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Since its release back in 2011, Dark Souls has established itself as quite a distinct sub-type of action-RPG that resonated with a great deal of people. Naturally, this prompted other developers to try and iterate on Dark Souls' formula. Ni-Oh, a dark fantasy action-RPG set in feudal era Japan, is a standout example of such iteration so, over at COGconnected, they now have an article that compares the mechanics of Ni-Oh to FromSoftware's behemoth. And if this article is anything to go by, Ni-Oh is a game you might want to check out if you're a fan of timing your dodge rolls and conserving your stamina. An excerpt:
Right off the bat, Nioh’s narrative takes center stage, with the player taking control of William in his fight against various supernatural forces. Story-focused cutscenes are plentiful without breaking up the action and lay out a clear progression path. Based in the Warring States Period, many famous names and faces show up, giving the proceedings a slightly more grounded feeling compared to Dark Souls’ fantastical plot.
This grounding is also aided by Nioh’s stellar voice acting and character interactions. Whereas in Dark Souls, you play a silent protagonist, William is fully-voiced. Of course, this makes it a bit more difficult to project oneself onto him (I don’t know about you, but I can’t really relate to a gruff, blonde, Irish dude), but it also allows him to develop as a character, along with everyone around him. People get fleshed out and involve you in the world, as compared to the NPCs in Dark Souls who mostly just talk at you. For instance, early in the game, William meets an actual antagonist and gets to team up with Hanzo Hattori to learn the ways of the ninja. While this certainly removes some of the mystique that Dark Souls does so well, it also gives a clear driving force for the game instead of “ring some bells and kill whatever’s in your way”.
This addition of clear motivation for the player turns out to be a huge asset. In Dark Souls, it can be extremely easy to grow discouraged after countless deaths, since the vague storyline deliberately obfuscates what your goals are. I get that this is the point of Dark Souls, but I think that Nioh’s approach can show easily-discouraged players a slightly better time. If you get invested in the plot, you want to see William succeed, and you want to know where he’ll have to go and what he’ll have to do next. In contrast, Dark Souls can sometimes feel like a slog between set pieces as you die over and over in your search for new things to be killed by.
Story and structure changes are all well and good, but what does Nioh bring to the gameplay table? Well, a whole lot, as it happens.
For starters, Nioh’s stamina system (referred to as “Ki”) works a bit differently from Dark Souls’; namely, you can instantly regenerate portions of it. After launching an assault, a properly-timed button press will restore a significant chunk of your expended Ki (known as a “Ki Pulse”). Additionally, if there are any Yokai smoke areas below you (zones that slow down your natural Ki recharge), they can be purified to remove them from the battlefield. This mechanic can fundamentally change the flow of combat, especially when you consider that moves like dodging will reset your recoverable Ki. As such, Nioh’s combat tends to focus more on actual attacking, whereas Dark Souls is often more evasion-centric. Of course, dodging is still critical in Nioh, but many fights (particularly against easily-staggered foes) can almost morph into a rhythm game, where you attack, Ki Pulse, and keep attacking until you’re on your last sliver of Ki or your foe is dead.
Speaking of combat, if you thought that keeping track of light and strong attacks, dodging, backstepping, consumable items, and so forth in Dark Souls was a handful, Nioh might be a bit overwhelming. In addition to all these, you can swap between low, medium, and high stances, each of which changes your attack patterns and has different side effects. High attacks tend to be powerful, but leave you more vulnerable, medium stance is a balance that’s good for defending, and low stance focuses on fast, light strikes and maneuverability. If you truly want to master Nioh’s combat system, you must learn how to effectively swap between these three stances on the fly. To say that there’s a learning curve is a bit of an understatement.
One thing that can make the combat a bit easier to handle is that Nioh isn’t quite as punishing when it comes to the accumulation of wealth. In Dark Souls, everything centers on the souls you collect from fallen enemies. You expend souls to level up your character, improve your gear, and buy new items. While this keeps things simple and adds a nice risk/reward system to your investments, it can also be overwhelming and add to the frustration of losing many souls to a couple unfortunate deaths. This is somewhat counteracted by Nioh’s system, in which money can be collected to purchase and upgrade items, materials can be used for crafting weapons and armor, and Amrita is used to level up. Of these, only Amrita is lost on death and has to be recollected. It means that, while you may find yourself missing out on some levels from time to time, you won’t be completely left in the dust. Plus, with the mission-based structure, there’s a decent chance that you’ll at least finish each level with a healthy pile of Amrita. I, for one, seriously appreciate it, as I’ve had several screaming fits after defeating a tough boss in Dark Souls and then immediately dying, losing all my hard-earned souls, and dying on my way to pick them up again.
Nioh also has a “living weapon” system, in which killing enemies not only provides you with Amrita, but also builds up a meter on your weapon. Once this meter fills, you can activate your living weapon, granting temporary invincibility and allowing you to unleash your “guardian spirit”: a being that you choose at the start of the game and can swap out depending on the situation. This means that, if you get stuck on a particular enemy, it’s possible to grind to fill your meter, then take on your foe with the power of your guardian on your side. It takes away some of the guesswork and tedium of grinding for an indeterminate number of souls in the hopes of eventually feeling more powerful than the enemies in the area.
Now, while that does seem a bit overpowered (invincibility? In a Soulsborne?), let me assure you that it’s anything but. In my experience, I found that it was quite effective for dispatching minibosses and the like, but main bosses generally kept a decent chunk of health. Plus, your time in this state gets reduced if you get hit, so it’s not as simple as activating your invincibility and whaling on your foes for a few seconds. Then again, that’s what I tended to do, so…it kind of works.