Nioh Guide: Strategy, Tips & Tricks for slaying Yokai

There's a good chance you've already heard, but Nioh is pretty damn good. Tecmo Koei's marriage of the Dark Souls style formula with the action game minds at developer Team Ninja has resulted in a unique and interesting new action RPG that's currently taking the RPG Site staff by storm.

But... it is a Souls-like game, and one with its own interesting little quirks and foibles. That basically means that there are some sides to Nioh you'll need to learn - and there are some sides you might need a little help with. We're here, and though we do have a few other unique guide pages based on specific topics, here are a few top tips we think all Nioh players need to know. Read 'em, then go slay some monsters. 


Understand Stamina and Master the Ki Pulse

Just as in Dark Souls (which no doubt was a heavy inspiration on Nioh), stamina is an absolutely massive part of any combat encounter. In Nioh Stamina is known as Ki, but it's still ultimately measured by a separate meter that sits right by your health. 

Stamina/Ki governs almost everything you do in Nioh - it determines everything from your ability to attack to the speed and distance of your dodge or even how far you can sprint. If you accidentally deplete your ki meter all the way down you won't just be unable to do these things - you'll also basically be stunned, left open to enemy attack for a moment while your Ki begins to recover. In a game like this with particularly deadly enemies, that's a potentially game-ending situation - so you need to avoid it.

As such, our first tip is to get used to managing your stamina - to watching the bar and understanding your limits. The exhaustion of a depleted stamina bar is not worth that one extra attack unless that attack is going to kill the final enemy nearby. Get used to that. When you do, it's then time to learn the Ki Pulse...

Using the Ki Pulse Properly

The Ki Pulse is such an important part of the stamina mechanic that it only makes sense to drop it under a sub-heading here. The Ki Pulse basically allows William to refill his Ki midway through a combo, thus allowing you to continue slashing your way through an enemy.

Here's how it works: As your stamina bar depletes through usage, it slowly refills with a white bar. This white bar isn't actually regained stamina, but shows how much ki you can potentially restore with a pulse. To activate a ki pulse you need to finish up and a combo and then without pressing anything else hit R1; the white bar will then be restored to real stamina that you can use.

This is basically a trade-off - the longer you wait, the more stamina you will restore, but the tighter the timing on the R1 press also gets. You also need to be careful - attacking, getting hit, dodging and so on will all make the white bar disappear. This is all about timing, but practice it on weaker enemies - on bosses, the pulse is absolutely essential, so the practice will pay off.


Choose your Guardian Spirit wisely

Once you finish the prologue of the game you'll be given a series of choices - starter weapon and secondary weapon for one. We touch on this a little in our guide to stats, leveling up and what sort of builds people should try - and we highly suggest you check that out. On top of that, however, the game also gives you another choice: a choice of Guardian Spirit.

Guardian Spirits are basically spirit animals that help you out and represent you, and your choice gives you passive bonuses to your stats while also determining what your living weapon power does when you activate it. There are a lot in the game, but you're given a choice between three at the start of the game:

  • Kato is a white wolf, and looks ridiculously cool. Kato is the one we'd recommend for beginners; picking Kato gives you a +1 to your Strength, boosting your close-up attack damage.
  • Isonade is a shark, which is also stupidly cool in its own way. To be able to say your spirit animal is a shark is, y'know, alright. Isonade boosts your Spirit stat by +1 and also increases your defense. Its living weapon abilities are a little more balanced and less outright offense-focused than Kato's, offering a smaller damage boost but also higher defense and recovery boosts. 
  • Daiba-Washi takes the form of a hawk and has appropriate skills to match, giving a +1 bonus to Skill. Activating the living weapon won't boost your attack power at all, but instead Daiba-Washi offers absolutely enormous gains to Skill and associated stats, turning you into a speed machine that can dodge attacks with ease. 

There are new guardian spirits hidden throughout the game, but your starter choice will be with you for a while, so choose carefully based on your intended play-style.


Use Weapon Familiarity to your Advantage

One interesting little concept in Nioh is that weapons might be a little more than tools - and their users might actually come to love them a bit. This is a very samurai thing, of course, but in Nioh it's represented in a very literal way - the more you use a weapon, the more your 'familiarity' rises with it - and familiarity with a weapon means William will be more proficient and deal more damage with it.

Familiarity can be found in your equipment screen, proudly displayed center-stage under a weapon's name. As your familiarity rises, William will use the weapon more effectively, unlock special buffs for that weapon, and it'll generally be more powerful. You're then faced with a choice: upgrade to a new, more powerful piece of loot you just picked up or stick with old faithful with the high familiarity? It's an interesting wrinkle to the loot grind of many RPGs.

It probably is worth having some weapon loyalty as a result, but still don't be afraid to say goodbye to old favorites. One other advantage of familiarity is that it increases a weapon's value - a weapon that you have high familiarity with can be offered at a shrine in exchange for Amrita, the crucial currency you use to upgrade. The more important a weapon is to you - the more familiarity you have - the more it will be worth when offered, a great way to recycle old favorites that you've outgrown.


Learn how to Parry early on, and use it often

If you're an old Dark Souls hand, you might find yourself scratching your head early on in Nioh. I mean, where is the parry? Well... there's a twist. You can parry in Nioh, but it's not a latent ability William has from the get-go - it's actually a skill you have to unlock through character progression.

Open your menu and head to the Katana skill tree. You'll find the Parry quite early on in the Middle Stance branch of the skill tree, and it'll cost you some samurai skill points to unlock. Simple!

Once you own it, the parry can be used in two versions - light and heavy. Both are executed by pressing L1 plus a button - L1 + Square for light and L1 + Triangle for heavy. The light version is easier to pull off since it has a wider window where you can parry, but the resulting counter-attack is weaker. The heavy has a much smaller and harder to nail window of parry opportunity but does far more damage in return. Later on there's another version, but these two are the basic two you need to worry about. Go forth and parry!

Oh, and - in a weird twist, yes, weapons have a 'parry' stat, but this stat has no impact on a weapon's parrying ability. Instead this determines how much ki is drained when you block regularly with that weapon.


Don't forget Guns, Bows, Ninjutsu and Onmyo Magic

Nioh is definitely a game that at its core is about the blade. It has a slew of really amazing melee weapons, great-feeling combat and of course is imbued with that up-close and personal combat spirit of the samurai. With that said, however, the game also features some really impressive long-range weapon options and back-up abilities that are very easy to forget about and ignore until your lack of knowledge on them helps you to hit a boss-shaped brick wall. Try not to be that person! Explore!

Guns and bows are great. 

Guns in Nioh are particularly satisfying to use thanks to the fact that the game takes into account weaknesses when you aim. What I mean by that, basically, is that if you shoot for the head and hit somebody in the face with a shot from a cannon, they're going to die. It's more often than not an instant kill. It's satisfying and is a great way to ambush enemies from afar, popping off a few shots before they get close enough to attack you with melee.

Cannons are the slowest but most powerful, taking a while to fire and reload. Rifles are in the middle, while of course the longbow and arrow are fast but much weaker. Keep in mind enemy armor plays a role in weakness - if a guy is wearing a helmet, you won't be able to headshot him so easily, but the first shot might knock the helmet loose - which in turn will make the second all the more deadly...

Ninjutsu offers other great ranged abilities

Ninjutsu is basically the art of the ninja, and in Nioh this class of ability provides all the sneaky abilities you'd expect for those types of warriors. There are weapons that can poison, paralyze or even heal, smaller thrown weapons and some great abilities that boost William's speed and ability to dodge quickly and without using much Ki, a game changer.

The stand-out of the Ninjutsu tree for us are the thrown weapons, the Kunai and Shuriken. Both of these offer a speed and utility that's very different to the bow and guns mentioned above, and that can actually make them life-savers in a bad situation. They also have significantly upgraded versions available - seriously, the Fire Shiruken is very cool and very useful.

Buff yourself with Onmyo Magic

By far the easiest to neglect, Onmyo can make your life a whole lot easier, especially for major bosses. Onmyo is easy to forget about because most of the time it isn't interested in dealing damage so much as it is buffing William, but the buffs offered are significant.

You can strengthen yourself against certain elements if you're facing a boss that abuses one elemental type, extend the use time of your living weapon, boost how much health is restored by healing items, reduce damage from yokai, or even imbue your weapon with a particular element in order to make an elemental-weak boss squirm. Onmyo magic is so good that it's very well worth investing in from early on - these buffs will make a world of difference in boss encounters.


Build your character smart, and respec if you have to

Nioh is very much an old-school RPG in that even though it's an action game it's powered by the very same basic stats that have their roots in D&D games. Those stats can sometimes be a little obtuse to the point where we've written a separate guide all about them - and we highly recommend you go and give it a read to see some suggested builds plus exactly what each of William's base stats does when it's improved.

Mistakes happen, however. When they do, you might want to respec - reset William's progression so you can spend skill points again and turn him into a different kind of character. Nioh mercifully has this feature, but getting to it is a little obtuse. Here's what you need to do:

  • Complete the first two main story missions to unlock the blacksmith. Find the blacksmith by heading to an area's starting point (marked on the map by an enormous building) and selecting it.
  • At the blacksmith, look at the items for sale: the one you want, the Book of Reincarnation, is 10,000 gold. Buy it. Keep in mind that the book gets more expensive each time you buy one - the second time around it'll cost you 30,000, three times as much.
  • Back in the starting point menu, head to the storehouse. You'll find your book here, ready for you. When you use it, all previous progression will be removed but also all Amrita previously spent will be returned to you, plus all Samurai, Ninja and Onmyo Magic skill points.
  • Now visit a shrine. At the shrine, you'll be able to re-spend all those points at will. A full re-spec! Pricey, but worth it.
  • Later in the game the Hidden Teahouse will also sell the books in exchange for Glory, though the price will similarly skyrocket with multiple uses.