Throughout many years of gaming the one genre or style of game that has passed me by is the brutal style of gameplay that Demon souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne introduced over the last couple of years.
For those of you who are either not into gaming or who are also not familiar with these types of games, the genre that they popularized is pretty much a tough as nails action / RPG hybrid with a heavy focus on health and stamina management and a combat system that rewards patience and skill. It also doesn’t hold your hand at all and right from the get go you’ll find yourself coming up against enemies that beat you to a pulp with minimal effort. Imagine, if you will The Karate Kid. Demon Souls is like Mr Miyagi, but instead of being a likable old man who teaches you how to become a karate expert through a series of simple everyday tasks, Demon Souls takes a heavy stick and beats you mercilessly until you feebly attempt to fight back.
Now if you’re reading that and wondering how on earth anyone could enjoy a game that tough, then you’re not alone. The trick is that slowly, very slowly, you begin to realize the best way to dodge an enemy’s attacks and strike them without wasting too much of your stamina. Once you grok that then the game starts to become something you can chip away at slowly but surely. The enemies from the start of the game that killed you in a matter of seconds are now easy to deal with and you find yourself enjoying the challenge of working out an enemy’s attack patterns and how best to combat them.
It also helps that the games have some of the most beautifully designed worlds in gaming. Demon Souls and Dark Souls embrace an almost medieval atmosphere with knights and archers and mages battling against monstrosities from beyond the grave, while Bloodborne moves more towards a Victorian aesthetic mixed with a heavy dose of Lovecraftian horror in its monster design.
So now that you’ve got a brief bit of background, I want to get to the real meat of this post, my first experience with this genre in the form of Team Ninja’s Nioh on PS4.
Nioh finds you playing as a foreigner called William (loosely based on a real historical figure called William Adams) who finds himself in Japan during the Sengoku period to try to retrieve a spirit that was stolen from him but the game’s antagonist. The story really isn’t all that important so you can easily ignore all the craziness it throws your way and just get to what makes it so good, the combat and exploration.
Just like the Dark Soul games, Nioh rewards skill and patience when it comes to the combat system. The enemies you come across can easily kill you with a few quick attacks but once you suss them out you really do feel as though you’ve come to understand the game’s way of testing you. The stronger enemies and bosses too are really fun to fight, with my first boss battle being one of the most tense and most satisfying gaming experiences I’ve had in forever. I’m far from the most skillful of players, but after the 20th death I was starting to feel as though there was just no way that I would be able to get past this battle. I decided to tinker with my weaponry and armor to see if that would help me out, and lo and behold it did! With lighter armor and a longer weapon I was both faster and more nimble, allowing me to dodge attacks more easily and get behind my opponent to get in more damaging blows. When I eventually managed to down the boss I was overcome with a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that only this style of game can give you!
I can’t say whether I’d fall in love with the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games, as Nioh has a wonderful take on Japan and its love of samurai which is part of the reason that I’m enjoying it so much. But I do know that I’m kicking myself for having let this genre of gaming pass me by. It’s a wonderful throwback to gaming of old when games were rock hard to try to get you to pump as many coins as possible in the arcade machines of your childhood. And in a time when most games seem content to reward you for doing almost nothing, it’s a somewhat refreshing to be able to just pop in a disc and feel like you have to work to overcome whatever the game’s designers decided to throw against you.