Square-Enix offers up a strange and unique experience filled with intense combat, interesting characters, and a compelling story
Nier is a game that intrigued me ever since I first laid eyes on its box art. It was a game I hadn’t really heard anything about prior to its release, sneaking in almost under the radar, and ever since that time I’ve been curious to play it. Now, after having done so, I’m pleased to say that it is a very unique and original game in its own way, though some of the originality present within this title comes from how heavily it borrows and makes references to other games and genres, which to be honest works at times both to the game’s favor and detriment. In the end, however, there can be no denying that it has its own sort of distinct qualities that make it at the least a sort of fascinating case study.
From the technical standpoint of graphics and sound design, the presentation is of the high quality that you would normally expect from Square-Enix, though the textures are admittedly a little bland or simple in their detail, especially when comparing it to something like Final Fantasy XIII. However, the game does have some interesting set pieces, and it is nice to see a post-apocalyptic world that has some lush greenery and plant life in it, as opposed to the barren wasteland usually present in such games as Fallout or the like. Also, the art direction overall is very unique, and all of the music is very nice, though some of it can become a little bit tiresome due to its repetitive nature in places such as in towns and the world map.
The character designs also are overall more original than what might be found in a lot of Japanese role-playing games, and in much more than simply the way that the characters look. Your main cast of characters range from a devoted father and village resident (who is also a tad on the ugly side, honestly), a self-important and overtly-critical talking book, a scantily clad, foul-mouthed female warrior, and a young boy who is later transformed into a very creepy looking, skeleton-like creature. The dialogue exchanged between these characters is usually compelling and often quite amusing or out-right funny, most particularly the conversations that take place between the main character (the “father”) and the talking book, known as “Grimoire Weiss”, which extends to comments and banter on just about everything, even the absurdity of many individual side quests.
In regards to both dialogue and gameplay, Nier walks at times the fine-line of both self-referential jokes and also a sort of running commentary on the clichés of various genres and games. The gameplay and main quest structure feels most strongly borrowed from games like Zelda, though also there is a continuing reference to top-down arcade shooters in the way that enemies fire projectile magic. There are also other vague references to such things as MMORPGs as well as even one part of the game that feels akin to a text-based adventure game or the like.
In theory, this should be a problem in retaining a consistent gameplay structure, but fortunately the underlying game design is held together, with really only a kind of change in the camera angle being used to dictate the references and gaming in-jokes that the game utilizes at different points throughout the story. Real-time, combo-based combat is the main order of the day where the central gameplay is concerned; and overall in this area the game does not disappoint, keeping the action fast and frenetic, if unfortunately at times being a little bit of a repetitive, hack-and-slash nature. The only other main problems with combat consist of the somewhat slow nature of the camera speed, maneuvered with the right analog stick, (and used for aiming several magic spells), as well as some odd button configurations and the need to at least a little bit stream-line magic selection.
Most of the rest of the main gameplay involves exploration of the overworld and dungeon levels, as well as completing side-quests in order to earn money or other rewards. Other available activities include typical RPG fare such as collecting materials from the field, growing and cultivating plants, and also fishing (though it has about one of the worst fishing mini-games I’ve ever seen, getting only a little bit better after completing certain side quests to increase your skill level in this area). Weapon upgrades can also be purchased by having the required ingredients and money, and you can also customize the benefits and effects of your weapons, physical skills, and magic through the use of special “words” assigned to these different parameters, which gives you various stats boosts or dictate any added status ailments inflicted on enemies through the use of your weapons and magic. The “words” system is kind of a neat feature, though it does require that you individually edit the “words” assigned to each weapon, magic, or physical skill.
The story also has a fairly intriguing plot and is overall well-written, with a few unexpected surprises. The main character, the “father”, (to whom the player gives a name at the beginning of the game), is mostly trying to get by and provide for his daughter, running errands and chores for the villagers. However, his daughter is afflicted with a mysterious illness know as the “Black Scrawl”, believed to be linked somehow to the mysterious “shades” that continually plague the villagers and all the people of the world. In searching for a cure for his daughter’s illness, the main character comes across “Grimoire Weiss”, a sentient book of incredible powers, and the two of them venture out in search of the mysterious “Sealed Verses”, which may hold the key to curing the illness that afflicts the main character’s daughter.
The opening prologue of the game gives a type of preview as far as what the power of the sealed verses do, in terms of the magic powers that they afford the main character through the use of Grimoire Weiss. This prologue is also ultimately very important to the story, though it largely remains a mystery until the very end of the game, and even then it does blatantly explain the connection, which I remark to the game’s favor. It’s overall an interesting start to setup the story and get you familiar with the combat, though it does also sort of utilize the whole Metroid concept of taking all your abilities away, even if it has the better explanation of the opening being a part of a dream that one of the characters have.
In the end, what makes the game work so well is all of the individual elements kind of merging together fairly seamlessly to create a cohesive whole, especially in the way that it utilizes its references of other games and genres to build a fresh experience and keep the gameplay dynamic and interesting. In a way, it almost doesn’t feel like a game that you’d expect from Square-Enix, both in terms of its tone (which hints of something more like Shin Megami Tensei or a similar game by Atlus), though admittedly of late they have been doing there part to redefine JRPGs and offer up unique and innovative new mixes to some of the too-often used clichés of the genre. It is by no means a flawless game, but I’d say that any fans of fantasy-adventure games and RPGs should look into it.