Now for something pretty different. I couldn’t really think up an anime I wanted to review this week, so instead I’m reviewing a game I recently beat. It’s Nier, an action-RPG developed by the now-defunct Cavia and published by Square Enix. Released in 2010 in Japan, North America, Europe, and Australia, it was only released as 1 game in North America called Nier. However, in Japan, it was released as Nier Gestalt and Nier Replicant, being the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions respectively. The differences between those two titles are marginal (Gestalt has you taking the role of a father, whereas Replicant has you taking the role of an older brother). As to why the difference was made in Japan… I can only assume it’s to appeal more to the Japanese gaming demographic on the PS3, which is owned by more people there. In America, however, only the Gestalt version was released both for the PS3 and 360. The difference is just cosmetic though, so it’s not a big deal. Anyway, I’ll be reviewing the PS3 version today.
Nier was not a popular game. It wasn’t even a sleeper hit. Hell, I’d never heard of it until someone recommended it to me, and I feel like I keep pretty good tabs on a lot of games (particularly Japanese RPGs). But a guy whose interests coincide with mine recommended me the game, praising the everloving hell out of it, and I picked it up for $20 at the game store. I played it once, then not again for a while, and then over spring break I proceeded to beat it three times. Nier wasn’t a popular game, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad one. There are a few things it does really well, some things it does kind of poorly, and it is at times an eclectic mix of genres that I just can’t classify. But, let’s start from the beginning.
The plot of Nier is simple. You’re a guy who is either the father or brother of a young girl, and she’s sick with this deadly disease. You’ll do anything to save her. And that’s it. The entire game, beginning to end, is focused on saving your daughter (I’ll leave it as daughter since that’s what it is for the NA version). One of the things I like about Nier as compared to other JRPGs is that it never really loses sight of this goal. Other games can get bogged down in a lot of revelations and twists and turns and become a convoluted mess, but Nier is really focused in that it’s always about that one thing. However, just because Nier is a focused game does not mean there aren’t complexities to the plot. Before I address though I have to mention the way the game is structured. Nier is split into two halves, which are separated by a time skip of about five years. Once you beat the game once, you get the first ending. After that, if you use the clear data and start a new game plus, you get put a little ways through part 2. Once you beat it then, you get the second ending. Then, starting a third time, you can go through the game one last time. At the end of that run, you’re given a choice. The top gives you the third ending; the bottom gives you the fourth ending.
While it’s not necessary to play through all of these (the first ending is pretty conclusive) the extra endings flesh out the world really nicely and offer a more conclusive ending to some of the plotlines. The second run adds a wealth of cutscenes and a new perspective make the game fresh, and it doesn’t even take that long. Since sidequest data and weapons and whatnot carry over between runs, all you have to do to beat it again is to go through the areas again, and you can do that in about 3 to 4 hours. Anyway, back to my main point… The second run and subsequent endings add a lot of flavor to the plot. While the core story is the same, there are new plotlines that are addressed and shown to you, and these really push the plot of this game into the really good level. One thing to note is that the D ending (pick the bottom choice on your third run with all 30 weapons in your inventory) wipes all of your save files. There is a good reason why they do this, and it’s the very last ending, so it’s not as if there’s anything left to do in the game. I think it’s really cool.
Let’s cover the characters briefly. There are a few main characters; first and foremost is you, the player. He’s a father, and he cares for his daughter more than anything else in the world. He’s fiercely loyal to his friends and while he looks kind of scary, he’s a good guy. He’s not much more complicated than that (though the circumstances of his marriage seem to be complicated, but that’s covered in the DLC which I’ve yet to play). His companion is a book named Weiss, a book of some pretty powerful dark magic. He’s a funny kind of sarcastic character, and has some great interactions with the rest of the cast.
The next character that joins your merry band is Kainè, a young woman possessed by a Shade (the natural enemy in this game). She’s a more complicated figure, ridiculously foul-mouthed and obsessed with violence. The b route of the game is a little bit more through her eyes, and it offers a lot of insight into her feelings, her past, and the nature of the world you live in in the game. While she’s a little bit one-dimensional in the first run of the game (besides a few moments), once I played through all the endings she quickly became my favorite character. The last character in your group is Emil, a young boy suffering a curse that causes anything he looks at to become stone. He’s constantly wearing a blindfold to keep his power in check. He’s not that interesting to me; just an earnest young boy looking to help you and Kainè save your daughter, Yonah. Speaking of, Yonah is your daughter. She’s a cute little girl afflicted with a horrible disease called the Black Scrawl, and it’s your job as her father to save her. That’s all there is to it.
Now for one of the most important segments of any game: the game play. I mean, what’s a game without awesome game play to back it up? Unfortunately, Nier’s game play is not nearly as good as its plot. While it’s not terrible; it controls fine and can be kind of challenging at times, there are a few major problems with it. For starters, it’s a pretty generic action RPG with none of the flashy bells and whistles of its counterparts (Kingdom Hearts comes to mind). The game play is there, and it’s alright, but it’s most definitely not the best thing you or I have ever played.
That being said, one thing Nier does that’s pretty cool is it tries to fit in a lot of ways to kind of mix things up. Sometimes the game will go 2D and have you do a small platforming section, or there’s some puzzle section to do, and a little ways through the game bosses and enemies start throwing danmaku patterns at you. Danmaku being the bullet patterns from bullet hell games like Touhou, where the screen is almost swamped with bullets. The thing is, Nier’s control scheme never changes so it’s not always a smooth transition to be able to perform through these sections well, but I like that they tried and it’s really cool at some parts. Overall, I’d say the gameplay is kind of weak and while they attempted to spice it up with some different genres, it’s not always a smooth transition.
And now for the graphics. Graphics are getting better and better nowadays, and it kind of looks like Nier got left behind. It’s not a terrible-looking game, but there are a few glaring issues. For starters, some of the animations are bad and look out of place. The biggest offender here is Nier’s jumping animation. He looks like a drunken monkey; it’s so terrible. There are a few other bad ones here or there, but that’s the worst to my eyes. Otherwise, the textures seem fairly low-resolution and not really that exciting. Moreover, there’s a some weird lighting effects that force ridiculously bright glares on the screen from time to time. It could have been a cool effect, but the way it’s used in game is really jarring. However, the art direction in some of the locales is really cool. There’s a seaside town based on some of the Greek towns filled to the brim with the white buildings. There’s a desert town that operates based on sand waterways and has a ferry service, and there’s a town that’s high in the mountains connected with these tiny bridges. These locales are pretty cool, but that’s really the only impressive part of this game graphically.
And here’s my favorite part of the game; the music. The music in this game is stellar, and widely acclaimed. The music is done by Keiichi Okabe, who I’ve never heard of, but clearly does excellent work. While Nier’s cutscenes may not be particularly emotionally exciting based on its graphics or even its plot sometimes, the music really drives some of those moments home and creates an excellent atmosphere. I’m not sure how many more ways I can say it, I’ll just offer one of my favorite songs for you to draw your own conclusion.. Though I will say that I think the music has more of an emotional impact once combined with the events of the game.
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