In my opinion, Nioh is the best Souls-like game.
Granted, since Team Ninja's first Dark Souls/Bloodborne/Sekiro rival came out, the formula for the 'masocore' genre has changed a bit. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice proved that there's room for deviation within the From Software-dominated field, and the tidal, rhythmic parrying of the studio's latest game proved the Souls-like genre is set for a sharp evolution.
Whilst From Software's games seem to be getting faster and stripping its combat down to only the essential parts, Team Ninja is sort of going in the other direction – making the systems in Nioh more complicated.
Even the upcoming game's genre, in the studio's own words, is getting more complex.
"We think of Nioh 1 as 'Sengoku masocore'," explains Yosuka Hayashi, general producer at Team Ninja. "When we launched it, we recieved lots of positive feedback from all over the world.
"We listened to feedback, learned from the first game and changed a lot of small things to evolve the title this time around. Now, to reflect that, we call [the genre] 'Sengoku Yokai Masocore' this time around."
What that basically means is that Team Ninja has expanded the game's systems, layering even more mechanics on the games already admittedly complex setup.
In the first game, there were effectively three things to keep your eye on during any encounter if you wanted to live: your health, your Ki (read: stamina) and your stance.
Nioh's stance system sets it apart from its peers. A low stance means you consume less stamina, and you can wrap up your attacks quickly, but you can't lay much damage on your foes.
A medium stance balances damage, attack time and recovery. A heavy stance does the most damage, but puts you in the most danger as attacks take ages to start up, and recover from.
This system remains as easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master in Nioh 2 as it did in the original.
But now, add another ingredient to the action-RPGs already unique identity, Hayashi and his team have layered in a whole new system to the game: the Yokai meter.
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In Nioh 2, you are half-Yokai, half human.
This allows you to face greater, more powerful enemies which, in Hayashi's words "allows for great satisfaction and a more refined sense of achievement" when you finally whoop their asses.
By using Burst Attacks – special demon-powered counter moves that catch enemy attacks and reverse them – Team Ninja has effectively buffed Nioh with a parry mechanic.
If you loved the Gun Parry in Bloodborne, you're going to adore this. Similarly to the counters you could line up in From Software's Lovecraftian nightmare, Nioh 2 basically refocuses its whole outlook to make you learn how to parry.... and parry often.
If you Burst Attack in the middle of your opponent's offence animation or healing animation, you'll drastically wound their stamina – putting them into a vulnerable state where you can perform a high-damage attack (killing most minor enemies in one hit).
Mess it up, and you'll take more damage yourself, though – really playing into that risk/reward system that 'masocore' games utilise so well.
The frames you're given to do these attacks aren't too strict, and the meter attached to them refills as you damage foes, meaning that you get to do them quite frequently (once you've got the timing down, anyway).
Depending on what Guardian Spirit you have equipped, you can perform different counters, too.
Spirits are divided into Brute, Feral and Phantom – learning the difference between how they work will give you the edge for bosses and grunts alike.
Time it correctly and your Burst interrupts an enemy attack and takes a hefty chunk of their Ki. Time it slightly incorrectly and you won't interrupt your quarry. Time is worse and you might lose Ki and be knocked back like you blocked an attack.
Whiff the counter and you just full damage with or without a stagger animation.
We played three hours of Nioh 2, and we thought the newly-introduced reversal feature really came into its own by the time you hit mid-game.
We were set against foes that could kill us in a few hits, so being forced to use the new attack was vital.
It's satisfying, adds to the sense of satisfaction that these games trade on, and ultimately gives you one more tool to use in the brutal, tidal dance that is a 'masocore' game.
Last year, Sekiro evolved the genre by taking inspiration from rhythm games and how they anticipate player interaction, and The Surge series demonstrated that Western developers can try their hand at the genre, too, as Dark Souls continues to iterate on its tried-and-tested formula.
But Nioh has always been different, and Team Ninja makes another daring change to the formula with Nioh 2, and makes it one of the most exciting games in the genre as a result.
We can't wait to play more.