Is ’Nioh’ Just Another ’Dark Souls’ Rip-Off?

If you thought Dark Souls 3 was tough, download the new demo for Nioh, a PlayStation 4 exclusive launching later this year. This game is downright brutal. But it also seems like a well made action game, so it’s enjoyable despite the constant threat of instant death. The question is, will Nioh prove to be more than just another poor man’s Dark Souls?

If I had to guess based on the demo, I’d say yes, Nioh seems to have enough of its own special sauce to make it stand out. It’s set in 1600s Japan, and your enemies consist of really mean humans, as well as creatures from Japanese folklore. The game is about samurai, not undead monstrosities.

That said, Nioh is like Dark Souls in many — if not most — other respects. Like the Souls series, it’s an action game that’s been shot through with RPG elements. You level up and pump points into your choice of stats. The game puts you in an almost humorously hostile world, where everyone wants to hack you to pieces for no apparent reason. One glimpse of your face, and enemies come at you with a maniacal bloodlust, stopping only when one of you dies.

At the start you have no armor to speak of, and you can be killed in one or two hits from even the weakest enemies. This isn’t trial by fire — it’s trial by exploding volcano. You don’t even start with a weapon equipped, so it took me 15 minutes of useless punching and kicking before I thought to look in my inventory. Meanwhile, the first enemy disemboweled me a dozen times. Pro tip: equip your sword. You’ll still die constantly with a weapon in hand, but at least you’ll stand a fighting chance.

As in the Souls games, when you die you respawn from the last checkpoint, which are altars in Nioh instead of bonfires. Dying also means losing any Amrita (experience points) you’ve accumulated, but if you make it back to where you fell, you can get it back. Fail to do so, and it’s gone for good. All very Souls-y.

Same goes for your stamina meter. You lose stamina when you do pretty much anything: run, dodge, attack, block, you name it. When it reaches zero, you better hope no enemies are nearby, because you become incapacitated for an alarming amount of time.

The hero of this action game faces off against a boss from Japanese folklore.

Does Dark Souls have fire-horned beasts? Nioh does. | Source: Team Ninja

So far, it seems like Team Ninja — the creators of Nioh along with the Ninja Gaiden games of last generation — took the foundation of the Souls games and tweaked it in a few important ways. The big difference is in the depth of the combat. You have three stances to choose from in Nioh, with each one offering different attacks and defense capabilities. You learn new moves along the way for each stance, and you can use them to create your own combos. Nioh is no stupid action game. It has deep combat mechanics that will require a significant effort to master.

The big question is whether the few things that make Nioh unique will be enough to make it stand out against existing Dark Souls knockoffs like Lords of the Fallen and Salt and Sanctuary. Based on the demo, I’d say it has a pretty good chance — even if the difficulty level seems a tad ridiculous.

On the plus side, people who play the demo can take a survey to have their say about what tweaks and changes they want made before the game launches later this year. It’s doubtful Dark Souls has met its match with Nioh, but a little friendly competition never hurt anyone.

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