Nier, otherwise known as Nier Replicant and Nier Gestalt depending on where you live, was originally a PS3 game that acted as an indirect sequel to Drakengard. It completely evaded my radar back then, but when this remake (or ‘version upgrade’ if you listen to original creative director Yoko Taro) was released I knew I had to play it.
Although I didn’t play the original Nier, I did play Nier: Automata and absolutely loved it. Automata was, again, an indirect sequel but to Nier, so getting the opportunity to play it was pretty exciting.
I wasn’t disappointed.
For the most part, Nier plays as a typical real-time RPG. Enemies appear in the field and you hit combos and magic to kill them. The combat’s fast-paced and you can quickly feel like a badass as cut up mobs of monsters while casting a variety of spells and scooting round the battle at near breakneck speed. Blocking at just the right time staggers your foe leaving you with the opportunity for unique counter attacks. It’s fun and typical of this type of game.
Then it suddenly becomes a bullet hell that has you jumping and dodging to try and evade endless waves of player-sized reddish-purple orbs. Magic will dispel some of them, others you have to hit with your weapon to destroy. It creates the perfect sense of chaotic tension, especially in areas where you can easily be knocked off platforms and the like.
Other times, exploration changes from free-form, 3D, over-the-shoulder camera controls to fixed perspective 2.5D platforming, keeping navigation fresh and interesting.
Perhaps my favourite genre switch was in an underground ‘dungeon’ that switched to an isometric view with massive waves of enemies much bigger than you see anywhere else in the game. It was only in my second playthrough (more on that later) that I realised it was intended as a clone of games like Diablo. That really cheered me up!
None of the gameplay switches feel out of place, and their sparse nature makes them feel special.
A Story of Two Halves
The game starts (after a short prelude) with you playing a young lad looking after his chronically ill sister who is searching for a cure for her peculiar disease. In a typical JRPG move, the siblings are orphans, and the boy you play as earns money doing various jobs for the people in his village.
As such – and perhaps expectedly – the story starts off pretty slow. The game has you doing such things as hunting sheep for a woman whose children won’t eat anything but mutton, or searching for an egg hidden by wily chickens!
Another early quest sees you searching for a man who’s fallen out with his wife over some apples – the two characters are pretty hilarious and they pop up multiple times throughout the story.
This early section acts a gentle introduction to the game’s mechanics and narrowly-scoped open world, along with all the other characters, and is quite a relaxing time.
The end of this first half ramps up pretty quickly, and after the most intense boss battle, there’s a five-year timeskip.
Now older, the main character can now use spears and heavy swords alongside the one-handed swords you use in the first half. Each play *very* differently and provide further variety – the stronger weapons are delivered right as enemies become somewhat more difficuly by now having armour that requires guard breaks to damage.
The second half of the story sees you trying to find a way to stop the main antagonist introduced in the final minutes of the first half, and actually plays really quickly. This fast pace doesn’t feel rushed, and is even mentioned by one of the chracters; something along the lines of, “This was much less bothersome than I expected.”
The ending is a roughly two hour boss rush, throughout which many plot twists are revealed that completely change your perception of the game. It does a good job of flipping expectations and provides the link to Drakengard.
On Repeat, and Repeat, and Repeat and…
After the first playthrough and ending, there are a further four endings to see. I never completed all 26(!) endings for Automata, so promised myself that I would complete all the endings of Replicant.
Subsequent playthroughs (thankfully) start a small ways into the second half of the game and you keep all levels, items, weapons, etc. Some games offer a new cutscene or a good/bad alternative, but Nier Replicant’s additional endings and playthroughs offer much more.
The second playthrough allows you to understand the noises made by the enemies – especially the bosses – which expands on the major twist provided in the ending. Along with this are new or updated cutscenes throughout that add depth and character to the seemingly mindless enemies you destroy – stirring up sympathy, and dare I say it; a level of guilt.
The third playthrough expands on the secondary characters and adds more depth to them and their stories. It ends with an expanded reveal of what happens to the big bad and then offers a new choice. One choice completes the game and lets you play again, the other completes the game then deletes all of your save data. Some clever save-file management lets you see the third and fourth endings without too much repeat play.
The fourth playthrough and fifth ending sees you start the game from the very beginning (because of the save file deletion, the only way to get this ending) with some further new cutscenes and dialogue that wouldn’t make sense without all the knowledge you gained in previous playthroughs. Everything seems normal until the consequences of choosing the second option come into play and completely change the game.
I regret going straight to the end of this playthrough, instead of exploring some more of this altered world, but I didn’t expect the first mission giver, less than five minutes into the switch-up, to give me the endgame.
This ending is gloroiusly weird and inline with some of the madness I was expecting after playing Automata. It links in quite nicely to the ‘sequel’ – but I think that was expected given it didn’t exist in the original PS3 version of Nier, and was added specifically for the remake.
Other Bits of Awesomeness
The score is absolutely fantastic! I loved the score from Automata so had high hopes, but Replicant’s is actually much better in my opinion. The score was mildly rearranged for the remake, but not so much that the original isn’t nicely familiar. I’d recommend anyone to give it a listen on Spotify.
The other major protaganists are both really interesting and become more so with each playthrough, but the other NPCs are also well-written – from the always-arguing, apple-loving couple, to the grumpy villagers who never leave their homes and shout at you to leave. One stand-out moment for me was a massively embarrassed postman reluctantly asking how to help with ‘that time of the month’ after misconstruing a pool of blood on the floor.
I really enjoyed the enemy design – ‘normal’ enemies are varied in physical design and attacks and attack patterns, and the stronger, armoured variants are different enough that they’re still interesting.
But I think it’s the bosses that really shine – from a massive robot that grows wings, to a massive creature made up of floating cubes, or the magic-proof wolf, they all felt really unique and special.
But, alas, nothing is perfect!
The small scope of the open world isn’t a detriment, and helps to focus the story and gameplay. But I wish that it felt more alive outside of the various villages and dungeons. There’s the occasional wild animal you can kill for resources and birds can be seen flying overhead, but apart from these and the enemies, the world felt pretty empty and lifeless. In some ways, this might make sense, but it feels out of place in a landscape of game worlds that can feel truly alive.
The character’s faces look almost like porcelain dolls, and lip syncing is pretty poor. As I understand it, the ‘version upgrade’ was more about upgrading gameplay elements and bringing the same aesthetic to modern resolutions etc, but it looks out of place in a game that otherwise looks ‘modern enough’.
It only provides 3 save slots, which feels antiquated, and given the amount of save file juggling that’s needed between playthroughs, it was pretty awkward to confidently manage saves.
It forces quite a grind in order to see the final ending. You need to collect every weapon in the game – some of which are easily missed, especially in the first half of the game – and some weapons require some really tedious side-quests to attain, or grinding general side-quests to ensure you have enough money to buy everything. While I can understand it’s meant as a reward, having this block on the final part of the story seems somewhat unfair.
I would absolutely recommend this game. The gameplay hooked me on the first playthrough and wanting to fully explore the story kept me interested in the subsequent runs through the game. The music is a pleasure to listen to and fits perfectly with the environments and scenarios the tracks play in. The characters are interesting and engaging, and the voice acting is well done.
Final score: 9/10