Nier is a game that I think is great in spite of itself. The combat is unremarkable, it poses little to no challenge, it’s horrendously balanced. I can ignore all of these though, because what Yoko Taro did with this game’s world and story is second to none in the space.
The game is vaguely Zelda-like in structure, with you going through a variety of dungeons, collecting some macguffins that lead you to an ancient evil which is definitely the cause of every single problem you have. Or so it seems, in Nier’s case. The game’s opening is definitely confusing at first, as it drops you into a relatively modern day city and just gives you your entire arsenal of powers before time-jumping a few thousands years to what seems to be the same main characters. These two are Nier and Yonah, Nier is your playable character who in typical JRPG fashion you can name whatever you want but you should definitely name him Nier because that’s his name. Depending on your version, (in Japan at least, the western PS3 version is the same as the Japanese 360 one) Nier is either a teenage or middle aged man, and Yonah is his sister or daughter. This doesn’t affect the story a great deal but it creates some fun moments of disconnect when a gruff 40 year old man has a little power of friendship speech. I actually really like that dynamic, it’s clear that the Japanese PS3 version with the younger protagonist and the Japanese voices was the intended story, while the 360 and Western PS3 version (the former of which was even using the English dub in Japan) is a weird bizarro version and I kind of love that. I certainly know I’m happier playing a man trying to save his daughter than I would be hearing a cavalcade of “onii-chan” for 20 hours. I’m a big fan of the dub, most of the main cast is excellent, particularly Liam O’ Brien as Grimoire Weiss, Laura Bailey as Kaine and Steve Blum as Grimoire Noir.
It is a game with two distinct halves. There is a time-skip, which might put a lot of people off but to me it’s fairly inconsequential. Nothing seems to have really happened in the interim besides things having gotten a bit worse as people go about their days. A big issue with this two-act structure is that is a big one for asset reuse, just making you do all of the dungeons again. That asset reuse itself is not helped by the fact that the game expects you to play through New Game+ 3 extra times (which, somewhat mercifully, starts you a little way into the second half of the game) to get the full breadth of the story. As irritating as this may seem, I feel it is executed extraordinarily well, the little scenes that it adds hit hard, you may be wondering “But, Sean, why would they not just put it in the game the first time?”. The way that Nier uses New Game+ to add context to the characters within the story is masterful, setting your expectations up a certain way the first time through and then totally subverting them on the second.
The first half of Nier is about collecting a variety of magical powers which you continue to use throughout the second half, unfortunately, for how incredibly varied the plethora of powers are, you will end up only using two of them in 99% of the situations you’ll come across over your playtime. It’s a real shame, since a lot of the powers seem pretty cool on paper and they certainly look it the one time you try them out, but none of them can measure up to slowing time to a crawl and launching what is essentially a magical onslaught of ballistic missiles at a moment’s notice. And that’s the second power that you get, probably just about an hour into the game.
The game does manage to keep things fresh, with side-scrolling sections, bosses that go full bullet hell regularly, pretty frequent top down sections and even an entire dungeon that goes full-on isometric for a hot minute and a slightly clumsy mansion section with tank controls (sounds familiar, eh?) These vary in quality to be honest, but I really do appreciate the sheer balls to stray away from the game’s standard blueprint, and none of them are too bad. I really do hope these sorts of sections make the transition into PlatinumGames’ upcoming sequel to Nier, as Platinum tend to have made slightly better games than Cavia.
Nier is a game with issues, however, I would absolutely hesitate to call a single one of them big or unforgivable. The combat is somewhat of a zero sum, just sort of there besides the boss fights. It demands a lot of going over the same things, but I feel that what new tidbits it awards you with are most assuredly worth it. The story is one of my favourites in games, and the ragtag band of misfits that make up your party are more lovable than most. Nier is a game with flaws, it’s clear to see. I don’t mind it though. I didn’t even touch on the game’s absolutely superb soundtrack, a highlight of the medium of games music. After everything I’ve said, I’d still recommend Nier to absolutely anyone with the slightest bit of interest. If we did scores it’d be a 5/5. Maybe we are doing scores and I just gave it one. Who really knows? Nier is a fantastic game, and I eagerly await the sequel next year.