11 things I wish I knew before starting Nioh

Nioh is like the lovechild of Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden so, as you might imagine, it is not an easy game. But just because you're prepared to die, that doesn't mean you can't minimize the chance of repeated, soul-crushing failure with a few helpful tips. After spending dozens of hours ensconced in the Main Missions and Sub Missions that make up William's wild ride through Japan, I've got some tidbits I'd like to impart that can make your life easier (or just more enjoyable) in the uphill battle that is Nioh. Besides key skills and items that'll help you survive against legions of Yokai, there's also some need-to-know stuff about the helpful Kodama spirits and your bubbly blacksmith pal Tome. And if you're ever caught in a progress-halting slump, just remember Teddy Roosevelt's words: "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty."

Sneak Attack is a must-have Ninja skill 

Dark Souls vets know just how crucial the Backstab attack can be, where you inch up to an unsuspecting enemy and shank their spine to hopefully end the fight before it can even start (or at least get a huge advantage when fighting a beefier target). Nioh also has this move, but strangely, it's not available to you by default. You'll find the Sneak Attack skill near the bottom of the Ninja skill tree, and you should get it ASAP - pulling off a Sneak Attack will make many Yokai much easier, if they don't die outright, and most human foes will croak instantly. This stealthy strike is also relatively easy to set up: as long as you're walking, not running, foes with their back turned to you will be oblivious to your existence. 

Prioritize getting the Living Water skill for your preferred weapon 

The Ki Pulse is essential to Nioh's combat: tapping R1 just as your Ki finishes refilling refunds the maximum amount of stamina and keeps you in the fight longer. Problem is, the regular Ki Pulse keeps you in place for a split second, which can mean instant death in a game this intense. Dodging is another key component of combat, but get too dodge-happy and you'll deplete your Ki just as fast. What you need is a way to turn these two vulnerabilities into a combined strength. Enter Living Water, a skill available in every stance for every weapon tree, which lets you treat your dodge as a Ki Pulse, refunding your Ki and getting you out of harm's way simultaneously. Even if you don't swap between all three stances often, skill these up for every stance just so you're prepared for anything. 

Rejuvenation Talismans from Onmyo skills can act as supplemental Elixirs 

Elixirs are your lifeblood in Nioh: the potions you can quickly quaff mid- or post-fight that'll help offset however much precious life you've lost on the way to the next Shrine checkpoint. They work more like Bloodborne's Blood Vials than Dark Souls' Estus Flasks: there's a chance you can pick up more from fallen enemies, but you'll only get so many back after death. If you've burned through your stash of Elixirs when you need them most, the Rejuvenation Talismans in the Onmyo skill tree are the perfect remedy. These heal-over-time items can refund as much health as an Elixir if you stay safe during some downtime and, like your other Jutsus, they'll refill every time you pray at a Shrine. To unlock them, you'll need to complete the Onmyo Adept mission at the Dojo, which unlocks when you have 10 points in Magic. Other handy Onmyo skills you can grab at the Adept level are Vital Spirit, which ups all Amrita gains by 3%, and Pure Heaven Cursed Earth, which extends the range of your Yokai Realm-purging Ki Pulse, making boss fights much more manageable. 

Your equipped weapons all gain expertise, even if you're not currently wielding them 

Expertise is the measure of how familiar you are with your chosen weaponry, represented by the big blue bar underneath their damage value that builds up with each encounter. The main benefit of expertise is that you can offer a maxed out item to your Kodama crew via the Offering option at Shrines, and you'll get much more Amrita in return compared to an unused item. Some high-end items also gain damage depending on your expertise, but that's a fairly rare modifier. The trick is that, even if you're not actively using a weapon, it'll still gain expertise at a slower rate just by being equipped. So, even if you're deadset on using a particular weapon, always make sure to have something in your secondary slot so it can latently accrue expertise, then switch it out as soon as it hits the cap so you don't lose out on potential value. You and your Kodama will appreciate the better offerings.

Many Guardian Spirits await in the optional Sub Missions 

Guardian Spirits are your animal pals that grant passive stat buffs and activate William's Super Saiyan mode once their meter (the disc next to your health and Ki bars) fills up. And though your collection of Guardian Spirits will grow just by playing through the Main Missions to progress the story, many more are offered as rewards for quest chains in the Sub Missions. If you see another character with a Guardian Spirit in a cutscene, seek out that character's Sub Missions to eventually earn their Guardian via spirit division. It's not likely that these optional Guardian Spirits will greatly affect your ability to progress, but there's just something about mystical creatures that makes you want to catch 'em all, and Sub Missions are the means to do so. 

Summoner's Candle is your get-out-of-jail-free card after perilous death 

The text on the Summoner's Candle - a purple-colored 'one-of-a-kind'-grade item, so it must be important - makes it sound like you'll trigger a free Guardian Spirit activation when you use it. Yet, as I've found out after tossing it in my quick-use Equipment slot, trying to activate it typically does nothing at all. Turns out, the Summoner's Candle exists for those times when you've died in a particularly bad spot, and you're not 100% confident that you can reach your grave without dying again and losing your precious Amrita in the process. Consuming a Summoner's Candle will instantly whisk your Guardian Spirit and Amrita stash back to you, so don't be afraid to err on the side of caution and use one, because they're not all that rare. This is especially helpful when you die to an unexpected boss fight (where's it's highly unlikely that you'll kill them on the second try), so you can safely spend your Amrita and build up your Guardian Spirit activation by killing lesser enemies (because it typically won't increase during a boss fight).

Sub-Function makes inventory management a breeze 

New gear drops like candy in Nioh, and as with other loot-heavy games such as Diablo, you're going to be throwing a ton of junk into your sizable inventory between those endorphin-spiking one-of-a-kind drops. When it comes time to sell or disassemble items at the blacksmith, or use them as Amrita-earning offerings at a Shrine, using the Sub-Function will save you tons of time and make your life infinitely easier. Simply switch tabs to 'All Items' when going to select unwanted gear, then tap the touchpad to bring up the Sub-Function menu, which lets you automatically check off items by rarity. You'll practically never need Common or Uncommon items after the first hour, so getting rid of them with the Sub-Function turns a tedious task into an absolute breeze. 

Don't forget to keep tabs on your Kodama Blessing 

Kodama are those adorable green spirits that greet you at every Shrine, and some of the little cherubs have wandered off from safety to get themselves lost in the sizable levels. Provided you've located them and led them back to the Shrine (which is as simple as interacting with them), they can grant you passive buffs that give the Kodama Blessing, increase Amrita returns or the drop chance of weapons, armor, crafting materials, and elixirs (the last one being my go-to). The effect each Kodama grants or bolsters is indicated by their literal bowl hat, so as you find more, check your Blessing to see which effect gives you the most mileage at the moment. And every time you unlock a new region, be mindful that your Kodama Blessing goes back down to zero and can only be regained by finding more Kodama, because they're grouped up by Region and don't transfer buffs between them.

Smash all boxes on sight 

Speaking of seeking out those helpful Kodama, they're often nestled behind stacks of destructible crates or pots - something Nioh surely learned from the Dark Souls school of item hiding. A simple dash will clear out the debris to see if there's a Kodama or item-holding corpse back there, and while you should be prepared for the possibility of an enemy popping up, it's pretty uncommon. Just to be sure, you can safely attack into the environment as a failsafe without worrying about harming any cute l'il Kodama, because they'll just pop underneath their bowl-hats if they sense danger. Keep an ear out for the high-pitched squeaks and frog-like croaking noises the stray Kodama make - but really, you can't go wrong by smashing everything in sight. It's just so satisfying, y'know? 

Be sure to chat with Tome the blacksmith 

You'll be visiting Senji Tome the blacksmith often during your travels through Japan, so it's only right that you get to know her a bit better. Anything like buying or selling items, forging new gear, or Soul Matching loot all goes towards unlocking Patronage points, which you can use to 'level up' your blacksmith and gain some worthwhile discounts and extra item stocks in the process. But you can also earn Patronage points for free just by being a good customer and chatting with Tome, who wants to hear about your travels in foreign and dangerous lands. Choose the 'Speak to Tome' option every time you visit the Blacksmith and see what she has to say - then whenever you get a dialogue option, choose the more encouraging or positive response (typically the top one). That'll cheer Tome right up and earn you some free Patronage points in the process, which really add up over time. If Tome keeps repeating "Let me know if you need anything!", she's run out of things to talk about until you progress the main story further.

You can tweak William's appearance in the Barber Menu  

Think William could use a shave? Wish his hair didn't look exactly like Geralt's in The Witcher? You don't get nearly the kind of character customization options you would in Dark Souls, but Nioh does give you a few options to alter William's basic look. By spending your Patronage points at the blacksmith - the same ones you earned by talking to Tome - you can also unlock the Barber Menu, which adds three additional options for William's head and facial hair (no color choices here, just styles). Personally, I like to rock a five-o-'clock shadow with short hair to give Will that GQ look.