Why Nioh is Not a Dark Souls Clone

Over the past few years, a new sub-genre of Dark Souls inspired Action-RPG and games in general seems to have emerged, unofficially named “Souls-like”, “Souls-style” or aggressively “Souls-clone”.

We have seen this label bring hatred towards excellent games such as Lords of the Fallen and Salt and Sanctuary, and promotion to others that aimed to captivate the “Souls audience”. And while there is no question in my mind that inspiration and love of games makes for certain characteristics of some games to bleed over the creations of developers worldwide, I am currently taking exception to the characterization of Nioh as a “Souls Clone”.

Recently, I had a friendly discussion where someone mentioned that Nioh tried so hard to be Dark Souls, it was terrible for trying to “pass off” as a Souls game.

How Nioh is Different to Souls

One could spend hours detailing things that make the Souls series what they are, and how other games are similar, which of them are heavily influenced, and which are simply using clever marketing to obtain fame by association. But I believe it is the differences, not the similarities, that should determine if a game is trying to emulate another or not. A shortage of differences would surely demonstrate no creativity.

Does Dark Souls have spirit bears?

Does Dark Souls have spirit bears?

Some people assume that the game being “difficult” means it’s copying souls – when the difficulty has been a trademark of the Ninja Gaiden series long before Souls existed. Others think the recovering your XP from your dead body is souls, when that has been around the mainstream since Diablo, again long before Souls existed. Weapon stat scaling is also not a Souls trademark, and Nioh’s stat scaling can be partially re-forged into other things, with weapon classes having an overall scaling that is not the same as Dark Souls has gotten us used to.

nioh-jan-screen-14

Here’s a List of Very Crucial Ways in Which Nioh is Very Much Not Souls:

  1. Set character, set story, set outcomes. There is only one ending, only one story and it’s all based on real events and features real characters of history around the Battle of Sekigahara.
  2. The story is clearly spelled out in a log, rather than hidden behind item descriptions.
  3. No interconnected world, no main hub with merchant havens, instead you get repeatable Main Missions, submissions, boss challenge rooms and training missions to unlock skills.
  4. No NG+ reset: Everything stays open, you can continue to play NG as you play NG+
  5. No “meta”, no coop level limits: Stats, skills and builds have no needed caps or “optimization”, there’s no meta.
  6. Gear/Loot is like Diablo, color coded, random and tons of it. You have to farm and grind to obtain weapons and materials to then forge more. Souls has pre-determined drops and very limited crafting, with no rarity or special bonuses to secondary stats.
  7. Set bonuses: There are Armor Sets that give special bonuses to create builds that resonate with guardian spirits, etc. There is no such thing like that in Souls; wearing a full set of armor is often just done for fashion.
  8. Enemies are actual folklore creatures: Like the Witcher, not like the Souls series where they are just made up. This makes them more interesting to me in general, as the imagination and folklore of real cultures makes for more interesting stories than what a dev team can come up with.
  9. Skills & skillpoints for character development and Combos: The fact skills even exist for your weapons and that you have to use skillpoints makes this a completely different experience. You must perform combos and select skills for your weapons, including adding a special Guardian Spirit that grants protection and special attacks.
  10. Combat is very fast paced: Like Bloodborne, but with blocking in mind. Ki can be recovered by smart execution of ki pulses, making combat much more fluid and fast than dark souls, and making stamina management considerably different. Enemies are also faster, and can perform similar skills to the ones you use.
  11. Ranged combat: Taking out enemies from distance is actually viable. You can one shot enemies with an arrow to the head, and you can use your cannon to make boss fights quicker. Some armor sets have bonuses to ranged attacks and ammo preservation. Souls games have repeatedly failed magic and ranged users in the past installments.
  12. Boss design: Bosses are made for fast dashes and reflexes, and they feature ranged and close-range attacks to counter your different approaches.
  13. Collectibles: The game features collectibles through Kodamas and Hot Springs that the Souls serious don’t have. Finding both of these also give you in-game bonuses beyond the trophies you get for collecting them.

Nioh_screenshot13-min

This list could go on but the short version is: there’s so much that makes the game so different, that it deserves to stand on its own and not be labelled a “clone”. I have played the Ninja Gaiden titles a lot, and I’m familiar with Team Ninja’s work product. I think that MMOs had more influence on this title than Souls did, although I do find certain lovable similarities such as the traps within the levels including large boulders. But the core of the game, the combat and gameplay and setting feels so entirely different that I don’t think they are directly comparable.

Rather than a brother or son, Nioh is Dark’s Souls fourth cousin removed.

What do you think? More differences to highlight? Share your thoughts with us!


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MMO raider by day and guide writer by night, Fex enjoys multiplatform gaming, good books and animes, and streaming with a cold beer.

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35 comments on “Why Nioh is Not a Dark Souls Clone”

  1. Avatar FiOth says:

    Good read Fex, I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Avatar zephid7 says:

    Sometimes it feels like people label a game X-like because of a particular mechanic that was popularized in X. I remember the years after the first Halo game came out when regenerating shields (or in non-scifi FPS games, health regen) made the game a lesser version of Halo.

    Was it XP in Diablo? I thought it was just gold and equipment.

  3. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    I think a major factor is almost always going to be cosmetics. You may have noticed that just about any 3rd person action game in the last couple years has inevitably had some sort of "Souls" conversation around it. Lords and Witcher being medieval based seemed to have felt this more than many games, Salt and Sanctuary was opened up to it because they made reference to it as an influence early on (and a lot of people ran with it).

    Here’s my thoughts to add on to yours. These are general, as I’ve only played the last demo of Nioh (cause I be broke), but I tend to agree with your article:

    -Cosmetics are so important that they generally define the game for it. Here’s a fun example, I recently played Gone Home and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Both games are categorized as "first person adventure." Ha! Both games are great by the way, but "adventure" is quite generous. Neither feature fail states of any kind, and gameplay is strictly walking around and finding the right thing to interact with to bring the story forward a step. Neither of them have: robust puzzles, antagonist or enemy presence, or really much to do other than walk around and hit "x"

    Compare these two games to Broken Age (also great). This game also has no fail state, and is primarily walking around and interacting with the right thing. This game is called a "point and click." Which it is. To be candid, it features FAR MORE robust puzzle elements (inventory and combining items for example), does have an antagonistic or enemy presence and more elements I would consider "game like." The difference is cosmetic. It LOOKS like a point and click (smaller levels, more 2d art style).

    The first two games I mentioned are drastically higher percentage of pointing and clicking than Broken Age. I’ve mentally started calling them "Open world point and click" and even that’s generous. Yeah there’s more world to explore but you feel fenced in pretty much the whole time in both.

    Nioh on the surface looks like "Samurai Souls" to a lot of people, and it’s good to have reminders that beauty is only skin deep. Fleshing out what the skeleton actually is, can be crucial and you do a good job Fex

    -My second point is that the Souls games are (mechanically anyway) lifted almost directly from From’s "other" series, Armored Core. And these games borrowed heavily from other mech games. Going back to my first point, people see giant robots and assume it’s completely different. They’re not. I could write an entire article on how Demon’s Souls is basically "Medieval Core."

  4. Avatar Kodama-sama says:

    Games like souls existed before souls, anyone remember blood omens soul reaver? What about Rune (viking warlord)? Heck medievil for godsake.. that was practically demon souls but then less serious.

    Ill never understand people that go nuts when games look like another game in some sense. Better no longer play games like uncharted cause they totally are a gears of war steal! eghhhh eghhhhhhhhh!!! covur covur.

    etc.

    :P

  5. Avatar Nahztek-Shadowpath says:

    The article was an echo of my thoughts. Well said, Fex.
    Nioh is an amalgamation of many great games. It doesn’t deserve the ‘clone’ stigma.

  6. Avatar ElvesRule says:

    I didn’t know it was a real thing. The only people who think Nioh is a Souls-clone are people who don’t know much about Souls or Nioh. In other words, people not worth considering. :00004:

    Casuals and constant talkers like to simplify things so their brains can process. Not worth considering.

  7. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    Oh god that was my childhood. I didn’t play it much myself, but I always watched my dad play. I’d play it today…..if I still had the copy:(

  8. Avatar TSMP says:

    In Diablo you dropped XP as well, but it wasn’t as big a deal since XP didn’t pull double duty as gold. But yeah, there are actually very few things Demon’s Souls pioneered, with the major one being its multiplayer system (summoning, invasions, messages, player bloodstains, ghosts, world tendency, all intertwined with the single player). Everything else was used in well known games from a long time ago, up to and including the storytelling. It might be hard to see at first, but the way Dark Souls tells its story has a lot in common with the way Legend of Zelda does, only LoZ doesn’t have the benefit of item descriptions unless you read the manuals. I was having lore discussions for LoZ long, long before Dark Souls ever came out.

    IMO, Soulslike is a misleading term. A game can be like Souls, but Souls itself is a callback to games from 25+ years ago when the priorities were challenge, atmosphere, and polish. Saying a game is a soulslike is, to me, a pretty good sign that the person saying it hasn’t played the classics. Salt and Sanctuary probably could be called one (it’s clearly inspired by the game, including some of the multiplayer ideas), but it borrows just as much from Castlevania and other classics on top of having enough of its own identity to not fit neatly under a single umbrella with other so-called soulslikes.

  9. Avatar Fexelea says:

    You guys say all this, but in the youtube comments people keep going on about how it’s a "clone" for sure lol.

    Skare’s explanation makes a lot of sense, and TSMP is also correct that younger gamers may not have the frame of reference. Who wants to help me put together "10 Souls mechanics taken from other games" hehe.

  10. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    Stamina bar taken from Elder Scrolls. was there since Arena. Maybe even older RPGs.

    Edit: Checked, based on Giant Bomb, the first game to use it was Heavy Weight Champ from 1976.

  11. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    That list should be easy.

    If you’d like you could even show the analog roots, as many mechanics are based off of D&D systems created in the 70s (which also borrowed from numerous other sources).

    The Player’s Handbook for AD&D for instance gives stat parameters rather than completely dictating abilities by class. Like ”you can’t use magic at all unless you have x intelligence.” And ”this tier of spells can’t be used without y intelligence.” Who can forget concepts like ”at z intelligence you get a bonus to magic.”

    And even the stats themselves are pretty direct lifts.

    Let’s see we have: strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution and charisma. By the way, intelligence is, right in the book, called ”the forte of magic users.” Whereas wisdom is associated with clerics. There’s even a luck parallel in AD&D. It’s called rolling dice and works astonishingly similar to a RNG ;)

    I could go on a loooooong while. But essentially, Souls is an AD&D clone

  12. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    except better

    Besides that, is anything in Souls games original? Like completely never before done. On that topic, is anything in modern games original? Seems like what everyone want most are games that do what games in the past did.

  13. Avatar Fexelea says:

    I think the take on multiplayer for Demon’s Souls was original – or at least I can’t quite think of any other game that combined that mechanic in this manner.

    I do think there’s a "Souls genre" but I believe it is comprised of a sum of parts, rather than the parts itself. People argue Bloodborne is not souls but I think the core elements of all souls checkboxes are there, and the differences are aesthetic and speed-oriented whereas the "core" of the game feels the same. I never got that feeling with Nioh, since its approach is much less subtle.

  14. Avatar Nahztek-Shadowpath says:

    If Nioh was a Souls-clone, I wouldn’t love it as much as I do. What makes Nioh great is the things it does differently than Souls. Most of which was mentioned in the article.

    When I first played DeS, what blew me away was how similar it felt to the difficult platform games I grew up with. It’s all about memory. Memorizing the lay of the level. Memorizing enemy patterns. It felt so similar to old games, just revamped for the modern era of Action RPGs.

    So it can be easily said that enemy, level, and boss designs in Souls are nothing new.

    And as Skare just pointed out, the stats allocation and requirements are nothing new.

    Cryptic storytelling? Welcome to most games I played as a child.

    Hell, even the DS story is a mix of world mythology, basic existentialism, and Berserk.

    And as far as the online parts go, even most of that is old stuff. What made it so unique in Souls was how well online was integrated into the world with game mechanics.

    Souls is amazing because of how well it took old ideas and make them ‘feel’ new even if they weren’t.

    Same goes for Nioh. Nothing is actully new, but it’s a great mix. And it doesn’t try to be anything but Nioh.

  15. Avatar Foggy_Door says:

    Brilliantly summed up. My mind has always equated Souls with my first console game, Sonic on MS. You had to learn where all the enemies, traps and platforms were as well as make your way through and learn enemy movesets along with the best tactic to beat them. If you did things wrong, you died. Rinse, repeat, learn and you got that feeling of accomplishment.

    Any art/entertainment form is the same, it takes from the past then tries to improve on it. These days, with quickly advancing technology, gaming can afford to take from more sources of inspiration at the same time than ever before and imo, because of this we have ended up with Froms great selection and others such as Nioh.

    Great article Fex, you’ve expressed exactly what I’ve been thinking whilst playing Nioh brilliantly. Yeah, it takes a few things from Souls but it takes more from elsewhere and combines everything into an amazing game the likes of which we have and haven’t seen before.

    Oh, and the offer earlier in the thread (sorry it’s 4am here and I’m falling to sleep or would go back and check who posted) to compare Souls and Armoured Core in an article, please let that happen! Never played AC but really wanted to and would love to read that :)

  16. Avatar Scar85 says:

    nioh certainly has 2 endings as far as i have seen….one including hundred eyes and one not…..
    on the other Hand the majority is definitly not saying Lords of the fallen was a good game….ist a Horror for speedrunners for except, WAY to slow and has a crappy world/Boss design as well….that is the majority at least thinking besides a few that actually really "loved" it – i understand that its being "nice talked" of some to get future Infos from the Studio and everything but thats in the end not an objective look at the game….
    in that case you can find always some "good" Points even games like Aliens: colonial marines have….but just because it has Aliens and pulse rifles….it was the worst that could happen to the Franchise.

    i would wish to get more objective readings and everything instead of the actual just telling about the "good" Points – we already get that from magazines and other stuff and the trust in them is Floating more and more with every shit that gets discovered by the buyers from gamebreaking bugs to x/y (unfinished ubisoft/ WB games….dlc politics ala EA etc etc)

  17. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Scar – there’s only one ending. Those two "endings" are the same ending. There is no "do this during your playthrough for x ending"

    Re: LOTF – I don’t care what speedrunners think. LOTF is a good game that was talked down because people expected to play Souls and got LOTF instead. If you went in expecting LOTF (like I did) then it was extremely enjoyable and punching above its weight. Idk what "majority" you speak for – I speak for myself. It is also disturbing you think people would talk nice about a game to get information… Is this something you would do? I certainly will assume you are not leveraging such an accusation on myself. You can check my platinum trophy and 5 playthroughs on 2 different platforms if you disbelieve that I liked it.

    I’m not sure what you mean by "objective readings". This is my opinion on the subject. My opinion will always be my best summary of the facts through the filter of my emotions and personality – just like everyone else’s. You aren’t going to get objectivity on opinions.

  18. Avatar Scar85 says:

    the majority is simple cmbined out of everyone i know personally and have to do with over the web and i never found someone who praised this game since it lacks so much…
    besides there is always a comparison between games using same playstyle/mechanics…thats also the Point watch Dogs and Mafia 3 will get thrown in the same pot as gta….since its based on an open world or even Saints row…

  19. Avatar Fexelea says:

    You can find plenty of people who praise the game here, starting with me, following with Lanzen who wrote the review. I don’t know how many people you know, but the game has sold over 900,000 copies as of May 2015. Unless you know over 500,000 people, you are not speaking for a majority, you are speaking from your experience. Mine is different, there are dozens of people on my friends list who enjoyed the game and are looking forward to the sequel.

    I don’t understand your second paragraph :(

  20. Avatar NPC_invader says:

    It will only be a souls game if I can invade and make a streamer mad and cry in front of his viewers, until then this is anything but a souls game.

    Whoever think this is a souls game, that person played it his souls games offline or wasn’t harassed enough.

  21. Avatar Scar85 says:

    that simply is shown by the newbies to the series and the typical cry Babys "you Need to nerf this you Need to nerf that buhuhuhu" those arent "souls"-Players anyway tbh….

  22. igniz13 says:

    From have a clear formulae they use to craft souls games and bloodborne. It doesn’t matter what prior games influenced them, because they’ve created a distinct schema, parts of it, other companies have adapted in some ways.

    Nioh clearly has design elements lifted from souls. Why is there a stamina guage? Why is death handled the same? Why is combat of a more steady pace?

    It could’ve been more of a samurai gaiden, but it opted to use elements of the souls game.

    I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss it as a clone, I don’t think it’s fair to call it a clone, but it’s clearly trying to jump on the band wagon

  23. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Stamina gauge has been used long before souls, as has death mechanics. Combat in itself is not like souls – it’s fast and dash-heavy and focused around combos which are very much not how one plays Souls in general. You can read the Developer interview where they say they wanted a challenging game, and had the main theme of "death" (which is why Saorise tells you that you cannot die), and they explain that the combat is based off Ninja Gaiden but with a less offensive aspect in that they allow you to Block, and expect you to manage your Ki.

    Saying it’s trying to jump on a bandwagon is dismissive – I think there are some "souls feels" elements but they are, as I listed above, the minority vs the actual core differences, which make it stand on its own as a good game.

    To be clear: I was attracted to the game long before the marketing people even put a slogan remotely reminiscent of souls, and because of the loot and the setting. This was on TGS, where there was a video of someone playing. I thought the sengoku setting was great and the rendition very interesting, and I noticed the lootfest and went "oh it’s diablo". Looked a bit longer and the death mechanics brought a distant souls feel, alongside the UI. But the game itself, now that it’s out… It’s more diablo than souls by far. You play because you want better gear,

  24. igniz13 says:

    I can see the ninja gaiden influence, dashing through attacks is rewarded and expected. But it is methodical and paced. You’re not comboing into a launcher and then hitting with an izuna drop. You’re grounded with a few special moves.

    But why have stamina? it could’ve been more like a survival horror, where your capabilities are limited and still retained that sense of danger. Onimusha did it decade ago.

    Why have the level reset when you go to a check point? Why have the death and rebirth and not just die and continue? Why limit the action to sub character action, but above survival horror? Why have death graves like souls, attributes processed with "souls", estus like recovery.

    It picked things that are evocative of souls games, maybe it was accidental but I doubt it.

    Not to say this makes it a souls clone, its clearly got more roots entrenched in Diablo and other sources, but it clearly had a souls heritage

  25. Avatar Fexelea says:

    There are elements that are reminiscent of souls, but the differences are too marked, and too clear, to think this is a game made to emulate dark souls. The point of the article is not to say there’s no souls in this.

    They clearly drew inspiration and ideas from many games, including dks, and what came out is … Well Witcher samurai souls. It’s not a copy of any one, it’s a feel of all of them, with its own newish ideas.


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