about a game that I recently got on sale that I think does a decent job of doing a different spin on the Dark Souls formula from Team Ninja of all groups, Nioh 2.

The Basic story conceit of Nioh 2 is…something. Look, the game doesn’t take its story too seriously, so I’m not going to either. But so far, it’s proven to be a fun romp through Sengoku Era Japan where you get to kill bandits and Yokai all while meeting various figures from that period. You even get to fight a couple of them in some weird, plot convenient ways. The main difference between this and the first game is that you get to play as a custom-made character who’s conveniently taken a vow of silence. I don’t mind this because I get to mess with the game’s pretty good character creator, to the point where I spent my first half-hour playing the game fine tweaking the settings to make sure that I get things juuuuuuust right. While stuff like this can lend itself to some real Monster Factory-style nonsense, I just want to take the time to appreciate that I love it when character creators give me the option to make and play as a decent-looking black guy. Yes, I know this is a thing I frequently bring up with games that have character creators. No, I will not stop highlighting the really good ones for letting me do stuff like this. Heck, you can even customize what your demon form looks like, it’s that thorough. Yes, you can turn into a demon, I’ll explain that later.

This Looks Great. I like this

I’ve spent a good paragraph talking about the character creator, so I think I should talk about the gameplay and structure. The first thing that caught my eye in regards to both Nioh 2 and the original is that they were developed by Team Ninja of Dead or Alive and perhaps more pertinent to this discussion, the 3D Ninja Gaiden games. This shows in the gameplay because it’s very much in terms of both feel and control, a grounded version of Ninja Gaiden. There’s unlockable combos, special techniques, and even counters for each of the game’s 11 melee weapon types: the single katana, dual katana, spear, split staff, Axe/Hammer (basically the big fuck off weapon type of the game), Kusurigami (chain and sickle), Odachi, Tonfa, Dual Hatchets, Switchglaive, and Fists. Each weapon type is viable in its unique way and you can carry two of them with you at a time. Since you are all dying to know, I use primarily the single Katana and the Switchglaive because the former is a good allrounder type weapon and the latter has different forms and attacks depending on the stance you are in, making it this game’s equivalent of one fo the trick weapons from Bloodborne. I even recently started using the dual katana because it’s a different style that leads to me being more aggressive and I love it because of that; this all adds up to remind me of the best of both the Souls series approach to combat, but mixed in with the stylistic and mechanical variety of the 3D Ninja Gaiden games when they are at their best. They even have ranged combat that’s useful for picking off enemies in the form of bows and flintlock firearms. The arsenal on display is staggering, to say the least.

And there are more ways that the game’s combat differentiates itself from its contemporaries. The Ki Pulse is a mechanic that is the standout for me personally; the way it works is that when you do any number of attacks, your Ki (this game’s word for stamina) fills up like gray health in a fighting game (damage that has been technically been taken but can be recovered if left alone). You can let it recover normally assuming you don;lt attack or dodge, but if you press Right Bumper on your controller (or R1 if on a Dualshock), yous can get some back faster, and if you wait at the right time and press said button, you can get back all of the stamina you expended in that initial combo you did. This is a fucking brilliant mechanic because it allows for far more aggressive play and even makes Bloodborne, which is probably the most aggressive game in this weird and wonderful sub-genre, feel almost slow in comparison. It’s a bit hard to explain as shown by me feeling like I had some trouble pouting it into worlds, but when it works, it feels so gosh dang good. And mastering this mechanic is also vital for fighting a good half of the enemies in this game because the yokai all have this ability to drop shadow zones that make stamina regeneration much slower and the Ki Pulse is the only way to get rid of them and keep the playing field leveled.

And this isn’t even getting into your Burst Counter, which is a super-powered parry move that can reduce the heck out of enemy stamina (btw, enemies have stamina to keep track of as well. Bosses included.), Soul Cores which let you use different demonic abilities like the soul collection mechanic in Castlevania Aria of Sorrow, and Guardian Spirits: friendly spirits that are basically like animal versions of the Stands in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, but not hyperspecific that also let you transform into a demon yourself, being completely immune to damage and doing increased damage, or even the different skill trees that focus on weapons ninjitsu tricks and straight-up magic respectively. If this sounds like a lot, it’s because it is; I like my games mechanically dense, okay?

A Good Example of Wrecking Demonic Shit with the Burst Counter

If it isn’t apparent yet, I REALLY like the combat and all of the mechanics relating to it. To the point where I can ignore that Nioh 2 sort of does that Team Ninja thing where it can come off as more cheap and unfair as opposed to actually being difficult that kind of annoyed me about Ninja Gaiden Black and absolutely fucking annoyed me in the original version of Ninja Gaiden 2 (throwing shit tons of enemies at the player is not a substitute for good encounter design in action games of this type, I will die on this hill), with the sub-missions being the biggest offenders of this based on the five or six that I’ve played so far. It’s weird because the main missions I’ve done so far feel like a challenge, but not insurmountable in comparison and it can lead to the game being a bit mechanically inconsistent, but I still really like it.

I sadly wish I could say the same about inventory management in this game though. It leans more on a Diablo-style loot system where you can get upgrades that fall out of enemies like candy from a pinata, but it kind of clashes with all of the combat-related mechanics that I mentioned earlier because a lot of the more powerful gear can be leveled up through a system called Familiarity that I really like on paper. Basically, a weapon gets more powerful the more you use it and since gear drops from enemies that you waste every five minutes, it leads to a lot of vendor trash. And while I know that there’s an option in the settings that makes it so that you can not have gear from the loot tables show up below a certain rarity, but that’s like using an over-the-counter band-aid to patch up a gunshot wound. And while I personally find it really annoying, it at the very least gives me the resources I need to get consumables for healing and other things.

This can be…a lot at times

Back to the positives, I appreciate that the way the game handles the various pieces of its world is through a video game ass level select. Reminds me of the way that Demons’ Souls did it and it also gives you the option to revisit areas for more difficult side missions to get new weapons and armor and recipes for crafting. While that means that we don’t have the interconnectedness of a full, thriving world, it makes sense here because it just wants you to get in and out of the action as fast as possible. There are also nice little quality of life things that are in there like the ability to get your Guardian Spirit back at the last shrine to respawned at when you died if you don’t feel like trekking back to the spot where you died at the cost of your Amrita (the game’s equivalent of Souls) and even setting up auto-purchase for healing items and ammo for ranged weapons when you rest at shrines as well, small things that like the map, help you get back into the action faster.

Conversely, I have a Saw/Glaive/Scythe forged from the Soul of a Corrupted Dragon God. That’s Metal As Fuck

Are there things that annoy me about Nioh 2? Absolutely. The balance of the excellent combat can be a tad inconsistent at times and the storytelling completely misses the point of what makes the stories that can be told in this subgenre so appealing, but they are overshadowed by the amount of really cool design choices that are in place to keep you playing and add a lot of depth to the aforementioned stellar combat. While I wish that the inventory management and what other things I mentioned were handled better, I cannot fault Nioh 2 for being awesome at what it sets out to do. I highly recommended it.

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Mohamoud Adan

Mohamoud Adan

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