Team Ninja took the success of the original Nioh and improved upon some of its weakness in the sequel, Nioh 2.
Title: Nioh 2
Developer: Team Ninja / Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Release date: March 13, 2020
While the first Nioh was being touted as “the samurai Dark Souls”, it was actually a great game to say the least. It had the elements of those types of games like unforgiving boss battles, a strict stamina system, and just being overall challenging. There was more to it, though.
Team Ninja combined not just the legendary difficulties from games like Dark Souls and Sekiro, but took a page out of their own books and incorporated the fast-paced, fluid combat from their older titles like Ninja Gaiden and sprinkled in some inspiration from the Dynasty Warriors franchise. To top it off, they have a Diablo-esque loot system where you are just showering in all sorts of drops after beating enemies, bosses, and missions.
In Nioh 2, this is all preserved and expanded upon. I want to focus this review more on the new and revamped features of this game since many of the first game’s aspects that were widely praised still hold true in the second installment.
Before setting off into a war-torn Japan in the late Sengoku period, you are tasked to create your own silent protagonist. This is a prequel to the first game, so William doesn’t exist in the story until way later (obvious but small spoiler).
This isn’t some kind of character creation tool where you pick a preset and tinker around with a color palette and move on. You can technically do that if you wish, but there is so much depth into customizing your character in terms of their facial features down to the nitty gritty. Hair options are limited, but try to stay true to how they would be in Japan in the 1500s. I hope the community in this game goes all out with sharing creations because there is a nifty feature where you can upload your character’s design into the server and share it via creation code to other people to use in their games. You can also change your character’s appearance any time you are not in a mission if you want to mix things up.
Nioh 2 introduces you to the combat system better than the first. All weapon classes are laid out for you to choose to your liking and show you what stats they benefit from. Here is where you familiarize yourself with how they work in each stance. Two new weapon types are introduced to the game: the switchglaive and dual hatchets.
You then choose a guardian spirit: this is where the game really differentiates itself from its predecessor. In Nioh, your guardian spirit had some stats that passively apply to your character. That still holds true, but what’s different is how you use it in combat. Instead of imbuing your current weapon with the element of your spirit like in the first game, you go into Yokai shift, turning into a full-fledged, temporarily invincible Yokai (basically a demon). Unfortunately each spirit doesn’t have its own form to go with it, but are associated with turning you into three different forms.
You have the brute which is the equivalent of a damage dealer, the feral type which is a balanced and swift type, and phantom which is more defense and zoning oriented. The only difference between the spirits you choose in the beginning and the ones you get later is when using your guardian spirit skill while in these modes. My currently equipped spirit is the Rokugezo, a thunder elephant where in my Yokai Shift, charges and does a massive AoE stomp with lingering shock effects. Other spirits have different abilities which have their own benefits.
Your character is a half-human, half-yokai hybrid. So that explains why you have the ability to turn into Yokai, but also interact with them and even turn into them for a split second. To make combat options be even more in depth, there is a third bar your character has in the game called the anima gauge. It’s a purple bar that fills up during combat. It has two uses which can further turn the tide.
One of them is using it for burst counters. Most enemies have at least one fatal attack that is indicated by them glowing red and making a noise. Of course, taking the hit is an ensured death. However, if you react accordingly to these telegraphed attacks by pressing the R2 and circle buttons together at the right time, your character will perform this said burst counter. A perfect timing will stagger the enemy for a split second and leave them open for a quick attack along with inflicting heavy ki damage to them.
Performing a successful burst counter that results in an enemy being drained of their ki allows you to perform a much powerful and cool looking grapple attack on them. You will momentarily transform into your Yokai form and deal some massive damage. Mastering this will really make your playthrough much easier. Do note that you can’t just spam this and cheese your way through tough bosses. This costs a portion of your anima gauge to do so.
Here’s a nifty addition to the combat system with your guardian spirits. There are these soul cores that drop from killed enemies. Though not always guaranteed to drop, they can be acquired and brought back to a shrine where you can purify them and attune them to your guardian spirit.
Attuning these cores to your spirit adds passive buffs and a new attack per core. Keep in mind that each core has different stats and has different attunement costs. For example, you kill a skeleton soldier and get its core. You can equip that core into your guardian spirit and conjure it or transform into it to shoot a fire arrow at an enemy. It’ll cost less than something like boss cores which are usually stronger.
One of the more notable new things in this game is that alongside the bloody graves that you find scattered in levels, there are blue graves (titled benevolent graves). Instead of summoning a revenant to a fight, you’ll summon an AI-controlled player’s character into your world to fight alongside you. They cost ochoko cups which conveniently enough are easily farmed from revenants in the red graves.
If you feel nice enough, all you need is a righteous jasper and use it. Your grave will be accessible to others in their games, and extra brownie points to you if you place one right before a boss fight. You can opt not to ever interact with them as they make the gameplay easier. The plethora of mechanics from the first game along with the new additions to the game can be overwhelming, but Nioh 2 gives you refreshers with the amrita memories tab in the touchpad menus and lets players see the stats and set bonuses and what they mean when inspecting gear equips.
In terms of Nioh 2’s story, it is a better step than the first in terms of deliverance, but that isn’t saying too much. The game is loosely based on the late Sengoku period in Japan of course with a fantasy twist with demons, deities, and the amrita stones. For those who had some attachment to the cast of the first game, it’s a delight to see some familiar faces like Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hattori Hanzo, and Honda Tadakatsu just to name a few.
For a story revolving around Nobunaga’s rise to power, to his eventual suicide, and the stakes being ever so higher for allied clans, it should be fairly easy to digest. On a surface level it is, but with the large cast and many shoehorned characters, it’s hard to follow at times. At least the cutscenes were nice and held well despite your character not having any dialogue and being an integral part of it all.
What Nioh 2 and the franchise does strongest is its core gameplay loop. It’s tough as nails, rewarding for resilience, and isn’t shy to overload you with so much loot. It also offers so many different styles of gameplay. Each weapon class has their weaknesses and strengths and you’re not necessarily bound to one for a whole playthrough. If at some point you grow tired of a certain weapon class and want to change, you don’t have to start a new character thanks to the handy Book of Reincarnation. Reset all your skill points and levels to wherever you got into the game and discover new builds.
Several mini freakouts and over 200 deaths later, I’m still having a blast on this power trip to become the greatest Yokai-human samurai ever. Sure this is more of a Nioh 1.5 of sorts, but I’m okay with that. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” as they say. If you have the patience and prowess of a Sous player, this is a must get.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.