Nioh 2: Aria of Sorrow

February seems to be Nioh month because I played Nioh 1 almost 6 years ago in February while I was waiting for Dark Souls 3’s final DLC to come out. Elden Ring hasn’t made a sound about its DLC yet so I guess the similarities end here.

But you know where the similarities pick up again? Take a wild guess.

This is going to be a shorter post because Nioh 2 absolutely does not hide the fact that it is quite literally just more of Nioh 1. It actually might be a bit less in the story department as you are no longer William-sama and you play as Hide, a yokai-human hybrid. Actually, Nioh 2 is a prequel to the events of Nioh 1 as we go back in time to the actual Warring States Period where we befriend Toyotomi Hideyoshi, AKA Tokichiro, and assist his Amrita peddling business while also allying ourselves to Nobunaga through his major campaigns to conquer Japan. Hide unfortunately does not talk so Tokichiro does all the talking and the story pacing and quality isn’t all that different from Nioh 1 as you really are just another dude watching the big players of the Warring States period like Saito Dosan, Imagawa Yoshimoto, etc mostly trade words while their spirit companions impart memories and exposition to you while Hide just stares at them. I didn’t expect Hide’s parents to be revealed in the way that it played out but we’re definitely not William chasing Kelley this time. As it turns out by the end Nioh 2 also is a proper sequel because the epilogue involves William as well so surprise surprise. I will admit that I did enjoy the “final mission” and the epilogue’s final boss. The former still had the Nioh 1 final level cliche of amrita making platforms out of castles but the sakura blooming aesthetic was really nice. The final boss was enjoyable because Tokichiro helps out and I found that pretty endearing given that obvious cliches were going to kick in after Nobunaga died.

Sloth Talisman got nerfed so onto Lightning we go

Mission Structures, Map Progression, the asset reusage on maps and enemies, Kodamas, Shrines, Leveling up, Skill Trees, Guardian Spirits, Proficiency, Blacksmithing, and the maintenance of your inventory are all back. My Nioh 1 playthrough was completely weapon focused so in order to spice things up I made sure to go through the Ninja and Onmyo trees so that did add some much needed spice to the combat. Not much to say here.

The actual new stuff, the biggest addition to the gameplay cycle, is the Yokai Shift + Soul Core system. Since we are not William, we do not technically use Living Weapons as we play as a half-breed Yokai who can Devil Trigger Yokai Shift. Our form depends on our chosen attribute between a big burly brute, a swift attacker, or a magic based yokai. It essentially is our living weapon type of buff where you’re more or less temporarily invulnerable but you’re on limited time to belt out some serious damage.

Great on paper but it becomes yet another inventory manager where you minxmax your effect benefits

Soul Cores function like Souls from Castlevania Aria of Sorrow where killing an enemy has a chance for them to drop their soul. You must purify these souls by resting at a Shrine which then allows you to equip them to your Yokai Shift/Guardian Spirit to not only boost its stats but also give a unique yokai attack for two, later three, of your attack buttons. You also have a Burst Counter where you can block an enemy’s big glowing red attack to severely damage their Ki. This part is introduced in the tutorial of all things and it added a fun counterplay mechanic to enemies that I thought was missing in 1.

But while said mechanic was pretty fun it ultimately didn’t do too much to shake up the formula of what is essentially an identical game to Nioh 1. What I liked about Nioh 1 with its customizable movesets and unlockable skill trees keeping a comfortable sense of progression was retained in Nioh 2. Similarly, the stuff I got tired of with Nioh 1 remained the same in Nioh 2 as well. By the 4th region I was starting to get burnt out after I had put in the points into the abilities and spells I wanted to learn. I think Nioh 1’s endgame wasn’t nearly as long as this because it mostly just involved the lab full of Kelleys but Nioh 2 went a couple more stages afterward. Item managing is easily my biggest pet peeve in this game as finding the “perfect” weapon is nigh impossible and any weapon I did find inheritable traits for, I’d just end up replacing within the next 3 missions to boot. Any weapon I did want to use for its good collection of stat bonuses were too low level and getting them to the level I would want would cost a hilariously high amount of money. Having to deal with ANOTHER tier of items in NG+ soured me on playing through the game multiple times in Nioh 1 and I won’t be doing it in Nioh 2. The stage reusage wasn’t too big of a problem in Nioh 2, however. There weren’t too many reused stages and the same grassy field isn’t utilized but map reusage is still definitely here. I had bad flashbacks to the mountain stage with the temple and crypt below, thankfully I only saw it once.

Oh god not this fucking place again

What I didn’t see again was that goddamn bathhouse stage. Would have seriously preferred the ninja house instead.

Nioh 2 is ultimately a straight upgrade to Nioh 1 with an additional layer of gameplay mechanics found in its Soul Core system and Yokai Shift being a beefier version of Living Weapon. As someone who has other games he wants to get to, I won’t be playing Nioh 2’s NG+ modes or DLC. For anyone who enjoyed the shit out of Nioh 1 then Nioh 2 will be a fitting continuation of the same experience. For people who have the strength to withstand all the item management and stat bonus juggling with equipment, there’s a lengthy experience to be had here while you refine your ultimate weapon and armor sets through its post-game content. While I can play the same game for many years, I definitely do not have the patience for Nioh’s brand of equipment management.

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