This Week in Games - Nioh Impressions

by Dustin Bailey,

It's been another week in games, and that means it's time for another column here to try and make sense of it all. The news brings us some long-awaited plot details on Resident Evil 7, a sneak preview of the latest Phoenix Wright adventure, and a whole new way to enjoy the company of Dead or Alive's buxom female cast, which you may find fascinating, horrifying, or hilarious.

But Team Ninja isn't just purveying digital skin this week, as they've currently got a beta running for their third-person action-RPG, Nioh. You might recall that the game had a similar alpha demo earlier this year, and the studio has taken the comments and criticisms of that release into account with the beta. At least, I think that's the case. A couple hours with the beta provided my first experience with Nioh, and man, it's an interesting game.

Opinion: Nioh Beta Impressions

There's one thought that kept coming back to me as I spent my time with Nioh. One sentence that sounded super-hyperbolic, like an impossibly short short-hand for a thought that should be way more nuanced and complicated. But hey, that sentence kind of sums up my feelings on the game, so I'm going to share it here anyway.

Nioh is like Dark Souls, but harder.

That's the alternate clickbait headline I spared you from for this column. So what's the nuanced version of that thought? If you break down the moment-to-moment gameplay of the Souls games, they're not actually that tough in terms of what they ask you to do in the middle of the action. Enemies have very obvious tells, the chains for your own attacks are relatively simple, and success is a matter of staying cautious enough through lengthy levels to avoid getting surrounded by bad guys. Dark Souls is a test of endurance rather than of pure skill.

Nioh is certainly a lot like Dark Souls, and not in that “video game think piece” way where every game is actually a lot like Dark Souls. Nioh is a game where defeating enemies gives you a currency you can spend on new levels, but getting killed causes you to lose that resource, unless you can reach the spot where you died. Bloodstains show where other players have died. You open shortcuts by unbarring doors and kicking down ladders. On top of that, everyone's super sad and depressed all the time. At a glance, all the separates the two series is Nioh's replacement of undead knights with undead samurai.

But that ignores the thing that will end up defining Nioh, for better or worse: the complexity of its melee combat. You have three stances that you can switch between by holding R1 and tapping one of the face buttons. Low stance is good for quick movement and dodging out of the way of attacks, mid stance is best suited for defensive maneuvers and normal strikes, and high stance puts you in position to deliver slow, powerful, high-damage strikes. Yeah, stances create another layer of depth, but it's not overly complicated yet. There's more.

Stamina drains very fast here, but you've got a tool to mitigate that. A well-timed tap of R1 restores your energy to a certain point. R1 is the same button you hold to switch stances, and this combination means that you're meant to combo your energy restoration moves into stance switches. Block an attack in the defensive mid stance, restore stamina, switch to high stance, throw some high damage follow-ups, restore, switch to low, dodge out of the way of the retaliatory strike.

At least, that's how I think the system is supposed to work, but hell if I could actually make a combo that smooth come out in my short few hours with the game. Trying to get the timing on that stuff down reminded me a little too much of fitful, frustrating attempts to get competent at fighting games. There's too much information coming in at once and the responses all take such a degree of dexterity to produce that I can never quite handle it.

I'm not trying to say “I'm bad at it, so it's bad.” On the contrary, the amount of depth this system seems to have is pretty awesome. Even if I might never get great at it, I'll be able to see some awesome feats on YouTube.

But the question I have about Nioh is what brings me back to the Dark Souls comparison. You can beat a Souls game without ever getting great at it by simply pushing through, repeatedly retrying tough sections, and simply pushing until you find either the right equipment or the right stats to make it. I'm not sure Nioh, with the complexity of its melee systems, can be conquered with sheer endurance, and I wonder if that will limit the wider appeal it might have.

Or hey, maybe I'm just really bad at it. As of the time this article goes up, you can still check out the beta on PS4. It's scheduled to run until September 6th.

NEWS

DEAD OR ALIVE XTREME 3 VR OFFERS NO SURPRISES AND NO SHAME

We've known that the bikini magazine simulator, Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, would be getting VR support for some time. Now we know that the long-promised virtual reality update will be hitting on October 13. We also now have footage of somebody getting some, uh, hands-on time with the new feature.

There's a lot that could be said here, but I'm honestly not sure what the appropriate response is. I'm not sure what my actual feelings are. I imagine there are three major takes that will come from this. Some folks will be excited by the prospects of getting jiggy with the DOA girls in a more personal way. Others will be looking at the former group in a combination of bewilderment and amusement. Still others will be the line from digital voyeurism to digital groping a pretty creepy thing to cross.

I've spent too much time playing the Xtreme games to pretend to be above any of this, but man. I'm not sure I'm prepared to live in a world where folks can grope digital breasts in VR on a mainstream home console.

ESRB LISTING LEAKS RESIDENT EVIL 7 PLOT, PRESENCE OF CHAINSAWS

Y'know, spoiler warning here. Skip ahead if you don't want Resident Evil 7 spoilers. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Okay, the spoilers aren't that big, but with as tight a lid as CAPCOM's been keeping on their “don't call it a reboot” survival horror sequel, any little details feel pretty major. A listing on the ESRB website (which has since been removed) has revealed the basic plot of RE7. You, a man named Ethan, are searching for your wife in a derelict mansion.

That's what counts as a spoiler these days, I guess. More interesting are some of the gameplay details hinted at here, as weapon-based combat featuring guns, flamethrowers, explosives, and chainsaws are mentioned. Up to this point I'm not sure we even knew this wouldn't be a combat-free, indie horror-style game.

Oh, also, somebody gets impaled with a shovel. In the face. Yikes.

PHOENIX WRIGHT'S LATEST OFFERS A DEMO AND ANIMATED PROLOGUE

This is more of a PSA than a proper news story, but hey, who wants to miss more Phoenix Wright? The courtroom drama simulation has a new entry coming later this week in the form of Spirit of Justice, and a demo is available on the 3DS eShop as of right now featuring the new Divination Séance mechanic.

There's also an animated prologue setting up the events of the new game and introducing its setting, the kingdom of Khura'in. That name might sound familiar to series fans, as it's the home of Maya Fey's spirit channeling technique. There are also hints that this is a place that has exterminated lawyers, and that a group of attorneys are staging a legal revolution, which is exactly the kind of plot point I want out of a Phoenix Wright game after over a half-dozen entries.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

THE LEGEND OF HEROES: TRAILS OF COLD STEEL II
Developer: Nihon Falcom Corp.
Publisher: XSEED Games / NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: September 6
MSRP: $39.99

I'm not going to lie: I know jack about about the Legend of Heroes franchise. My understanding is that this is second part of the trilogy making up the eighth entry in the series, which already puts the numbers game in square opposition to my ever catching up on the franchise. Trails of Cold Steel II is actually two years old at this point, having released in Japan back in 2014.

The story picks up a month after the events of the previous game, and clear data from that title carries over here, giving you bonus stats and items, and recalling the relationships built through that adventure.

PHOENIX WRIGHT: ACE ATTORNEY - SPIRIT OF JUSTICE
Developer: CAPCOM
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: September 8
MSRP: $29.99

Phoenix Wright once again returns to the handheld courtroom, this time in a new, unfamiliar kingdom that knows not of the ways of lawyers. Apollo Justice, meanwhile, holds things down in the more traditional courts back home. Both leading lawyers are joined by a varied cast of characters both new and familiar.

This will be a digital-only release of the second 3DS entry in the main series, and it seems to be part of a push by CAPCOM to reinvigorate the franchise, as it's coinciding with the broadcast of an anime retelling the stories of the previous games. It's gotten me replaying the original trilogy through the 3DS collection, so the marketing plan is at least somewhat successful. I might burn out by the time I catch back up to Spirit of Justice, though, so who knows. (Also that anime is not great.)

TOUHOU GENSO RONDO: BULLET BALLET
Developer: CUBETYPE
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: September 6
MSRP: $29.99

I've spent the last half-hour furiously Googling and perusing fan wikis, and I'm not sure I've ever been so confused by a game before. Touhou Project is a series of bullet hell shooters originating on the PC-98 in the mid-90s. It carved out a passionate niche fanbase, an absurd number of sequels, and an even more ridiculous cavalcade of doujin games.

Bullet Ballet is, as far as I can tell, one such fan game, and part of an unusual but cool partnership between Sony and Touhou Project creator ZUN to see those titles make their way into an official release. This game, contrary to what your expectations may suggest, is actually a 1v1 arena-based battle game using bullet hell elements in a non-shmup title.

Now I'm not sure I can ever crawl out of this wiki hole.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
That's pretty much it this week, though there is one more potentially interesting title in the form of Project Highrise, a spiritual successor to the Tower. Better known in the West as SimTower, it was the first notable success for legendary designer Yoot Saito, who would go on to make oddities like Seaman and Odama.

That lack of releases will balance out next week, when we'll see a frankly ridiculous stack of new game, including the Japanese release of one of the world's most hotly anticipated upcoming JRPGs. See you then!


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