So there was this one game I picked up for $10 sometime back. It was called Nier. I played a bit of it, but threw it in my backlog, as it felt mediocre. Upon seeing Kaushik’s review, however, I digged Nier out of my pile of games and started playing it. I was able to get through it this time around, and even get all four endings. And I wholeheartedly agree with Kaushik. Despite its shortcomings, Nier’s strengths are really quite amazing.
Nier’s premise is pretty basic. It involves a man, searching a way to cure his sickly daughter, slaughtering all sorts of monsters who get in his way. (Interestingly, Nier is a JRPG with a protagonist over the age of 30, but that’s irrelevant.) He is joined on his search by a foul-mouthed hermaphrodite, a haughty, talking tome, and a young boy who can petrify anything with his eyes. Nier’s plot, though rather clichéd, is pretty emotional, and the characters are decently fleshed out. Nier’s drive to cure Yonah may be too single-minded, but it’s really endearing. The game makes you care about Yonah not only through cutscenes and dialogue, but also through cute little loading screens. There are some really emotional moments here and there, but when the dust settles, you’ll realize that, though the plot has its twists and turns, is pretty standard. The sidequests, meanwhile, are similar: they are occasionally really emotional, but you don’t care about the vast majority of them. At this point, I’d say the overall presentation’s pretty good, but nothing outstanding.
Good thing for me that the game wasn’t over at this point. The game prompts you to go through a second time (which isn’t a hassle, since you start from a little past the halfway point, and can run through the rest of the game in three to four hours), but provides a completely new perspective all throughout. And holy shit, how the game changes with that new perspective. In this new playthrough, you get much deeper characterization, a much more expanded story, and a lot more dialogue. What’s all this do? Turn the semi-emotional journey the first time through into an absolute beast of a narrative, where a wide range of emotions you never expected to see suddenly pop up in droves. It turns your quest into a really morally ambiguous one. What I find absolutely amazing, however, is that the player characters are not aware of the new additions to the story, so only you, the player, are aware of the differences. It really helps accentuate how the game makes you feel.
To be completely honest, some of the new developments made me feel like shit. Like a horrible human being. And that’s really great; the game doesn’t even try to glorify you past maybe the first playthrough. However, there’s even more. If you go through one last time and collect all the weapons (again, not hard), you get more developments at the very end, and are presented with one last choice, perhaps the most cruel, tragic one of them all. What’s mindblowing, at this point, is how bold and groundbreaking the game is with one of the endings, the absolute last one. It actually deletes all your saves, but I’m sure that, by the time you get to this point, you won’t worry about your save files anymore. Not only that, but it makes complete and total sense, you’ll be left wondering why developers don’t do this sort of thing more often. Overall, while the presentation, for the most part, was pretty good for a while, it becomes extremely superb with the second playthrough, creating one of the best narratives I’ve experienced in years.
The gameplay, meanwhile, is not so stellar. Nier, in terms of gameplay, is a just barely serviceable action RPG with interesting occasional genre shifts. In Nier, you can only use one-handed swords at first, but eventually, you can start using two-handed swords and spears, all three of which have entirely different movesets. In addition, you get access to spells, which do radically different things. You can modify these attacks to do slightly different things with a word system. Enemies attack either with melee, or with magic of their own. The magic part is rather interesting, since it gives the shoot-‘em-up aspects. Enemy bullet patterns are pretty dense, and they do decent damage, so you’re gonna want to dodge those bullets. Eventually, the patterns get intricate, and take advantage of all three dimensions, which makes things pretty interesting.
At times, the game also can become an isometric dungeon crawler, a two-dimensional platformer, a top-down Zelda-esque thing, and even a text adventure. However, though this all sounds interesting, Nier’s controls are rather sloppy. I don’t know why, but though Nier’s controls weren’t outright bad, I feel like they’ve been hampering my efforts pretty often. Fortunately, though the gameplay and controls are quite serviceable, anything regarding sidequests and optional content should be ignored whenever possible. The sidequests will only make you hate the game (a shame too, as some of them have pretty great stories), as you’ll have to backtrack and play collect-a-thons way too often. However, if I ignore the sidequests, I don’t think the gameplay of Nier is all THAT bad.
The graphics, unfortunately, are the worst part, and even then, not by too large an amount. Sure, technically, they’re downright outdated, even seemingly last gen, but the style isn’t terrible, at least, though I’m not a large fan of the character designs. They work, and though I’d like to say that’s all that should matter in this case, I can’t. But while the graphics are lacking, the sound is absolutely phenomenal, and is considered the best part, by many. The voice acting is some of the best you’ll see in this sort of game, with very strong performances across the board. The music, meanwhile, is on a level all of its own. Much of it uses vocals, and in a language that can be thought of the evolution of language; I can fully get behind the fact that the lyrics used in the songs represent what language would be like in the next millennium, considering the words used sound like words we use now, but at the same time, sound different (which is sort of like comparing old English to modern English). But even without taking all that effort into account, all the music is simply astounding, and often serves to be the emotional drive in many scenes. Overall, the music is simply some of the best you’ll hear in a video game.