If you’re playing Nioh, Team Ninja’s dark, hardcore Souls-esque samurai RPG, you’re probably already aware of how punishing it can be. And if you haven’t tried it you really should — Koei Tecmo has a beta out on PSN right now. There are ways of surviving the game’s brutal melee, however.

Like FromSoftware’s games, you can’t just run headfirst into a group of enemies and expect to make it out alive. Nioh arguably sets a new precedent for vicious intensity in the genre — so you’re probably going to want to follow some of these tips in order to survive, during the beta and beyond.

Good luck.

Change Stances

Magic isn't a stance, but it's still helpful.
Magic isn't a stance, but it's still helpful.

Nioh brings back a trait not often seen in sword fighting games for years — the ability to change stances between low, mid, and high on the fly in battle. Based loosely on various kenpo styles, changing your fighting stance can be a lifesaver, especially since your foes will do so as well. Mid stance is the most basic and well-balanced of the three — from here you have an equal weight towards attack power and damage absorption when guarding; mid attacks can be pulled off in quick succession, though that also makes it really easy to quickly deplete your stamina, or Ki.

Naturally, low and high are opposites. From a high stance, all your power is thrust into offensive, leaving your defense more vulnerable (also, high stance attacks take slightly longer to execute, and use more Ki, than mid ones). As follows, if a tough swordsman (or yokai) has you on the defensive, switching to low stance can be a good strategy. Just remember that the greater amount of damage you can guard against in low means your offensive strikes will be significantly weaker. Your adversaries will also often change stances mid-fight, so remember to always try to counterbalance their actions and wait for the right opportunity to strike.

Explore Your Environment

Running around blindly will result in this.
Running around blindly will result in this.

This shouldn’t be something that requires much explanation, but don’t just blunder your way through Nioh’s often treacherous locales. While they’re not necessarily more dangerous than what you’d find in Souls, a careless approach will almost guarantee you’ll miss out on weapons and equipment (and sometimes needed items like keys) on top of dying quite a bit more. Nioh is meant to be played slow and deliberately, at least until you know your way around an area.

There are also a number of situations, like in the seaside village that opens the beta, where you can, say, fall through the roof of a building only to find yourself cornered against three or more enemies at once. You’re probably not coming back from that, so be careful.

Help Out the Kodama

These little guys.
These little guys.

If you look at the shrine seen on Nioh’s title screen, you’ll notice some playful green sprite-like creatures interacting with each other: These are Kodama. Going along with the general idea that exploration and a careful touch are appropriate for a game like this, Kodama are also hidden throughout each environment. If you see the top of one poking out somewhere, make a noise by hitting your sword against a close wall and it will reveal itself. (It wont be necessary for some of them.)

You can then send it back to the shrine — the game’s progression points. Return to one of these and the Kodama you helped will give you a blessing in the form of a stat boost you can choose from. Every little bit helps.

Use Prudence in Battle

Dodging is important.
Dodging is important.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by enemies in Nioh. Unlike in the game’s original alpha demo, they won’t chase you to the ends of the earth, though that may change in the final release. Still, it’s better to try and take any opponents on one at a time, and even choosing to walk through an area versus running can determine how many bandits may hear you. (The mini-map will flash red and make a sound if someone is alerted.)

Usually, with a careful approach you can draw them out one at a time without alerting the rest to your presence. Using Ninjutsu items like shurikens or makibishi (caltrops), which you can acquire at shrines, helps, too. If you do find yourself being chased, though, it’s smart to either retreat or try to use terrain to separate them, attacking before their buddies can get too close. And don’t forget to dodge!

Snipe

For the enterprising sniper, Nioh has both bow and flintlock rifles available for use, and if you’re smart you’ll use them whenever possible. With its location-based damage, it’s possible to decapitate an enemy with one well placed shot at appropriate range, and anything you can do to even the odds is a tactic you should take.

Unlike in Souls, aiming is much easier, to the point where it’s possible to get a few hits in on bosses between melee strikes, something to keep in mind for crippling the first major yokai you fight, Onryoki. The ammo drops here are also a bit more common, so as long as you’re prudent with usage, it’s fairly easy to avoid running out of things to shoot, or at least to build up a store. Just be careful you don’t accidentally hit someone’s headgear, as it will bounce harmlessly off.

Finally, Team Ninja went back after Nioh’s alpha and added a tutorial stage that gets into some of the more advanced aspects of its systems — don’t skip it.

Photos via Koei Tecmo

Steve Haske is a Seattle-based writer and sometimes a creator of stupid art. His work can be found on VICE and Playboy. Iain Glen is his Virgil.