Nioh vs Dark Souls: Which Game is More Difficult?

You’ve probably heard by now that PS4 exclusive Nioh shares a lot of similarities with Dark Souls. It’s so similar, in fact, that someone who had been buried beneath a rock for the past few months could be handed a screenshot of the game, and rightfully assume that From Software had decided to scrap all the goth nonsense and plump for samurai, instead.

Fortunately, Team Ninja hasn’t created another middling Souls clone in the vein of Lords of the Fallen, but rather a worthwhile deviation from the formula established by the popular aRPG series that, in a lot of ways, actually betters its source of inspiration. However, with the mantra of Souls‘ fan base notoriously being “git gud,” a phrase used to undermine those who struggle to get to grips with the high level of difficulty Souls games are known for, many are inevitably wondering how Nioh stacks up to From’s series in terms of the challenge it provides.

Also: Resident Evil 7 Ending Explained: How it Ties into Every Other Resident Evil Game

With that being said, we’ve pitted Nioh vs Dark Souls in an effort to see whether the new kid on the block has managed to overthrow From Software’s franchise as the most difficult game in town. Let’s take a look at whether or not this is  the case:

Stamina conservation

Stamina conservation is the most important aspect of combat in Souls games, and in Nioh it’s no different. Referred to as “Ki,” you’ll need to be wary of how much energy you’re expending in each enemy encounter, as fully depleting your Ki will leave you unable to attack and vulnerable to massive amounts of damage.

While Souls features a more simplified take on stamina, with it only being impacted by the armor/weaponry you carry and your attacks/movement speed, Nioh‘s system is much more complex and forces players to make the most of the Ki they have. Ki Pulse is a technique that allows players to regenerate a certain amount of Ki with a well-timed press of the Stance button (R1) after an attack, with players able to regenerate significant amounts of Ki the longer they hold out. This effectively ensures that a skilled player can regenerate their Ki time and time again, an incredibly useful tactic for gruelling boss fights and some of the game’s more spongy enemies. However, a Ki Pulse can also be interrupted by an enemy attack or if you’re forced to dodge, meaning that assessing the right moment to embark upon a long string of combos is vital if you don’t want to wind up out of breath and open to attack.

Not only do you have to monitor your own Ki, but it’s also important to keep an eye on your enemies’ Ki bars, too. When an enemy lunges to attack you they’ll also lose stamina and, when their Ki bar drops to critical levels, you can perform a killing blow for a huge amount of damage. Your window of opportunity for this attack is limited, though, so keeping an eye on when your opponents run out of energy is crucial.

Although stamina takes a lengthier period of time to regenerate in the Souls series, its use isn’t as multi-faceted as Ki in Nioh. While both Nioh and the Souls series have challenging takes on stamina conservation, Nioh‘s Ki Pulse adds another layer of difficulty that also serves to greatly benefit its accomplished melee combat.

Boss battles

Boss battles are the Souls’ series bread and butter, and Nioh does a good job of recreating these nail-biting encounters. While Souls still stands head and shoulders above pretty much every other series when it comes to the overall design of its toughest enemies, Nioh ups the sheer brutality of these battles on a number of occasions, rolling out one-hit instakills and other such tactics in order to leave players a quivering wreck whenever they’re forced to stand toe-to-toe with one of these behemoths.

With there being four entries in the Souls series thus far, five if you include the quasi-Souls game Bloodborne, there are many more bosses to choose from and a broader range of difficulty levels. For instance, for every Ornstein there’s also a Pinwheel. For every Gwyn, there’s also a Taurus Demon. While none of the Dark Souls bosses could be described as “easy,” and you’ll most likely die more than a few times facing each of them, they rarely dip into truly unfair territory; even if a boss seems insurmountable, eventually you’ll be able to work out a nigh-on foolproof strategy to take them down, with enough effort.

However, in Nioh‘s boss fights it often feels like the odds have been dramatically stacked against the player, to the point where challenge gives way to copious amounts of frustration. While this makes for a more difficult experience, it comes at the expense of fairness, making them feel cheap in the process.


Nioh‘s combat system is where it really shines, with it taking the established Souls formula but putting enough of a spin on it that it feels like its own thing. Whereas Souls is known for its clunky duels of slow dodge rolls and methodical sword swings, Nioh encourages players to be more agile and versatile, as evidenced by its three stances.

In Nioh, players can either adopt a low stance to increase their evasive abilities at the expense of their power, a middle stance to provide a combination of the two, or a high stance to focus upon power rather than speed. These stances can be switched on the fly, meaning that players must assess how to best approach each attacking situation. This, combined with the necessity of Ki Pulse, forces players to think on their toes in each encounter.

The absence of shields also drastically alters the way players take on enemies. Nioh more closely resembles Bloodborne in this regard, with it having a much faster pace that, when players figure out how to pull off consecutive Ki Pulses, can see them racking up combinations of moves for a large amount of damage. Souls‘ combat is still difficult to get to grips with, but in a different way. Whereas Nioh requires players to manage stances and Ki in order to get in as much offense as possible, Souls will have you carefully managing your stamina and striking at just the right moment for maximum damage, while still conserving enough energy to roll out of the way when your enemies hits back.

Mastering your weaponry

In both Nioh and Dark Souls you could be forgiven for going a little Private Pyle over your weapons, given how much time you’ll spend with them. Nioh actually rewards you for sticking to one specific weapon in the form of “familiarity,” granting you more Amrita — the game’s currency — for every foe you dispatch, though as you progress and gain access to more formidable tools with which to dispatch enemies, you’ll want to give up ol’ faithful in favor of a newer, more efficient sword/axe/spear etc.

As you’d imagine, each weapon class requires drastically different play styles, from the fast pace but low damage of the twin swords through to the Ki-heavy but powerful axes. Nioh pretty much follows Souls’ reliance upon attack and stamina balance, so there’s not a great difference between the level of skill required to master melee weaponry in both games. However, Nioh does have an ace up its sleeve in the form of its ranged weapons.

Ranged combat is hardly one of the Souls series’ strong points, but in Nioh it can prove to be very useful. With enemies possessing specific weak points that can be targeted for extra damage, bows and the like are much easier to control in Nioh, making them a potent way of dispatching hard-to-reach enemies or dealing extra damage to tougher foes. In Dark Souls ranged weaponry was commonly overlooked in favor of focusing upon melee, meaning that even when dealing with marksmen shooting you from a distance, it was often easier to rush up to them and take them out than standing back and pelting them with arrows. This isn’t the case in Nioh, and its combat feels more varied as a result, even if it does make some of its more durable enemies easier to deal with.

Nioh also lends players a helping hand in the form of its copious loot drops, which are so frequent it verges upon hilarity even in the game’s early stages. Whereas in Dark Souls finding a brand new and improved weapon is a rarity, in Nioh enemies and chests are routinely handing over new stuff for you to equip, so much so that you’ll often find yourself spoiled for choice.

Nioh vs Dark Souls: Conclusion

Both Nioh and Dark Souls are incredibly challenging games that, while similar, each have their own unique complexities. With there having been many more entries in the Souls series and only one Nioh, we’d rank its difficulty level above that of Dark Souls 2, 3 and Demon’s Souls, though just behind the grueling Dark Souls. While the Souls series is still no slouch in this department, there’s so much to consider in each enemy confrontation in Nioh that it requires an extra level of forethought, with players having to take into account fighting stances and timing their Ki Pulses in order to be successful. This, on top of its maddeningly tough boss battles and 100+ hour length, makes Nioh one of the most difficult games ever made.


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