Nioh 2 is one of the most exciting games I’ve ever played. A lot of that is thanks to a fantastic combat system where each battle is a tense yet intuitive slash-fest. But Nioh 2 is also a smart prequel that plays around with characters that players might know from Nioh. That playfulness comes to a head in one of the game’s more memorable boss fights.
In Nioh 2, you play as a nameless demon hunter who travels the world with a magical stone merchant called Tokichiro. Tokichiro is the man who will one day be called Toyetomi Hideyoshi, the unifier of Japan during the Sengoku period. His rise – aided by a nefarious demon – turns him into your enemy as he grows mad with power.
The first Nioh followed the story of William, a foreigner based on the real-life William Adams. Adams would be the first Caucasian foreigner to be granted the title of samurai. The first was an African man named Yasuke. William’s tale focuses on the turbulent times after Hideyoshi’s fall. Certainly his story couldn’t converge with Nioh 2, right? Not so: Nioh 2’s epilogue jumps all the way after Nioh’s story when William awakens the player to untangle a plot to resurrect Hideyoshi. As you struggle to fight off the demon’s power, a boss fight breaks out. One protagonist against another.
This isn’t a new trick. Plenty of games have heroes clash. In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, the main character Soma Cruz – the reincarnation of Dracula – comes to blows with Julius Belmont. Julius was never playable, but the resulting boss fight is one of the most difficult and exciting of the entire game. Fighting William has a similar energy. By this point, he’s a skilled and respected samurai who has hunted demons for years. All of the tricks that players had in the original are available to him, including a wide array of weapon stances and attacks. There’s an energy to this fight that doesn’t come from battling a random warlord.
William isn’t a hard boss. Fighting against human foes in the Nioh series is never as dangerous or difficult as facing giant snake demons or horse-dudes with giant saws. That lack of difficulty doesn’t make William’s boss fight boring, though. You’re able to really treat it like a duel with an equal. By the time I’d reached William in my review playthrough, I’d slogged through tonnes of levels and was quite frankly worn out. William wasn’t as hard to defeat as other bosses, but I felt an urge to respect him. There I was, on the ropes and facing off against a genuine hero. It made me play more cautiously than ever before. There was an urgency to the boss fight that never could have existed if he were another random monster.
Nioh 2’s scope allows it to explore the early days of characters from the first game, like the stern General Oda Nobunaga or the rakishly charming mercenary Saika Magoichi. It also brings colour to the setting. Expanding the world and its history is key to Nioh 2’s greatness. Lords rise and fall. Heroes clash before ultimately teaming up. In the case of William, that made for a deliciously memorable fight.