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Nioh: Defiant Honor
Score: 85%
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.
Developer: Team Ninja
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/RPG/Online

Koei Tecmo has a very specific audience in mind for Nioh, its superb action role-playing game from earlier this year. Simply being a fan of this kind of gameplay isnít enough; you must be willing to make a certain level of commitment to it. If you are not, the chances are high that Nioh: Defiant Honor is well out of your reach Ė not only in terms of difficulty, but also in terms of access. If you havenít played the hell out of Nioh and its first expansion, Dragon of the North, this review isnít for you.

Okay, if youíre among the individuals who have completed both the core game and the more recent first offering of downloadable content, Iím happy to say that Defiant Honor continues the trend established early on. At its most basic, this is more of the same. However, itís not content to rehash what youíve already conquered. The learning experience continues across the board, resulting in perhaps the most difficult bit of content Team Ninja has ever released to date. ThatÖ is something.

Sengoku in the Snow:
William Adamsí alliance with Hattori Hanzo and Tokugawa Ieyasu has yielded stunning victories as well as opened up some highly exploitable weaknesses for themselves. One of these is the Spanish spy Maria, who, in Dragon of the North, escaped from under the heel of Masamune Date and pledged her loyalty to Toyotomi Hideyori. Turns out, all the nationalistic war profiteering isnít really the best thing for Japan. Because wherever the Amrita goes, the body count rises and the warís end becomes ever farther away. Her disappearance at the end of Dragon of the North sets off the events that comprise Nioh: Defiant Honor. William searches for her while also honoring his obligation to the Tokugawa Shogunate as they mount the Siege of Osaka, and attempt to defeat the defending general, Yukimura Sanada.

Okay, so it remains true that the only people who will find any interest in Niohís story are the ones who already have a thing for Japanese history. The Sengoku period is a monolithic cultural staple for that great people, and its retelling here, while far-fetched in even its mildest fantasies, is strangely riveting. Itís like if the civilian boats of Operation Dynamo were mobile suits or Loch Ness monsters, while the Air Force was made up of winged humans armed with laser guns. Itís weird as hell, but it works on its intended level.

Revenge of Ninja Dog:
Niohís combat is so rhythmic and so deep that thereís a practically infinite number of ways to approach it. As far as Iím concerned, Team Ninja are absolutely right to focus on it with laser precision. So if you played Dragon of the North (and if youíre considering Nioh: Defiant Honor, you damn well better have), youíll probably have a good idea of what to expect. Though Iím afraid nothing will prepare you for the amazing sequence that opens this chapter.

I still have nightmares about those armored kunai-wielding canines from Ninja Gaiden II. Defiant Honor makes them worse. This takes me back to my original point: the new enemies introduced are the most significant changes introduced here, because they directly impact the dynamics that drive what is easily the strongest element in the core game. Itís still entirely a matter of positioning, timing, weapon choice, and situational awareness, but if the original gameís combat was a piece of music, consider Defiant Honor a shift in both key and meter. Itís not a fundamental game-changer, but it is undeniably a game-enricher.

When you compound the new enemy encounters with the other new elements, such as the snowbound setting of Osaka, youíve got an experience that feels fresh in all the ways it should, while retaining the familiarity that acts as connective tissue for the package as a whole. Additionally, the Tonfa might just be my favorite weapon in Nioh as a whole (again, as it was in Ninja Gaiden II). Itís a brutal, aggressive weapon that will be a godsend for warriors who are sick of overly-defensive enemies. Oh, and if you find pleasure in sticking bamboo shoots under your fingernails, Defiant Honor adds a difficulty level: "Way of the Enlightenment." Good luck.

Not to harp on the issue, but I feel the need to reiterate that the audience for Nioh: Defiant Honor is likely shrinking as other releases spring onto the scene. Itís just as well, as this is a hardcore game for the hardest of hardcore gamers. Itís one of the most difficult but fair games Iíve ever played, and somehow, some way, Team Ninja continues to heap on the challenge, effectively narrowing the runway while nailing the landing each and every time.

With Defiant Honor, Nioh's endgame content is now two for two, rendering the Season Pass ultimately worthy of recommendation. It doesnít come across as a comprehensive expansion in the same way that full-fledged add-on campaigns do, but neither is it priced to compete with such releases. Instead, think of this as a continuation of an excellent action game. It doesnít break from what makes the core experience great, but adds to it. Bring on the final challenge.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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