Nioh Review: History Meets Fantasy Again In The New Release

Computer generated image of a Nioh warrior
Image Source: Amazon

If you are intrigued the idea of immersing yourself in a magical world of Samurais and Ninjas in a setting of demon-infested ancient Japan, this Nioh review is for you. Starting off, the first thing to consider is this complex game took many years to reach its full potential, developed for between twelve and thirteen years in all. In between, the developers scrapped two versions of Nioh. Also, gamers tested two demos so that their feedback from could help hone the game.

The final result of all this work is the challenging but player-friendly version of today. Finally, in February 2017, Nioh reached the market. Following the success of Nioh, a new chapter is emerging, as Nioh 2, is about to be released. Once more, the game will be another action, role-playing adventure for PlayStation 4. We’re asking, is it worth all the years of work and the hype?

Nioh Review: Nioh 2 Sneak Peek

To know what the new Nioh 2 game will be like, we have to take a look at the prior version. Keep in mind, Nioh 2 is yet to be officially released, so this Nioh review takes a dive into the first game. However, we do have some hints of what’s to come. The game developers from Team Ninja sat down for a 2018 interview to give us a tease and sneak peek. Director, Fumihiko Yasuda, said the game would be a “proper evolution” of the Nioh game, but not a “not [a] dramatic change.”

Because of what Yasuda said, we know the original game’s narrative will be tied in. This time, new features will include greater character customization abilities. As a matter of fact, players will be allowed to choose details and their gender and race. That tells us that the protagonist for the new game may not be the same in the new release.

In Nioh 2, the protagonist will possess the power of the Yokai. Excitingly, players will be able to experience the Yokai skills and moves and battle against other Yoaki and Samurai. From the looks of it, the game will retain the same look, but taken to a whole different scale of intense battles and giant-sized demonic monsters. Before we can see the final game, Team Ninja will again release free demos to get player feedback and streamline the final game. Next, we’ll jump into our original Nioh review.

See the interview and sneak peek at Nioh 2 below:


History Meets Fantasy – A Nioh Review

The story of Nioh was one carefully constructed and based on historical figures. Also, we see supernatural characters from Japanese folklore. The over-arching theme is based on an unfinished script called Oni by acclaimed Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. Amid mostly darkly-lit and forboding settings in wartorn Japan, the player runs into humans like bandits and ninjas. You’ll also fight demons and undescribably horrific monsters based on the Oni, which we’ll look at next. Each time, you enter a life or death battle where you must carefully craft your skills, abilities, armor, and weaponry. Overcome foes by learning their specific strengths and weaknesses.

To appreciate any Nioh review, you must appreciate action-based role-playing in a horrific landscape. However, there are also many lighthearted and even silly moments. That breaks up the otherwise grim and heavy atmosphere. There are chances to focus on customizing your character, learning skills, and crafting weapons and spells to overcome all obstacles. On the other hand, you can call in your friends to join you in battle if you get stuck.

The Sengoku Period: 1467 to 1598

The timeline of the late Sengoku period of Japan is one of strife and violent civil war. The period started with the Onin War of 1467 until the reunification of the country in 1598. The feudal lords of Japan fought each other in bloody battles for land and status. Today the character and themes of the period are still alive in modern Japan. The Sengoku period is a favorite in manga, anime, and video games like Nioh.

In addition to taking characters from the period, Nioh incorporates historically-accurate weapons, armor, and fighting styles. In addition, the works of real-life artists inspired the look of the game. Some of the artists lived during another period in Japanese history, the Edo Period, between 1603 and 1868. This Nioh review will take a closer look at a small part of this rich history.

See more about the Sengoku period below:

Yokai and Oni

No Nioh review would be complete without mentioning the Yokai. The word is a vague term that represents supernatural monsters, spirits, gods, and goblins from Japanese folklore. As if that wasn’t scary enough, the Oni are massive and frightening Yokai demons and ogres. In Nioh, you will encounter hordes of horrifying creatures drawn from Japan’s folklore.

The protagonist

In Nioh, you become the central character in the story, based on a real-life historical figure. William Adams traveled from England to Japan where he served the famous Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. In his adventures as a navigator and merchant, he became the first Englishman to visit Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu was impressed with Adam’s knowledge, and he became a close confidant. Later, his story became the inspiration for the 1975 best-selling novel, Shogun, by James Clavell.

You will face down the enemy Yokai and Oni as this real-life English-speaking man. This Nioh review must point out that the initial concept for the game featured a native Samurai as the main protagonist. Only later was William Adams, a blond-haired Irishman made the star of the game. A ninja servant, Hattori Hanzo, accompanies him. William is voiced by actor Ben Peel, seen in the 2018 film, Jurassic World among many other movies.

See more about William Adams and some other surprises below:

The antagonists

No Nioh review would be complete without mentioning the baddies. Like Willam Adams, Nioh chooses real-life figures for the game’s central villains. Edward Kelley is an obscure English Renaissance occultist, alchemist, and self-declared spirit medium. Kelley is also known as Edward Talbot, his birth name, and was born in 1555. Kelley professed his ability to summon spirits with a crystal ball and the incredible talent to turn metals into gold using mystical alchemy. His story seems fictional, but it’s true.

Later in his life, Kelley approached John Dee, a chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. Kellye became Dee’s regular scryer, a term for reading crystal balls. The two would lead conferences on alchemy, and “angelic knowledge.” They took part in séances, and later necromancy that drew a backlash from the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the two men continued to work together. They tried to decipher what Kelley claimed to see in the crystal ball, a language of the angels he called Enochian. John Dee thought that he could use the Enochian language to summon powerful angelic beings. In Nioh, their intentions aren’t quite so angelic.

Listen to Edward Kelley and John Dee discuss their evil plot in Nioh review below:

Guardian Spirits and Kodama Tree Spirits

Kodama Tree Spirits and Guardian Spirits are potent allies in Nioh. Guide them back to a shrine, found on each level, for some useful perks. The cute Kodama can offer valuable blessings which increases the amount of Amrita you can carry. The various blessings will help you defeat enemies in battle. As a bonus, these blessing also increases your elixir count. Use elixirs to restore your health bar. Joining you in battle, the Guardian Spirit can unlock what Nioh refers to as the “Living Weapon,” which grants a brief period of immortality with supercharged ability. That’s your cue to go berserk and wreak as much havoc as you possibly can while it lasts. Make the most of it!


In Nioh, anyone who plays online can become a ghostly version of themselves called a Revenant. Notice, that includes you. Rather disturbingly, the exact spot where the player dies in battle becomes a bloody gravesite. As a matter of fact, you will be able to see details of where the player died and how. At the site, you can resurrect or summon an AI version of the player. Note: It’s not the real player, just a ghostly recreation of them through the game. After all, haven’t you always wanted to be an AI version of yourself? Ok, maybe not, but this game does just that.

If you conquer the Revenant, you can acquire their gear. The defeated enemy will disappear, leaving behind glowing versions of their weapons and armor for you to pick up. The other way to obtain weapons and other gear is by visiting a blacksmith. While you visit, buy or sell your equipment or forge and reforge weaponry with combinations of unique powers. The more you visit a blacksmith’s shop, the better deals you may get.

A treasure hunt

Players and the antagonists search for Amrita, a mystical golden stone found in abundance in Japan. The word is Sanskrit for “immortality.” Use Amrita to level up your character. As you progress, each level requires more and more Amrita. Along the way, you will search for many treasures. There are hard-to-find rare treasure rooms loaded with gold and rare items.

Fighting Styles

Image Source: Amazon

Next in our Nioh review, we take a look at how William breaks bad on the battlefield. Nioh offers fast and precise hack-and-slash combat. Importantly, you execute attacks with combos like a fighting game. The primary weapons are a sword, dual sword, spear, axe, or Kusarigama, a traditional Japanese weapon. You will also use magic, melee, and ranged weapons options. Learn to adapt on the fly. In this way, Nioh is a hybrid between a fighting and a role-playing game. It seems to lean to the former. Challenge yourself with tactics-based approaches that work best against a specific enemy weakness. Unlock special abilities for each weapon by using your earned skill points.

Ninjutsu and Onmyo magic

Magic is on your side with Ninjutsu, Ninja skills that allow you to cast poison objects. Those objects include shurikens, poison throwing stars to hurl at enemies. On the other hand, you can use Onmyo magic to throw elemental talismans of Fire, Lightning, Earth, and Water. As you play, you will learn which elementals deal the most damage to specific enemies. Also, you can combine magic abilities for increased effect. You can map as many as eight different items and spells to the D-Pad of the game controller. Spend accrued Samurai, Onmyo and Ninja points to improve your range of special moves, items, and magic.

Ki Pulse

Ki, which works as a stamina bar, drains and fills as you play. You are at full attack power when your Ki bar is full. Keep in mind; it’s not the same thing as the health bar, which runs independently. Each enemy you encounter also has both a Ki and health bar. When your Ki drains completely, you are vulnerable to attack and can be stunned and defeated. The same is true for your enemies. You will be forced to use strategy to drain your enemy’s Ki and attack when they are at their weakest.

A timing-based move called a Ki Pulse can regenerate stamina mid-fight. This technique will be essential during difficult battles. To execute a Ki Pule, press R1 quickly and repeatedly after an attack. The Ki Pulse can also dispell the harmful radiation surrounding some enemies.

Three stances

Nioh uses three fighting stances to define light or heavy attacks. High Stance is slower but has the most significant attack power. It also drains your Ki faster. Mid Stance is best for defeating groups with its broad, sweeping attacks. Low Stance is the fastest attack, perfect for dodging and guarding. With Low Stance, your Ki drains the slowest. As you play, you will learn how to switch your stance mid-fight, and which position has the best effect. Each of the weapons you use will work differently depending on the position you take. Knowing how the weapons work differently in the three stances will determine if your character lives or dies.

The settings

We’ll briefly touch on the beautiful but foreboding scenery in this Nioh review. The game features a striking variety of environments, including foggy mountainsides, and villages ravaged by war. You enter dimly-lit caverns, and hellish battlefields of 1600s Japan. As one exception, the beginning of the game features the Tower of London in England. That’s where William’s story begins. Later, William will encounter booby-trapped mansions full of enemy ninjas, and fight bizarre demons on bloody fields of war. To make it even more challenging, the Yokai can create a Yokai Realm which handicaps your player by slowing your ability to regenerate Ki.

See more of the creepy landscapes from Nioh below:

Summoning Friends

Play online with friends and come together to defeat big bosses together. You and your co-op partners can defeat tough game levels together. Summon other players at shrines or from the mission select map. When you complete the challenge, each player will have completed the mission. In Nioh you can’t play against other players. It’s uncertain if that will be possible in Nioh 2.

Similar Games in this Genre – Do They Compare?

two controllers
Image Source: Pixabay

We’ll take a quick look at some of the predecessors to Nioh that influenced the game as it evolved over many years. These three games set the stage for a game like Nioh to be possible.

Ninja Gaiden

The classic Ninja Gaiden game series is another project of the developers at Team Ninja and Tecmo. The word Gaiden, or 外伝 in Japanese, translates to “side story,” but the game isn’t a spinoff. The first release was an arcade game way back in the late 80s. Today’s modern versions of the game are prequels of the original series released on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The latest game is from 2014, Ninja Gaiden Z for the PlayStation 3. The protagonist since the Nintendo game is a ninja named Ryu Hayabusa. The ninja goes on a quest for a Dark Dragon Blade that has fallen into the hands of evil. Ninja Gaiden is an action-adventure fantasy hack-and-slash game with plenty of blood and gore. This quick action gameplay and theme clearly influenced Nioh. However, the most recent look is more akin to a stylized comic book. In Ninja Gaiden Z, Hayabusa fights with Yaiba, a cyborg ninja and an army of undead zombies.


Bloodborne is an action role-playing game from 2015 for the PlayStation 4. In this game, the action takes place in a fictional city of Yharnam. The city has a Gothic and Victorian style. Overall the mood is dark and extremely oppressive. In Bloodborne, the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft inspired the theme.

The protagonist is the Hunter, a character that is customizable by the player, including gender and unique backstory. The Hunter combats hordes of enemies as he or she attempts to find the source of the deadly plague that has ravaged the city. Melee and ranged weapons have multiple states that transform the weapons in combat. Compared to Nioh, the pace of fighting is slower. However, the Lovecraft-inspired story and complex interconnected levels make Bloodborne a favorite classic.

More on Lovecraft and his influence on Bloodborne below:

Dark Souls

The Souls series of games is from the same developer as Bloodborne, FromSoftware. The saga began with Demon’s Souls for PlayStation 3 in 2009. Similar to Nioh, these are action role-playing games. As the conclusion to the series, Dark Souls III debuted in 2016. As the series progressed, Dark Souls III improved gameplay over prior versions, resulting in faster-paced combat that compares to Nioh today.

In comparison, Dark Souls offer players a wider variety of weapons but not the “stances” that alter the weapons in Nioh. While playing Souls games, the player collects souls, which are used to improve weapons and stats. By comparison, in Nioh, the player collects Amrita. In another similarity, the levels have a design that will remind you of Nioh. On the other hand, the levels in Souls weave together into a more extensive and interconnected world.

See more about the similarities between Nioh and Dark Souls below:

Are You Ready for Nioh?

With over 70 hours of gaming adventure and many more, if you pursue side missions, Nioh could become an addiction to action role-playing gamers. We’ve taken a look at how the plotline features characters based in history. Surely, you’ll find the Japanese folklore, demons, and monsters fascinating. If you enjoy the Soul series, Bloodborne, or Ninja Gaiden, then Nioh will probably hold the same appeal for you. However, from the looks of our sneak peek, Nioh 2 will ramp up the gameplay to a new epic level while offering customization options never seen before. Is this game worth all the years of development and hype? Tell us in the comments.

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