Review by Mwulf

"Damn Nier Perfect"

I apologize for the pun. Let's move on, shall we?

Nier is an ugly game. Absolutely hideous. The protagonist is one of the most garishly designed characters in gaming history. His animations, particularly when it comes to jumping, are laughably bad. Released in such a busy year, alongside so many other better-budgeted, better-looking and better-advertised title, a game like Nier seems destined to fall into anonymity and obscurity. Which is unfortunate, because as unpleasant as Nier may be to look at, it just so happens to be one of the very best games of the generation.

Gameplay:

Nier is a pure action-RPG, in exactly the same vein as Diablo. You wield a variety of weapons—single-handed swords, two-handed swords and axes, and spears—coupled with an array of very powerful, visually stunning magic spells, which you use to annihilate vast hordes of enemies. The magic attacks, courtesy of the sentient book, Grimoire Weiss, are particularly noteworthy, as their sheer scale and presentation put every other magical attack in every other fantasy RPG currently on the market to shame.

Melee combat is typical fare for the action genre. You have full access to the typical host of skills: jumping, dodging, blocking, power attacks and the like. There's a large number of weapons to collect—though none are difficult to find—each one visually much different from all the others, which can be upgraded a total of four times. Each time you upgrade a weapon, you not receive the expected stat increases, but are treated to a new and enhanced weapon model. A rusty katana can turn into a massive, thick silver sword, capable of cutting down legions of enemies in the blink of an eye. It is very, very cool. The one downside to upgrading, however, is that the weight of the weapon can increase. Each weapon has a weight somewhere between "very light" and "very heavy." The lighter the weapon, the faster it is; the heavier the weapon, the slower it is. A very heavy sword may be ridiculously powerful, capable of annihilating even the toughest of foes with only a few hits, but be so unwieldy that it's nearly impossible to use effectively.

Each of the three weapon types has its own unique advantage and disadvantage. Two handed weapons are incredibly powerful, capable of bludgeoning away the shields and armor of tougher demons easily, but are very, very slow. Spears are very light, and lend themselves to very fast combo attacks, but can only performing thrusting attacks—which means they're only really effective when you're fighting a single enemy. Single-handed swords are the most useful weapons, dealing decent damage at high speed, across a wide area. Their fun, simple, and the more effective in most situations than any of the other two. Two handed blades, simply because of how slow they are to swing—even those that are light weight—are a serious pain in the ass. It wouldn't be so bad if players had an option, but half-way through the game a number heavily armored enemies begin to appear, who can only be tackled with two-handed weapons. And they often appear in groups. Dealing with mobs of these armored monsters can be extraordinarily tedious if you attempt to combat them solely with melee attacks. Switch over the magic, however, and it's a different story entirely.

The game really shines when it comes to magic. As I mentioned earlier, your magic attacks are simply stunning. You can impale enemies with hundreds of long, narrow spears, springing up out of the earth; you can smash groups of foes with enormous ethereal fists; you can hurdle gigantic missiles at monsters, conjure mystical shields and even summon spectral servants to quash those that stand in your way. Magic combat is incredibly visceral and fulfilling, and implemented perfectly. You do have to ration attacks by way of a magic-power meter, but your magic power replenishes itself so rapidly that running out of steam simply is never an issue. When you kill an enemy, its blood flies off the ground in great streams, absorbed by Grimoire Weiss and increasing the rate at which magic power replenishes. One of the coolest magic attacks, understandably seen only in boss fights, involves summoning two giant hands. The two arms coil around each other like serpents, shooting skyward, where they form a single, enormous arm nearly a kilometer long. This giant arm is used to grab similarly over-sized monsters and fling them about like toys: to crush and pound and grab and tear.

Did I mention that boss fights in Nier are ridiculous awesome? They are. They are ridiculously awesome. To be honest, I really don't think I should say much about them here. They're simply so impressive, I think it best you buy the game and be awed all by yourself. I will say only this: you will fight bosses so large, so powerful, that they destroy the landscape itself. You will fight bosses so large and powerful and for so long that it seems they will never, ever die. You will fight bosses so epic in scale, so devastating in power, that you will want to keep spare saves set up so you can fight them again and again and again. And did I mention? it is ridiculously awesome.

Combat-wise, Nier is simply faster and more... fun, than any other RPG this generation. But that's not to say it's flawless. Nier suffers from two significant flaws. The biggest flaw I've already mentioned: the armored enemies that are all-but invincible against spears and swords. A player should never be forced to use a specific weapon—particularly a specific weapon type that is so distinctly tedious to wield—so frequently. And these armored baddies pop up everywhere. It ain't fun. Yes, you can frequently use magic to make these guys a bit less annoying, but you shouldn't have to. The second major problem is the camera. Most of the time, you'll have full control of the camera in a standard third-person perspective. Occasionally the camera will pull back to give you a better view of the scenery, but that's typically not the issue. The problem arises in dungeons: sometimes, the camera will zoom all the way out to an isometric perspective very similar to—no, exactly like—Diablo. You can rotate, but you cannot zoom. It's a cool effect, and it would have been fantastic if it were a constant feature that the player could choose to utilize or not at his or her whim, but unfortunately you don't get to decide when to pull out. Sometimes, entire dungeons are played from isometric view. Sometimes, only particular areas—or particular rooms—force you into the isometric perspective. Had it been implemented better, it would have been a very cool feature: as it is, it's more annoying than anything else.

There are three types of enemies to slaughter in Nier: animals, robots and shades. Animals range from harmless sheep and goats and deer, to vicious pack-hunting wolves, and wild boards as big as Rhinoceros'. Kill an animal, and you can harvest its corpse for materials, which can either be sold for profit or used in sidequests. Robots are only found in very specific areas, but are very important, as they drop all kinds of rare materials that are absolutely necessary for weapon-upgrading—and they have the unpleasant effect of exploding upon death, making combat with hordes of these things a bit tricky. Shades are the chief enemies of the game, and they are awesome. Suitable to their name, Shades thrive in the shade—sunlight burns them, slowly leeching away their health, and ultimately incinerating them in a pillar of fire. Shades are very mysterious, very creepy, and very dangerous.

But even beyond combat, Nier has plenty to offer. Their are nearly 100 different sidequests, nearly all of which include humorous banter between the characters, and several mini-games, from farming crops to fishing—in both freshwater and seawater. At first play, the fishing mini-game seems unintuitive and difficult, but it's actually deceptively easy—possibly too simple. But there are plenty of rare fish to go after, so I suppose it's sufficiently entertaining for the task.

Rating: 15/20

Story & Characters:

Nier is one of the very few games set in a post-post-apocalyptic world. What that means, basically, is the apocalypse happened, then things got really bad, and then things got better. What that translate to, game-wise, is a very beautiful, lush world—that is slowly dying. While you're frequently told that the world is dying, that disease is running rampant and food becoming scarce, Nier goes the extra mile and actually shows you what a dying world looks like. The world is green and lush, and peppered with the ruins of modern society—giant steel and iron bridges, rusted decayed broken, standing as silent sentinels all across the landscape. Towns are surrounded by high walls, and the threat of shades is ever-present. In the first half of the game, things aren't too terribly bad. Shades prowl the countryside, but never so many that you wonder how civilization could still exist—which immediately marks Nier as drastically different from most RPGs. The land is filled with animals, too. Human populations are small, defensive, and under constant threat, but it's easy to see how they can continue to survive. The latter half of the game, following a five-year time jump, displays a darker world. Oh, the sun is just as bright, the sky as blue the grass as green—but the grazing animals are all-but vanished. Shades roam the grasslands in greater numbers, more powerful than they've ever been. They sneak into towns and murder. People starve. People steal. It is a dying world that genuinely feels like a dying world, and that is a rare thing.

Make no mistake, Nier is a very dark game. People die. Lot of people die. Sometimes, things happen that are worse than death. Not just to the peripheral characters, but to the main protagonists of the story; to the central characters; even to characters in quests. It is not a world that lends itself well to happy endings, so don't expect to see many. The central plot to Nier is fairly simple: you play a father trying to save the life of his terminally ill daughter. His daughter, Yonah, has contracted a mysterious affliction known only as the "Black Scrawl." His only hope is to work together with the sentient book, Grimoire Weiss, and attempt to solve the riddle of the Black Scrawl, the riddle behind Grimoire Weiss and his legendary foe, Grimoire Noir, and the shadowing figure behind it all. But that's just the surface. Nier's story is dark, unpredictable and utterly fascinating. It is incredibly fascinating and reaches a level most games simply don't even aspire to.

On his journey to save his daughter, our unnamed protagonist encounters a number of fellow warriors who join him on his quest. First, the sentient book, Grimoire Weiss, as powerful as he is persnickety; second, the foul-mouthed exhibitionist beauty, Kaine; and the irritatingly naive Emil, of whom nothing more can be said without major spoilers. Each character brings a lot of energy to the narrative—and even the protagonist himself offers far more personality than is standard fare for an RPG—but Weis, by far, steals the show. He's an old man. Wise, a bit cynical maybe, and utterly charming. If you see something in the game that you think is foolish, or downright stupid, odds are high Weiss will speak up, mercilessly mocking the person or act with such wit that you cannot help but smile. Even fellow party members are fair game: especially humorous is the banter between Kaine and

Though I am loathe to do so, there are two aspects of the story that I'm afraid I must mention. Much of the early publicity surrounding Nier focused on the character of Kaine, who was at one time referred to as a hermaphrodite. To be fair, Nier may have been completely under-the-radar without such perverse publicity, but in the final product, rest assured, Kaine is 100% female. If not, exactly, 100% human. It's entirely possible that her hermaphroditism was the result of either mistranslation, inappropriate word use, or an aspect of background information, but in the end, it's a non-issue. It's not in the game explicitly, and does not, therefore, matter in any way. You shouldn't let any misinformation or preconceptions dissuade you from playing what is quite possibly the very best roleplaying experience on either the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360.

Secondly, there's the fact that there are two versions of Nier, Gestalt and Replicant, identical in every respect to each other but one. Nier Gestalt is the most common game. It's the version found on both PS3 and Xbox 360 in North America, Europe and Australia, as well as on the Xbox 360 discs in Japan. Nier Replicant is found solely in Japan, on the PS3. The only difference between the two versions is the character model for the protagonist and his relationship to Yonah—in Gestalt, you are her father, and old man; in Replicant, you are her brother, and a young man. There are two different explanations for this, each one beginning with a focus group saying that a particular national audience would refuse to purchase, let alone play a game with a certain kind of protagonist. Either Americans hate playing as young, attractive male characters, or Japanese gamers hate playing as older characters. Both assumptions are clearly ass-backwards wrong, and in the end it doesn't matter which demographic was being looked down upon. We're all gamers, and all of us should feel insulted by the very notion that we would be unable to accept a game without a certain breed of archetypal hero.

Now that messiness is out of the way, I'll reiterate: Nier's story is by far its strongest point. It's engaging, compelling and unpredictable. With four different endings to see, and a new-game plus feature including additional story content to discover, Nier offers a very fulfilling experience. Clocking in at around 25 hours, it may not be the longest ride out there, but it sure is one hell of a rollercoaster.

Rating: 20/20

Audio:

Nier is a great sounding game. Well, okay, it's not perfect—most of the environmental effects are fairly generic—but the voice acting is absolutely stellar. Each actor manages to convey an impressive breadth of emotion. You can feel the protagonist's pain in his voice, his triumph, his sadness, his love for his daughter. Kaine, too, is remarkable well-acted. For such an odd character, her voice lends her a degree of believability I would not have otherwise thought possible. She shifts between violent vulgarity and tender kindness with exceptional grace. Weiss, the show-stealer, is even more impressive. His voice immediately commands respect. He is ancient and powerful and just a bit wry. And don't you dare think that a talking book can't handle emotion! For all of his intelligence and pride and raw ego, Weiss is also deeply empathetic and possesses his own flaws—all of which is is delicately rendered by some of the best voice acting in the industry. He may be an ancient, all-knowing, all-powerful tome... but he is also very, very human.

There's really only one character voice to complain about: Emil. He's a prepubescent boy with a high-pitched voice, and boy oh boy does he sound like it. The writing is strong, and Emil's dialog is no exception, but coming out with his voice it can be far, far more difficult to listen to than it ought to be.

Music can be a very subjective thing, but I would say that Nier's music is one of it's strongest points. Mostly hauntingly-beautiful vocal tracks, the music helps to instill Nier's story with a mood appropriate to a dying world rife with tragedy. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of tracks—one of which is only heard once, during a sidequest—and the lack of variety can be a bit disheartening. But what music there is, is phenomenal.

Rating: 18/20

Graphics & Presentation:

Nier is an ugly game, but it's not that ugly. The protagonists animations, notably when jumping, falling, dodging or getting knocked back, are absolute garbage. When you leap into the air, get used to looking like an intoxicated duck trying to fly with its wings tied. It's ridiculous, but nothing game-breaking to be sure. Fortunately, most of the other animations are pretty damn good. Especially when it comes to combat animation and boss animation. Did I mention that boss battles are ridiculously awesome? From slamming into stone walls that crumble at the impact, to crushing buildings with a fall swinging around a massive pillar like a pole-dancer, most of the animations are very fluid. But don't think that the protagonists goofy animations merely seem that way in contrast to the quality of everything else: they are truly, uniformly bad. There's nearly an unconscionable lack of polish here, particularly for a game where, apparently, so very much thought was put into the design of the player character.

Textures are a bit generic, and enemy design, while occasionally interesting, is fairly homogeneous. Fortunately, the environmental design is pretty cool—the landscape can be breathtakingly beautiful at times—and the game also does some pretty awesome things with light. The principal enemies of the game, Shades, thrive mostly in darkness—in shadows. When they venture into sunlight, they catch fire and slowly burn away. Each time you enter an area, the lighting is randomized. On a sunny day, you can expect easier battles against slowly-weakening enemies, few in number. On an overcast day, expect hordes of enemies at full strength, ready to fight. You'll constantly be watching where the shadows lie, and the game itself enhances this aspect of the game by making radical visual changes depending on whether or not you are standing in a shadow, or in the light. While standing in the shadows, your eyes "adjust" to the dimmer light—everything outside the shade is very bright, almost washed-out, and hard to see. Venture into the sunlight, and you'll be momentarily blinded as your eyes adjust to the light. Eventually, seeing the world, which glows in the sunlight, normally. This makes the world a very bright place, a brilliant contrast to the dark tone of the setting and story.

Rating: 12/20

Final Comments:

There are ten-thousand reasons not to play any one game, but you really only need a single reason to play a game. Is Nier fun? It's got an involving, fantastically-delivered storyline, charming characters, tons of optional content and replay value to be sure, but does it possess nebulous quality of fun? You're damned right it does! Nier is engaging, unpredictable and addictive. This is the kind of game that you start playing at night, and by the time you think to look up at a clock, the sun's already rising. It is very clearly one of the best RPGs on any console: an utterly fantastic experience that you will not soon forget. If you appreciate roleplaying games, or action games, or storytelling, Nier is one of those rare games that you simply cannot afford to miss. For all it's faults, Nier is profoundly, simply fun.

Rating: 20/20

Final Score: 85/100


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/07/10, Updated 05/10/10

Game Release: NIER (US, 04/27/10)


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