If you’re looking for action and adventure, there’s no easier place to look than the history books! Consider the recent brawler based around FDR’s New Deal, for inst…wait, you mean that’s not a thing? Okay, maybe we’ll look to the high fantasy RPG epic that’s set in the early days of the IRS! Nah, that doesn’t really do it for me either. Maybe we’ll just have to stick to the Sengoku era of Japan for gaming hi-jinx.
The original Nioh, released in 2017, was a solid Dark Souls clone that did a great job of showcasing some of Japan’s more important historical figures and events of the era (and also throwing on some demonslaying to boot) and now Nioh 2 wants to do the same thing but more so. A lot more.
Nioh 2 follows the adventures of a customizable protagonist known as Hide and their pal, the merchant Tokichiro. They’re doing their best to peddle magic Spirit Stones to the bigwigs of Japanese history! This eventually leads to them working for Oda Nobunaga, which in turn leads to them being dubbed “Hideyoshi” as a duo, and, well…if you’re even remotely familiar with how the Sengoku era went, you can guess what ends up happening. Naturally, all of this is combined with a healthy dose of Yokai attacks and supernatural nonsense, and all of THAT means you’re going to spend a whole lot of time dying and respawning.
Why? Because this is a Dark Souls clone, of course, just like the original game! That’s not necessarily a bad thing – a lot of my good friends are clones, after all – but it gives you an idea of what you’re going to experience here. Nioh 2 is all about managing limited reserves of health and stamina in order to get as far as you can against overwhelming odds. Nioh’s signature mechanic, the Ki Pulse that requires you to “finish” your combos in order to avoid hobbling your stamina regeneration, is present and accounted for, so if you haven’t played the original game for awhile expect to die even more than usual as you remember how things work.
As before, the main way in which Nioh defines itself from its Souls clone contemporaries is its love of loot. You’d do well to collect loads and loads of loot from your foes. This will allow you to fully customize your character’s gear to your liking, but it will also enable you to pour your additional “fodder” into one of several receptacles – a blacksmith and some friendly Yokai – to keep yourself flush with resources. Farming is key to the Nioh experience and a large part of your gameplay experience is going to come down to how much you love or hate this system.
New to Nioh 2 are a pair of weapons and a new set of mechanics revolving around Hide’s status as a half-Yokai “Shiftling.” The new weapons are the dual hatches, which are used for both close-range melee combos and long-range throws, and the switchglaive, an edgy multi-form weapon straight out of Bloodborne used by the majority of players you’ll encounter online. They’re interesting and make for a new way of approaching the game, but the most significant new mechanics revolve around the new Shiftling abilities. Your character can use one of three “burst counter” attacks to stop enemies’ most powerful attacks and send them reeling.
They’re also able to transform fully into a Yokai for high-powered super attacks. Learning to master those burst counters is key to doing well at Nioh 2 and it makes the whole game feel fresh and unique compared to the original.
Generally, Nioh 2 looks and feels a lot like its predecessor. This includes a large amount of asset and area reuse, which doesn’t bother me much given the original came out three years ago. I did find that this game tends to run a little better than the original Nioh on comparable hardware, so that’s a plus. I’m still eagerly awaiting a PC release, at which point I’ll probably play the whole thing again, but for now the PS4 Pro does a great job of delivering your Yokai adventures without too many hitches.
At a ridiculous 60-80 hours to completion, Nioh 2 offers solid value for your precious Yen. It’s especially good if you loved the first game and if you’re fond of games focused on loot and character gear optimization. Everyone else might still be good to go if they’re patient and willing to work with the game’s inherent complexities to learn what’s required of them, rather than getting frustrated and quitting when they die. That’s because you’re going to die a lot…but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time while getting punished.