Nier is a hard game to review. On the outside it’s a fairly standard RPG with hack and slash gameplay, but the experience is anything but standard. The game is full of style and the only thing constant is surprise. The story premise features the familiar concept of humans destroying the world with technology. The game is set far in the future where all human advances have vanished and we’re left with the same basic stuff we had in ancient times, with a few evil bad guys in the mix and a deadly disease.
What makes the experience unique is the presentation and characters. You play as a grunting macho hero who’s trying to save his daughter and doesn’t have many words in his vocabulary. “What the hell are you talking about? I just wanna kill things!” Along the way you meet a smartass floating book who talks like an old man, and a half naked swearing girl who spends most of the time making fun of the game. It’s funny, but it’s never exaggerated to the point where it loses its charm, it’s just the way they all are. The game certainly isn’t all jokes; the storyline is pretty serious and the music is incredibly immersive. If anything the contrasting characters make it feel more real, and in turn the immersive atmosphere of the game makes the humour refreshing.
The gameplay doesn’t mess around: the main character runs really fast, can double jump for no reason at all, and has lots of magic attacks at his disposal with a pretty much unlimited amount of magic. One of the magical abilities you have is Dark Blast, which just shoots blasts of darkness which you aim with the right analog stick. The game takes advantage of this power a lot and there’s a good amount of 3D SHMUP (shoot-em-up) sequences in boss battles and random 2D sections of the game. It’s a damn fun game to play. The only part of the game that doesn’t feel good is the fishing. It took me a while to figure out how it even worked, fiddling around with the analog sticks trying to figure out where the fish was. It’s simple once you get the hang of it but even then it’s not very stimulating.
Despite all the magic and mystery the game has a very primal side to it. Sometimes you’ll have to brutally kill wild animals to get materials. It’s a strange feeling to see a sheep or goat just standing there harmlessly, and then kill it to unleash sprays and puddles of blood. I feel less sympathy for the wolves and other animals that fight back, though.
Nier mixes things up a lot, it’s a fine line between explaining how and spoiling the game but I’ll try not to cross it. It’s not always about fighting and running across the land on quests, sometimes the game will hit you with a puzzle or two, or put you in an unexpected area. Out of the blue, the entire way you play and see the game can change, there’s one instance in particular that is just so bizarre, I was playing at night and it felt like I might be dreaming. Nier also has a few references to other games, whether they are tributes or parodies it’s hard to tell. Two of them everyone will recognise straight away, and I’ve noticed one subtle nod to a niche game hardly anyone has played, which means there could be more references that flew over my head. It’s a serious game that doesn’t take itself seriously.
The game has many standard RPG features like leveling up, equiping weapons and enhancing them. Lots of sidequests, too. There’s good incentive to do sidequests in Nier because it’s the only way you get money – enemies don’t drop money and you don’t find it just lying around – you have to get it from other people or sell materials. Money isn’t the only reward for doing sidequests; it’s amusing seeing what some of the NPCs get up to. The game has towns which all have their own unique atmosphere, one town even has its own customs and language. Nier does a good job of making you care about its world.
Nier is captivating. There’s a strangeness about it that separates it from anything else out there. The gameplay isn’t perfect and doesn’t have a huge amount of depth, but it never gets boring. It doesn’t fall into the pitfall of many RPGs where you end up doing the same thing for hours on end. The challenges you face, the moments you witness, and the game’s ballsy presentation are all affirmed by great writing and moving music. Cavia have done a fantastic job in what is tragically their last game, as the studio was shut down shortly after Nier’s release. It might not be a game for everyone, but it really hit the spot for me. I’ve played through so many RPGs recently that they were all starting to blend together, but Nier is a breath of fresh air that stands on its own.
Give Nier a chance if you want something different, and you’ll get something much much more.