Far, far more to think about than I expected from a game whose reveal trailer said
“chaos” something like twenty times in two minutes. Somehow manages to smoothly shift from
a narrative as disjointed and incoherent as Nioh’s into something decidedly compelling while both
calling back to and retroactively somewhat justifying its Sonic 06-tier cutscene direction.

On the gameplay side of things, it’s a somewhat pared-down Nioh with enough distinctive
FF flavor to re-ignite the thrill of discovery, and there’s some facets that I really hope make it back
into the “mainline” Nioh games. An auto-equip button is an absolute godsend and, if they are
insistent on this shitty ass loot system adding in a button that makes me not have to think about
it is the least they can do. Instead of the weapon-specific skill point system in Nioh which makes
trying new weapons feel like a grindy chore, the job system adds a ton of flexibility to your
approaches while actively encouraging you to constantly be trying out new weapons, skills, and
abilities. You have two jobs at any time and, after using a (combo-ending) magic attack, you can
cancel the recovery into a dash-and-attack using the other job. This immediately gets one’s
neurons pinging off with combos and extensions impossible without it, thinking through how
much mana is needed for what combos - and what can be safely done and what needs to be
baited out first.

Some other aspects of this MP management make it... a mixed bag, but when you’re in
the heat of the moment and are constantly switching between your jobs to maintain a furious
offensive, parrying everything coming your way? It feels amazing. There’s a few solid points here
that actually hit both the action-game “oh shit I just walked into a hallway full of bad guys and
nuked them into pieces with some fancy footwork” fantasy the fever dream Final Fantasy “oh
fuck yes I just did a dragoon dive and then went straight into casting Flare on this poor flan” noun

Ditching stamina for a shift to a much more pure FF13-style break meter is a choice that,
while absolutely in keeping with the tenets of Team Ninja’s current standards, can’t really be done
in Nioh without gutting ki pulse, which is one of the best action game mechanics ever. I’m very
glad they experimented with it here, in the spinoff space. It’s also interesting to see how
corpse-running is simultaneously really smart and really dumb. As mentioned prior, mana
management is mixed to me - you start with two charges of MP and can get up to six by parrying
attacks and doing glory kills on enemies. After you die, however, you’re sent back to two MP, with
this game’s corpse run being about getting back some of your max mana. On Normal and Hard
mode, however, each death eats into this cap. This is fine and dandy when fighting dudes in
regular levels, but the second you face a difficult boss the system winds up feeling incredibly

Hard mode is generally a nice-feeling difficulty, until suddenly you’re facing a boss with
only (up to) two big-damage moves and every single death destroys your reserves. Either you
have to suck it up and play the old souls dodge-and-block for a minute, you have to constantly be
starved for resources in the parts of the game that require them most, or you have to turn around
and grind mobs every two or three attempts. None of these options feel fun. Bosses themselves
feel very uneven, with some standouts (I really love the first boss, especially) being right next to
some... very Team Ninja... boss concepts (I am sadly not a Tiamat Liker, nor am I a very large
fan of the black knight).

The best thing, mechanically, about this and by far the biggest lesson learned from Nioh,
however, is the runtime. I’m bad at video games so my run clocked in at a solid thirty-two hours,
but some friends cleared it at around twenty and some hit the forty mark doing as much side
content as possible. The game does not outstay its welcome, and despite the wall of fucking text
describing its gameplay, the (admittedly sparse) cutscenes that provide spoonfuls of narrative
wound up being the far more important driver for my playthrough.

It’s hard for me to talk in specificity about what I really liked from it out of basic courtesy -
the game hasn’t even been out for a week, I don’t think, and when it plays some of its cards
close to its chest I have to give it some basic courtesy in return. That being said, the game’s a
gigantic love letter to Final Fantasy as an entire series, warts and all, and I can’t help but think its
sharp focus on memory is at least a titch of a reminder that every game in this wack-ass
busted-ass series is one worth discussing, remembering, and learning from. Sure, the dungeon
that homages FFXI is easily the worst in the game and is a repetitious slog where every room
looks identical, but Jack admonishes the party to really pay attention and see the subtle
differences in every room. A human worked on this, and a human deserves to be respected

Jack, himself, is an absolutely inexplicably likable dude. Mans starts out as a late-aughts
Unreal Engine 3 Xbox 360 third-person shooter protagonist and slowly worms his way deep into
my heart anyways. He apologizes to his friends for his frosty nature making them think he’s mad,
he stutters and stumbles when a princess flirts, and the degree of care he has for his friends is
heartfelt and real. His inevitable arc from Warrior of Light into princess-stealing scion of
darkness, while a tad fast-paced near the end, feels genuinely earned and cathartic.

In this current cultural climate it’s really easy to feel down on sequels, reboots, prequels,
and remakes, especially when, at first blush, it feels like they’re a hollow reconstruction of what
came before. As you get to know Jack, though? You warm up to him.

My Way is going to be brought up a lot when discussing this game, and for good reason. There’s
no better way to explain its attitude. It's all about knowing what came before and respecting it
while showing it in a light the world could’ve never considered prior to this. That’s, honestly, the
heart of Final Fantasy. Nobody else makes.games like this anymore.Playing one of the oldies is
a bit doofy, especially in something as grimy, shadowed, and angry as this; but, at the same
time, it fits like a glove. There’s a real sense of passion and understanding of the entire series
that permeates this, and while it’s very uneven it’s completely unafraid to be itself. It defies
canon, it begs you to laugh at and with it, and it absolutely fucking does things its way.