Thursday, March 30, 2017

Nioh Review

PS4 Pro on Ben-Q 2560x1440 monitor.

As a huge Dark Souls and Bloodborne fan (my favorite game series so far), after playing the demo (including the Twilight Mission), I preordered Nioh immediately.

 The melee combat and fluidity are very similar to the "Soulsborne" series, as well as the analogous shrines (bonfires) and co-op features.  The melee combat may be considered more complex than (albeit not as addictive as) that of the SoulsBorne series, as it includes stylish combination attacks...after upgrading one's skills.

The variety of weapons, armor and accompanying skills, the many stat upgrades, and even the large variety of factions that you can join lend complexity to the RPG elements.  I enjoy minimizing/maximizing stats, but if you find this torturous, then avoid the game by all means.  The stats and upgrades are more varied than those in the SoulsBorne series, lending a rich RPG experience.

The graphics tend to have a muddy/hazy overlay; I can only play shortened sessions before headache and eyestrain set in.  I had to have my monitor one foot away, since I'm extremely myopic, even with corrected vision.  Unfortunately, increasing the monitor's brightness didn't help with the muddiness.

However, those with normal vision might not have a problem with this.  The graphics detract from enjoyment of the game for me, and I don't usually care about graphics--Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII , whose graphics are outdated by present standards, are among my favorite games.

The UI surpasses the SoulsBorne series', as you can set two item sets to your D-Pad, and easily switch between them, and they are equally intuitive. Although you can't individually map every button, Nioh offers five controller settings.  Further, in the PS4 main menu, you can further map the buttons if needed (i.e. set the circle for X and vice verse)

The frame-rate is brilliant, apparently mostly locked at 60fps.  I  had no problems with lag, as Nioh is super smooth.  On the PS4 Pro, I had the setting favoring performance locked at 60fps, with graphics downgrading in favor of fps. This was recommended by Digital Foundry.

Because the enemies are difficult and can often one- or  two-shot you (and even trash mobs can do so), the lack of variety in adversaries is very welcome at the beginning of the game.  It's refreshing and empowering to eventually beat these enemies (after dying so many times earlier).  After the 100th victory over hollows, humans and/or Yokai, defeating them becomes second-nature.  Practice makes perfect.

Toward the middle and end of the game, facing the same enemies for the thousandth time gets tedious.  I would play other games until I got the “Nioh itch”, so I was able to plow through nearly to the endgame, with such breaks. 

Another important issue is that the endgame doesn't seem balanced.  One mission level is 80 and then the next jumps to 100.  These numbers are not exact, but it does jump 20 or so levels in between missions.  Nioh is well-balanced at the beginning and midgame, so that as long as you play through the missions, your level is within range of what is recommended.

However, at endgame, you do not get enough Souls (Amrita) to level up appropriately.  I am a grind queen, and leveled up at least 10 times so I could one-shot those awful “medusa” enemies in Demon’s Souls’ Tower of Latria.  They freak me out so much with the way they move, and how they electrocute and paralyze you (I actually felt the shocks), so I didn’t mind grinding; it was well worth the effort, plus the combat was fun and didn't get old.  I still shudder thinking about them.

As for Nioh, it takes over 200K (90s to 100s I think), and then jumps to 2.5 million just to get from 149 to 150, reportedly, which is the mission level for the epilogue.  The issue is that the enemies, being repetitive, and the combat not having as visceral a feel as the SoulsBorne series', the grinding is tedious and not enjoyable.  Even I can't tolerate grinding for millions of Amrita, just to level up once.

The recommendation here is to NOT update your patch, and keep it at 1.0 version.  Turn off your automatic internet connection as the update loads.  Near the endgame, there is an automatic infinite Amrita glitch that I recommend taking advantage of.

Unfortunately, this glitch was patched out in version 1.4.  I don’t find using the glitch “cheap” or “cheating” because with the best grinding spot in NG, Demon’s Daughter, you only get 80K at best, with Amrita boosting.

To get to 2.5 million Amrita, you need to grind this area at least 30 times for just a one- level upgrade, which is really excessive to say the least.  I feel that if Nioh had better balance, there would be no need for this, so to “correct” the game, by all means, auto-grind to save valuable time.  It doesn’t make sense to me that the developers made level grinding rather easy in NG+ (when you don’t really need to level up as much), but not in NG.

I confess that since I updated to 1.4, I couldn’t possibly finish the last 1.5 areas by myself.  This is where Nioh shines, in coop.  My friend, whose level is 180 plus with all green divine armor/weapons, pushed me through the areas so I ended up completing the game, though that was very unsatisfying, to say the least.  Indeed, if I could only take advantage of the infinite glitch, I would have been able to finish the game solo.

This is a shame, because the boss design is among the best (the bat-woman boss being my favorite), and I missed fighting these epic, end-game bosses due to balance issues.  It is refreshing that the bosses have unique tells, and if you can memorize all the attack patterns (which are consistent), you can defeat them.  One might say that I need to “git gud” but I just don’t have the skill to beat a level 150 mission with a level 90.  This has never been a problem in past RPGs, as I was always able to grind painlessly to the point where I could beat the levels solo.

The mission structure is disconnected as you don’t have a world to explore, so the game is comprised of doing 4 to 5 missions per area.  Your resting area is the main menu of the game, which is rather jarring.  This disjointed feeling definitely breaks immersion and is incoherent.

However, each mission has really good level design, with interconnectivity and interlocking areas akin to a Souls game, albeit not as complex nor elaborate.  It would've been preferable if Nioh was set in one entire world with shrines, so you can travel from region to region in Japan; the shrines serving as places to upgrade weapons, armors and stats.  I hope the sequel will have such an organic world.

As for the story and character development, I didn’t quite follow the plot, but the gameplay is so good that this didn't matter to me.  It appears that William doesn't have much of a personality, but neither does the Chosen Undead (except for being a total jerk, I mean, who kills Sif?!??).  Gameplay in Souls-style games is the emphasis, and Nioh clearly lives up to that, and exceeded its models in some ways, such as with the combination attacks.

The general feel of the mission structure, the muddy graphics, and the balance issues of the game detract from this game being one of my favorites, but Nioh is excellent to superb from beginning to midgame, and I recommend it.

Rating:  B+, very good to almost great.

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