It was only a matter of time until the wave of Souls clones emerged from over the horizon. Just as Miyazaki and his crew hopefully go onto pastures new, a vanguard of other developers are coming to step in to fill the bonfire shaped hole in many players’ hearts. Ni-Oh seems like the scout of this oncoming horde, testing the waters with a mix of the typical Souls stat allocation, Diablo-esque skill trees and looting with a hint of Ninja Gaiden’s combat. While this mechanical mix sounds great on paper, Ni-Oh is pretty terrible in action. If this is the future of this ‘Souls clone’, I’m not looking forward to the next few months.
While Samurai Souls may seem to be the most apt description for Ni-Oh from screenshots and trailers, it’s a little more complicated than that. It does borrow incredibly heavily from From Software, right down to the red summon sign-esque markers that dot the land where other samurai have met their end, along with a level up system which is almost identical to that of Souls but it adds other inspirations in for good measure. Unlike Souls where you have tons of different weapons to choose from, Ni-Oh splits weapon choice down into three separate classes – Katana, Axe and Spear. Katanas are your close range, combo heavy weapon, spears are for middle range while axes do massive damage but take about a year to recover. Rather than levelling up each weapon and becoming attached to a single broadsword or axe as you would in Souls, Ni-Oh has weapon drops coming in thick and fast, with katanas bursting out of the many ronin and yokai you slice open. Similar to Diablo, the weapons have randomly allocated stats and different rarities, working on the scale of rarity system that fans of loot heavy games will be used to. Therefore, you’ll end up swapping weapons out every few minutes or so, which comes in handy especially since weapon durability drops at an alarming rate. You get so many weapons so quickly that you’ll become overwhelmed with the sheer number of stats you’ll be staring at whenever you go to your equipment screen. If you thought something like Dark Souls’ stat screen was impenetrable, Ni-Oh requires a degree in statistics in order to understand how this katana is better than the exact same katana you are currently using.
This is the same for the armour you find on the corpses of felled samurai, as well as random accessories you’ll discover stashed away on the body of an oni you’ve just decapitated. For an alpha, Ni-Oh overloads you with so many numbers and figures that you’ll just end up disregarding it all and looking for the big blue arrow that tells you if your trousers are more armoured than the skirt you were just wearing. This leads to later problems as Ni-Oh has an equipment load system, meaning that you’ll eventually be weighed down by your armour, forcing you to wade through the swamp of numbers to move properly again. You won’t notice much difference mind you, as Ni-Oh’s movement is so erratic, with back dashes and sword swipes jerking your character and the camera all over the place. Fluid is the exact opposite word that comes to mind when describing Ni-Oh’s combat, yet it desperately wants to emulate other third person action games like Ninja Gaiden with its combo and stance system.