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.


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.


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

  1. Avatar Tykjen says:

    I also thought this guy is on point:

    Is Nioh A Ripoff?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMp06FNauvU” rel=”nofollow

    Not one bit.

  2. Avatar DarkGerald says:

    Good article which sums it pretty much up. But this is simply not true:

    WTF? You know that there are tons of pure mages playing DKS, me included :D

    Having said that, I completely agree with the rest, in fact it’s Nioh where there is no viable way to play as a pure mage, it’s melee only with the exception for some ranged weapons. Listing the features of Nioh on paper might make it look like it’s a Souls Clone but when you start playing you quickly realize that it is a completely different thing. For starters, it is way easier than any Souls game with very few occasions where a boss can make you try for hours. But more importantly there is no feeling of "grandeur", I don’t feel like being part of something big or important, strictly speaking there is almost no atmosphere to imerse onself into. I doubt that I feel this way only because I am not Japanese and unfamiliar with the historic events, rather I believe that it is so because they spill out the story for you like every game other than souls. In DKS I feel like part of the story, in Nioh you are send on missions. Character movement is more arcade or Diablo like, I don’t feel like I am actually fighting myself like in the souls game.

    That’s not to say it’s not fun to play, I actually am quite enjoying myself and like to breeze with my Ninja through the levels. Actually if you don’t want Nioh to be a souls-clone it is a fantastic game and they do many things right in their own way. I even like it more than Bloodborne which I never really enjoyed, Nioh got me hooked, which BB failed (I still haven’t beaten the final boss…). BB clearly tried to be a souls-clone sans maging but If one wants to compare Nioh at all to any game it’s like Dark Souls and Diablo having a japanese Baby where the dominant features are actually more on the Diablo Side. It’s an amazing game but once the final DLC for DKS3 comes out I’ll take a hiatous from Nioh anyway :D

  3. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    Can Bloodborne be considered a Souls-clone if it’s made by the same developers to be a spiritual successor to/alternate take on Souls games?

  4. Avatar Nahztek-Shadowpath says:

    Short answer. No. It’s a continuation. Unless you want to call Dark Souls a DeS clone.

  5. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    Exactly what I thought.

  6. Avatar Reaperfan says:

    In order to be convincing, they need to be things that people specifically associate with being from Souls. So nothing generic like camera angles, leveling up, the bleak medieval setting (even though that’s not really a mechanic, I guess), or that it has character creation. They need to be things like the player-written but prescripted message system, recoverable bloodstains (as you mentioned from Diablo), EXP/Money being the same in-game resource, the coop/invasion system, and/or the vague way it tells its lore. It would also be a good idea to avoid using any previous FROM titles as "used it before Souls did" games.

    So…there’s my help on that I guess :lol:

    As for the actual topic of the article, I haven’t actually played Nioh yet myself, so I can’t speak on the specifics of it as a game. But what I ended up adopting as my way of seeing the term is that "Soulsborne" is just a subgenre of the overall Action RPG genre in the same way "Metroidvania" is a subgenre of the 2D Platformer genre. That genre was simply named after those games because they were the Trope Codifiers that popularized the genre. A game can have tons of differences in its details, but still qualify as being a "Soulsborne" game if it hits the same kind of broad strokes in its design. From what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t say Nioh was trying to be a Souls game, but it DID end up being a Soulsborne game. If that makes any sense. :straight face:

  7. Avatar DarkGerald says:


    When it comes to what makes a Souls game a Souls game I keep coming back to this video by Vaati: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lnq44iwiVM” rel=”nofollow

    I think there’s no better way to describe the souls experience and Nioh is lacking many things Vaati is talking about, especially when it comes to you being part of the story, the story playing out in your head and the growing/leveling in front of the screen. He also points out that DKS is not difficult for the sake of being hard but to give players a sense of achievement, something Nioh lacks in my opinion. For starters it is not very hard given the right equipment (again a difference to souls) and some bosses which are hard seem to be arbitrary, like the "Ghost" Yokai on the bridge with ridicolous health.

    And one other thing is hugely different from DS: in Nioh you replay the same level over and over again, in missions, submissions, twilight and so on. The only reason to visit the same place twice in souls is a new NG cycle but once you are through (and have looted everything) you won’t see the same area again except for the hub.

  8. Avatar Back_Lot_Basher says:

    99% of creative art builds upon what came before. Some games, films, books innovate in ways that create a new template, as Demon’s Souls did. As human beings we can’t help but take inspiration from what moves us, and spin it in new and inventive ways. Admittedly, my only experience in this game was the beta/demo, but I see the Souls influence in it, just like I did in Lords. And I agree, that doesn’t make it a clone. Clones, by definition, do not vary from the original in any way. As you pointed out, this game does.

  9. Abeyda says:

    Nice and interesting post to read and It’s arguments were really great and convincing. The only problem I have with it is that I don’t know if your arguing that Nioh is not a Souls-clone or that Nioh doesn’t belong in the sub-genre that some people call Souls-clone. Nioh is an outstanding and unique game in many ways and is definitely not a clone of Dark Souls but I can’t help but say that Nioh belongs in the Sub-genre called Souls-like/Souls-clone/Souls-style.
    Hope you have a great rest of your day.

  10. K0wing says:

    i have just started playing Nioh and yea am getting used to it. feels so much different from souls and borne

  11. TheLightningYu says:

    In my honest Opinion:
    I would say neither one. For me Games like Nioh to Dark Souls are Reasons how "Genre’s" are born. Genres mostly aren’t handled as Clones, but moreover to give Idea which Direction an Game takes and which Influence it had. Obviously you can’t call "Souls-Like" as an whole Genre, more like an specific Sub-Category to Action-RPG. I also disagree to an certain Point. An unique Experience isn’t about "exclusive" "Features"; its about the whole package. People claim(as example) they’ve seen Games like Division before, but if i ask them i never get an straight answere to: "So you know an Post-Apocalyptic RPG-Shoooter[without Zombies] combined with grind for loot and an proper Cover-System? I still got no Answere to that. You might fight certain aspects which are similiars to others – like Cover-System in Gears of War, and such, but combined as an Package – Division is pretty unique(which don’t say anything about the Quality per se, i only want to point out the unique experience). However – if you liked Destiny you could also like Division – because it have an pretty similiar vibe of playstyle how you have this halfway MMO/Soloplay Hybrid thing, and so on.

    So, i wouldn’t tell Nioh as an "Clone" because that would be way to off. However i would still count it in the same Genre. It have enough to stand alone, and also offer diversity to this Subcategory, but it still have in it’s core quite a bit of Souls-Feel/Vibe which you clearly see the insparation from.

  12. Kentama says:

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

    I like the comparison and think this is definitely no Dark Souls clone. However I think a more apt analogy is "Nioh is like Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry (pre-reboot) had a lovechild and abandoned him. Then Good Guy Dark Souls came along, saw potential, and took pity on the baby, so he raised like it was his own flesh and blood".

  13. Avatar IgnusKnavery says:

    Dark Souls is to Demon’s Souls (never liked how they used a singular possessive apostrophe) as Nioh is to Ninja Gaiden. How’s that? Of course I think Dark Souls is more a clone to Demon’s Souls than Nioh is to anything really. It borrows elements from both these games, but really isn’t a clone of anything.

  14. Pocman512 says:

    Have you all been seriously playing the same games that i have?

    I bought Nioh after reading some reviews in which it was described as a "Soulsborne-like" game. I love the three dark souls installments as well as bloodborne, and therefore, a Souls-clone was what exactly what i was looking for… and what i got.

    Evidently, there are some differences when compared with From software’s games. There were differences in mechanics, style, etc, between bloodborne and dark souls (andeven between the different souls games), and therefore, it is obvious that a game made by another company is going to have some differences too. If there weren’t some differences, Nioh wouldn’t be a Souls like game but plagiarism.

    But even if there are some differences, it is clear to me that Nioh is part of the Soulsborne sub-genre to the action-rpg genre:

    – The combat system is the same (even if there are some differences such as the ki pulses and spirit guardians).
    – The healing system is the same (a mix of estus flaks and bloodvials).
    – The leveling system is, more or less, the same.
    – The blood stains/souls/amrite "drops if you die, disappear if you die again" system is the same.
    – Bonfires/lamp posts/sanctuaries. Enough said.
    – Weight system.
    – The different levels are designed very similarly in both games. Levels are designed in a way that encourages exploiration + trial and error. Advance through each mission/zone is based on a checkpoint + shortcuts system.

    As you can see, most of the core mechanics are exactly the same, or at least very similar.

    Not only are the main or core mechanics the same, there are a lot of secondary elements that are not only similar, but identical, to those used in the soul games. Some of them are so obvious that actually feel like some kind of homage. For example:

    – The bosses hp bar is located in the same place, and has the same colours.
    – The consumables are not only used in the same way, but some of them are direct copies of those used in dark souls. For example, fire talisman vs charcoal pine resin. In fact, even the animation when you use them is the same!
    – The lootable corpses are shown in the exact same way (small white/yellow light ball hovering over them).
    – Fake chests that are in fact, enemies. Curiously, in dark souls those chests are called mimics, and in Nioh you have to "mimic" their actions to avoid being attacked.
    – False walls that can be destroyed to show secret corridors.
    – Status ailments (such as poison) work in the exact same way: a meter that is filled each time you are hit by a status generating weapon and, once completely filled, triggers the effect.

    I could continue listing other obvious similarities, or even arguing that some of the differences are irrelevant or don’t even exist (for example, ranged combat is not more viable in Nioh than in dark souls), but i think i have made my point.

  15. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Reviving this thread as we are nearing PC launch and this will surely come back up!

    I really don’t agree with the last post above me…
    – The combat system ISN’T the same. Very much not.
    – The healing system… is a healing system, not really something souls has a trademark on, and it has changed a lot from demon’s to dark souls to bloodborne
    – The leveling system isn’t the same, what’s similar is the weapon Stat-bonuses system
    – The die / respawn mechanic is indeed very similar. And also similar to diablo :P
    – Shrines as checkpoints that respawn level, similar but different
    – Weight system? Come on dark souls really didn’t invent this, it has to be the most used RPG mechanic ever.
    – Level design… I don’t think they are that similar. They have a similar objective, maybe, but there’s no reason to go find a shiny item since most of the fixed drops are trash

    Secondary elements:
    – Boss HP is located in that corner for many many games. This is an image from ninja gaiden 2:
    – Consumables: some share similarities, many do not and have nothing to do with things of souls. Talisman, salt, etc are rather different mechanics
    – Shiny drops for loot are not a souls exclusive
    – Fake Chests (Mimics) are a 1977 Dungeons and Dragons creation…
    – False Walls are also as old as 2002’s Pathfinder, at the very least.
    – Status ailments filling up your bar is also not a souls original or exclusive.

    All that said I continue to think that the key is in the differences, and sometimes the more subtle ones. Currency and XP being separated, for example, is a crucial mechanic as no matter how many times you die you never lose your gold.

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