Nioh and Dark Souls
Since its reveal, Nioh has been compared to From Software’s popular Souls series quite a bit, and for good reason too. Nioh is characterized by its extremely unforgiving combat and stamina management system, as well as the inspirations that it draws directly from Souls. In Nioh, shrines serve as your bonfires, you collect Amrita instead of souls, and if you die twice in a row without picking up your lost Amrita, you’ll lose all that battle experience forever. Not only that, Nioh also features intricate level designs where exploration is rewarded, and players will be able to unlock fast shortcuts back to the nearest shrine.
With so many broad similarities between the two IPs, it’s hard not to compare several aspects and see which IP did it better. That said, we’re going to break these games down in different categories and rate them accordingly. The categories that we’ll be taking a look at are the combat system, level design, progression and customization, and bosses. At the end of it all, we’ll crown a winner and see which IP does the whole “get good or die repeatedly” formula better.
Round 1: Which has a better combat system?
With a stamina management system in place, players have to be extremely careful not to spam their attacks too much, lest they get caught off-guard and stuck in an enemy’s stun-lock combo. Both games handle the mechanic rather differently. In Dark Souls, simply expending all of your stamina will still allow you to move your character around, but you won’t be able to sprint until the bar has completely refilled.
Nioh is a little more unforgiving in this regard. Wasting all of your stamina and getting hit by an enemy will cause William to get staggered. However, the introduction of the Ki Pulse mechanic allows players to regain bits of stamina by hitting R1 at the right time, letting them chain long strings of attacks together.
While the Dark Souls games usually encourage players to approach combat a bit more defensively, Nioh allows players to go to town on their foes, as long as they can put their deadly combos together. One could argue that Nioh disappoints a little by only having five main weapon classes, but the game also offers three different weapon stances that changes your move set quite a bit. Nioh’s combat system is extremely deep, and you’ll need to unlock samurai skills with each weapon class before you can truly master it.
With Dark Souls, players get access to a very wide variety of weapons, but the combo potential here simply isn’t on the same level as Nioh. The fighting in Dark Souls is also a lot easier to get a hang of than in Nioh, but that ends up resulting in a combat system that feels rather shallow in comparison. Dark Souls III did shake things up a little with the brand new weapon arts, but those were limited by the amount of FP your character had, and FP itself was tied to a stat that you had to level up individually.
Winner: Nioh takes this one. Despite having only five weapon classes, just mastering one class will take a considerable amount of time. There are so many intricacies in Nioh’s combat system and, combined with the Ki Pulse mechanic, this allows for some seriously flashy and stylish combos in the game.
Round 2: Which has better level design?
The Souls series is widely considered a masterclass in level design, and that’s not surprising at all. The original Dark Souls, in particular, had such a dense world, with various levels and stages weaving together in interesting ways. There was a ton of verticality in Dark Souls, and exploring Lordran and discovering hidden little shortcuts like the elevator that took you out of Blighttown and back to Firelink Shrine was half the fun. Even in Dark Souls II, which is arguably the weakest entry in the series, that sense of exploration and discovery was always present. The levels were all unique and distinct from each other, even if there were a few questionable design choices here and there.
Nioh brings a little bit of that to the table as well. While exploring feudal Japan, William will inevitably run into doors that can only be opened from the other side, or ladders that can be kicked down to take you back to the first shrine of the stage. However, Nioh does have quite a few missions where the level design feels a little too sprawling and confusing, and it ultimately becomes difficult to make any sense of how certain areas are connected to each other. Nioh’s falter in level design also comes partially from the lack of any distinct landmarks. Throughout my experience with Nioh’s main campaign, I often found myself lost because so many of the environments and objects I was running into just looked the same. It was difficult to keep track of which door led to which area, or if that one ladder took me to a boss or a hot spring. Nioh has a ton of shortcuts for you to discover as well, but the game can go a little overboard with that at times, making the sense of discovery feel far less rewarding.
Most importantly, however, all three Dark Souls games (with the exception of III’s Firelink Shrine) feature an interconnected world. This means that players could literally walk from one end of the game’s world to the other without having to touch a bonfire or warp from point to point. This isn’t the case with Nioh, where Team Ninja has opted for a world map and a Mission Select screen. From a gameplay perspective, this is great for replaying missions. But from a design perspective, there’s a lot less satisfaction to be had from clearing one zone and heading into the next.
Winner: Dark Souls still reigns supreme in the level design department. The series has truly succeeded in rewarding players with a real sense of satisfaction just through the mere act of progressing naturally through the game’s world and getting to literally see how far they’ve come since the beginning.
Round 3: Which has better character customization?
All three Dark Souls games will give players the freedom to create and customize their very own personal Chosen Undead, Bearer of the Curse, and Ashen One. Whether you want a male or female character, a good-looking dapper chap, or a scrawny little thief, the choice is completely yours. All characters can wear all types of armor in the game, regardless of stats, and you can spec your character into any build you want.
At a glance, it seems like Nioh barely has any customization at all. Everyone is forced to play as William because Nioh is his story. Sure, you could unlock skins at the Hidden Teahouse, but it’s just not the same as building your character from scratch. However, if you can look past the cosmetic aspect, Nioh does actually have a lot to offer in terms of character customization.
Similar to Dark Souls, you can build your character in any way you want. You can be a tanky axe-wielder, a ninja who relies on shurikens, or even an Onmyo mage who relies on spells and talismans to get by. Even further than that, however, is the ability to customize every single piece of equipment you carry. Every weapon and armor comes with slots for Special Effects, and you can re-forge your stuff at the Blacksmith to get the perks that will best suit your play style. This means that every piece of gear is unique, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find another player who has the exact same katana as you do. Taking things one step further, Nioh’s Blacksmith also allows you to re-fashion your armor to make it look like any other piece of gear you’ve come across in the game.
With Dark Souls, the fashion variety feels pretty limited in comparison with Nioh. It’s also relatively common to see many players finding that one particularly popular armor set in the game and choosing to stick with it. This results in a lot of players sporting the same fashion in Souls. There’s a lot more armor variety in Nioh, and the ability to transmog your armor allows for some seriously creative fashion that won’t negatively impact your stats.
Winner: Nioh is the clear winner here. Sure, you can’t change the way your character looks, but you can at least make sure that everything else about your build is completely unique and different from other players.
Final round: Which has better bosses?
Bosses are the centerpiece for these kinds of games. After all, nothing serves as a better gameplay wall than a seemingly insurmountable boss fight that can decimate you in one or two hits and punish you severely for losing focus. Both Dark Souls and Nioh have a lot of boss fights, though not all of them are winners.
While playing through Nioh, I found that the humanoid bosses were where the challenge truly lied. These individuals had terrifying combos that could drain your stamina in two or three hits, and if you happened to get hit by any of their blows, you wouldn’t be able to roll out of the stun-lock without at least attempting to block. Most of the humanoid bosses are great, but there are a few that honestly felt like a joke. A couple of human bosses towards the end of the campaign had three or four moves total, all of them easy to learn. And the monster bosses in the game were even less of a challenge than the human ones. Perhaps it’s the absence of discernible and meaningful fight phases, but a lot of the bosses in Nioh definitely felt like a step down in difficulty when compared to any of the three Souls games. Suffice to say, you’re not going to find the likes of Ornstein and Smough anywhere in Nioh.
Even Dark Souls II, which some will argue had the easiest bosses in the series, provided serious challenges in the form of the Darklurker and Velstadt.
Perhaps the biggest advantage that the Dark Souls series holds here is the amount of thought that hos gone into the lore and position placement of these bosses. Every boss drops a boss Soul, which provides a brief history of the boss you just fought. Nioh’s bosses are largely forgettable, and many of them are reused in sub-missions with no other purpose than to test if players still remember the strategy required to beat them.
Dark Souls bosses are also memorable because of the soundtrack and music attached to each of them – something that is especially pronounced in Dark Souls III. Every boss has a story, and the music is there to supplement it. Nioh’s bosses feel terribly underdeveloped and often uninspiring in comparison.
Winner: The Souls series has a few dud boss fights for sure, but the majority of its boss cast is stellar. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Nioh.
Winner: Dark Souls (?)
Look, at the end of the day, both games have strengths and weaknesses of their own. Neither is perfect just yet, and determining which is the better IP really comes down to which gameplay aspects are more important to you on a personal level. For many people, the combat system is what makes or breaks a game. In such cases, Nioh becomes a clear winner.
However, when it comes to world and level design, and boss fights, the Souls series is leagues ahead of Nioh. At the cost of a combat system that’s less deep than the crazy combo-chaining offered by Nioh, Dark Souls excels at delivering a truly memorable single-player RPG experience with all of its little intricacies and unique challenges. For that, the Souls series deserves the crown here.
But which IP do you think is better overall? Let us know in the comments down below.