NIER Review

There is a lot that can be said for a game that tries to cater to fans of multiple genres, and does so on its own legs. However, there’s even more triumph in a game that breaks down the genre clichés, falling into a category of itself: a great game. When looking back through the PlayStation catalog, we see games that forged their own paths – the Uncharted series, Valkyria Chronicles, Demon’s Souls, Resistance, LittleBigPlanet, and Metal Gear Solid, to name a few. So when we got our hands on Square Enix’s latest action-RPG, NIER, and learned that it was going to offer a little something for everyone, we were excited to see exactly what it could bring to the table.

NIER is an action-RPG developed by cavia and published by Square Enix. The game is essentially a JRPG with the standard swing your sword gameplay (sort of) and features a unique cast of characters and an intriguing plot (again, sort of). We say “sort of” because the first thing we noticed while playing NIER is that it tries to do so much, but never completely succeeds at one thing. It does a lot of thing fairly well, but nothing truly excellent. The game pulls influence from titles like God of War, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, early Resident Evil Games, and Monster Hunter.

The game opens with a bang. Every time you fire it up, you’ll hear your fellow party member Kaine, a scantily-clad-dressed fighter, curse like a sailor at Grimoire Weiss, a talking book with a mind of its own. In every way, this is done to set the mature tone that follows throughout the game. No, you aren’t going to make girls strip for you, and you aren’t going to see any kind of violence you haven’t already seen in God of War III. What you will see, though, is a basic adult dose of swearing, blood, tragedy, and a bit of humor. This is actually a nice break from Square Enix’s big game in 2010, Final Fantasy XIII, which at times felt a little light on maturity and action.

With NEIR – which also happens to be the name of the game’s protagonist – the action is front and center, right in your face. Right from the beginning, you are forced to fend off an onslaught of enemies called Shades, sort of digital looking ghosts, outside of an abandoned building. It’s the year 2049, and NIER is hiding out with his daughter, Yonah, who is infected with the Black Scrawl disease.

To fight the shades, NIER utilizes a combination of swordplay combos, dodging and defending maneuvers, in addition to a powerful black magic that’s only available through that snickering book mentioned earlier. As NIER’s daughter appears to die in his arms, the game fast-forwards some 1,300 years and we learn the opening events were all a dream or a memory. The world is in pretty rough shape, post-apocalyptic, and sort of reminiscent of a feudal society. There are some things, story wise, that carry over from the opening. First, you are still NIER, a mid-aged brute who sells his services to townsfolk, and your daughter is in fact infected with the Black Scrawl disease. Your ultimate quest is to cure your daughter’s disease.

In the future, you quickly find the floating book, Grimoire Weiss. It’s sort of a two-way street between NIER and Weiss, as the latter, voiced by Liam O’Brien, needs help to regain his memory, while NIER needs the book’s power to fight the Shades. Weiss provides NIER with a multitude of spells, some more useful and powerful than others. You can get your hands on eight different spells, such as Dark Lance, which hurls a magical black lance at your opponent. The magical abilities are helpful, but they do something else that’s even more important, they add diversity to the otherwise dull combat.

The basics of the combat, with its one button attack layout, are reminiscent to Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, or God of War. You’ll mostly fight the Shades, but there are elements of Monster Hunter tossed in for good measure, meaning you’ll fight tons of animals and gather their hides or meat – more on that later. You’ll use L2 and R2 for block and dodge, while L1 and R1 are used for your magical abilities. You can quickly swap out different weapons and abilities, while pausing the game in combat is a cinch, even allowing you to heal yourself at will.

The game’s JRPG elements are perhaps nowhere else more prevalent than in the vast side quests. The bulk of these side quests send you venturing through the game’s large and wide-open landscape. You’ll be asked to gather fruit, harvest meat, or kill wild animals all for some extra money. You can even fish, which we regret screams of Zelda but doesn’t execute it nearly as well. The problem with these side quests is that it can take you a lot of time to run through the different zones. On several occasions, we found ourselves utterly frustrated at running to one location, only to learn that we forgot something and had to run back to NIER’s home town. Indeed, you won’t lose much by not doing these side quests, though they do help elongate the overall playtime from 20 hours to 30+.

Running around the world would be a lot more enjoyable if the game looked better. This is one of biggest gripes with the game. The game looks like a late PS2 game, or an HD N64 because the textures are weak, the landscape is wide open, and the overall character rendering is mediocre. The one decent part of the graphics is the lighting, beautifully blinding you as run out of a cave or around a mountain. Still, this doesn’t make up for the game’s otherwise dull and bland graphics.

At times, the camera switches from an overhead view to a top down view, almost bringing in a retro 8-bit feel. Beyond that, the camera can switch to a sidescroller. Even some of your magical abilities, like Dark Blast, turn the game into more of a shooter than a straight action-RPG. But none of those elements are executed well enough to warrant their inclusion into the game. Sure, it’s nice to throw black magical orbs at your enemies, but not when it’s such a challenge to aim properly. Speaking of the camera perspective, the auto-follow angle runs into annoying problems during combat. At one point we were fighting a boss and needed to attack a certain part of the beast – you’ll get hit zones that you must attack in a certain amount of time – and the camera turned so we couldn’t see what we were attacking. Sadly, it ended up we were attacking nothing, and the creature killed us.

One of the best elements of the game is the soundtrack, but not necessarily the dialogue. The voice acting is fairly good, but the music is terrific. Even people who don’t play games commented on how nice the music was while we were playing it. As for the dialogue, it ranges from your typical JRPG clichés to absolute absurdity. It should be inexcusable in this generation to hear townsfolk saying the same one liner over and over again as you walk by – if they don’t have anything new to say, then they may as well keep it zipped.

Overall NIER attempts to bring something to the table for everyone, but ultimately, what it offers isn’t enough to justify a purchase. While there will be people who love this game – if only for the ability to roam around a world and kill animals and baddies whenever you want – those of you who are looking for an action-RPG that has no holes will have to search elsewhere. The game does offer a unique adult tone that is a breath of fresh air compared to some of Square’s recent titles. Nonetheless, attitude is usually not enough to make an average game great, and in NIER’s case, that attitude only helps make average game decent. 

Score

7.5

The Final Word

NIER is an action-adventure RPG game with an identity crisis; lacking enough uniqueness to make it interesting, but brimming with a refreshing adult attitude.