There are games we often fall to for some semblance of comfort. Something to distract us. Something to play as an escape or to unwind after a long day. It’s there, waiting for the time you need it most. For me, this has become Nioh Remastered: The Complete Edition on PlayStation 5.
Based on what I’ve just said, your first assumption is likely that Nioh has a near and dear place in my heart. I must have sunk many hours into the series when the first game launched in 2017 and into its follow-up, Nioh 2 when it was released in 2020. However, in all honesty, I never gave the franchise that much attention until recently. Nioh Remastered: The Complete Edition released on February 5th and I have been enraptured by it ever since.
Coming off a month-long love affair with Bluepoint’s Demon’s Souls remaster on PS5, I thought I’d be winding down with some easily digestible games for quite some time. Tinkering with games like Hitman 3, Destruction AllStars, and others, I got away from the difficult combat and dark environments one can expect from a game like Demon’s Souls. However, once I booted Nioh Remastered on my console, I was brought back to white-knuckling my DualSense controller, frustratingly squaring up against out-of-this-world bosses, and revelling in the satisfying feeling of overcoming an obstacle.
I’ve tangentially known about the Nioh franchise since the first game released. Having been a vocal fan of difficult action RPGs like Dark Souls, Sekiro, Mortal Shell, and Demon’s Souls, I was told by many that Nioh was up my alley. Though, for one reason or another, I never got around to experiencing what developers Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo had to offer. All that changed once I got my feet wet, starting with Nioh Remastered. It only took 30 minutes or so before the game’s mechanics and gameplay loop clicked for me. I began to understand what friends, acquaintances, and colleagues have been telling me. Nioh gives me a lot of the same feeling as a Soulsborne title but feels more accessible in many ways.
If you’re like me and never experienced Nioh or its follow-up, let me quickly get you up to speed. The Nioh series largely takes place in 1600 Sengoku-era Japan. The first game centers around an Irish samurai named William who has travelled to Japan to track an enemy named Edward Kelley. The two are motivated in their own separate ventures to investigate and claim Amrita, a valuable resource and in the context of the game, is used to gain XP.
When William arrives in Japan, he discovers the areas have been infested by Yokai. In Japanese folklore, Yokai represents demons and spirits. Despite not inherently representing evil in folklore, Yokai appear as sword-wielding demons, lumbering skeletons, and flying skulls in this fictional setting. They are even more fearsome as they manifest as aggressive and intimidating bosses throughout the campaign.
Where Nioh shines most is in its gameplay. For the context of this piece, I’ve sunk the most amount of time in the first Nioh while only booting up Nioh 2 to compare the graphical fidelity. Given that this is my first playthrough of the series, I wanted to see the progressive evolution of the story and mechanics. Investing quite a bit of time into Nioh, I adore how familiar it feels but can also appreciate the changes it’s made to set itself apart from games in this sub-genre. Nioh takes a lot of cues from titles like Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. Combat is cutthroat and designed to make you learn from your mistakes. Enemies respawn when praying at a shrine or following a death. In many ways, Nioh is built on the foundation set by From Software and the studio’s games. However, it’s not a 1:1 replica with a different setting and varied enemy types. Nioh does enough to innovate to change the game’s flow.
In a traditional Soulsborne game, you choose your class and over time pick a weapon or two that you favour. That then becomes your loadout as you’re incentivized to stick to this archetype you’ve created. You begin upgrading your inventory solely to make sure your broadsword or spells can withstand the upcoming challenges. In Nioh, you gain new weapons and increase your stats but the options allow for way more freedom. I began the game as a sword wielder with a secondary interest in spears. As time went on, however, I grew to appreciate the way combat felt while using an axe. Now, normally this would require a lot of grinding to fully restructure my character build. In Nioh, that’s not the case. Sure, you may feel a loss for the Amrita you’ve spent but points you invest in strengthening your skills with a sword go into other attributes so it doesn’t feel like such a blow to the gut. There’s way less commitment and you’re able to play around with the many tools Nioh lays in front of you.
This feeling of freedom goes beyond the moment-to-moment gameplay as well. Missions are structured around semi-contained maps. Rather than exploring massive interweaving levels, Nioh’s quests send you to segmented areas to complete a task and take on a boss. Due to how contained the maps are and how frequently you come across shrines to save your current progress, I never felt like I had to invest more than 30 minutes at a time. That’s not to say that I haven’t spent hours at once grinding through multiple levels, though. It’s all to say that the time commitment is much smaller and I don’t feel as though I’m risking the loss of progress and XP if I decide to only play a sub-mission or two before putting down the controller for the night.
Nioh’s backdrop and environments are dark. Some of the enemies are downright grotesque yet the game provides some unexpected levity. Nekomata, a guardian spirit in the form of a cat sporting an eye patch, guides William and provides some great exposition. Although you fight alone in the game often, William is joined by a variety of characters, some of who team up in the game’s sub-mission. This elevates the experience and pulls the game from being this isolated and grim adventure. The Kodama, which are small green creatures can be found littered around the various maps. William must interact with them to lead them back to a shrine. They are incredibly adorable and a sheer delight to come across.
Now, a difficult game with aggressive enemies and bloody combat may not seem like comfort food to most. To me, it’s been an investment of time that has opened my eyes to a brand new franchise with so much content to sink my teeth into. Nioh Remastered: The Complete Edition contains all DLC from the two entries while providing updated 4K resolution on the PlayStation 5. Combat is buttery smooth and makes you feel like an unbeatable warrior when pulling off a pixel-perfect dodge and strike. Yet, it often humbles me with interesting level designs that challenge me. The comfort comes from the continuous micro-doses of satisfaction when I complete the main quest mission or side mission. There’s the incentive to explore and gather new pieces of equipment and feel better suited for the next challenge.
I still have a lot of Nioh content to get through. If Nioh 2’s high praise resonates with me as Nioh has, I’m in for quite the ride. My deep dive into this series is quite unexpected but if anything, the early months of 2021 will be defined by the time I’ve spent with Nioh Remastered: The Complete Edition.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher.]