Japanese games are different. And if nothing else, this hackâ€™nâ€™slash roleplaying epic is a different kind of game. Set in a kind of agrarian future, where magic and evil Shades run rife, devoted father NIER must wage a battle over a number of years to save his daughter, and his world, from the deadly Black Scrawl virus.
Absolutely packed with ideas, both good and bad, the game is essentially a mess of strange but entertaining characters, interesting plot twists, convoluted gameplay and poor graphics. However, there are enough good things about NIER to make it immensely enjoyable, often because of its flaws as much as despite them.
If youâ€™re trying to get your head around that last sentence, Iâ€™ll try to explain. A few hours into the game youâ€™ll find yourself in a little village talking to the local leader. After a short while chatting youâ€™ll realise that youâ€™re reading a screen full of text in which your companion, a book called Weiss, is arguing with the descriptive passages of the text about whether heâ€™s doing what it says heâ€™s doing. Itâ€™s all very weird, and kind of cool because of how out of place it all seems. But, as it drags on through page after page of pointless text, the cleverness and humour runs out and it pretty much becomes boring and annoying. Itâ€™s a shame because NIER is a pretty good action roleplaying game, and you often wish that developers Cavia had just left it at that.
The core gameplay in NIER involves swinging your sword, or spear, by pressing the triangle and square buttons. Basically, itâ€™s a button masher with spells. As well as mashing you can also map spells and defensive moves onto your front triggers. Throughout the game you learn more spells and while some of them are more useful than others, they are all fairly small and low-key. In fact, the biggest disappointment about the game is how small, low-key and basically poor it is graphically.
To be fair, some of the cut scenes, and most of the boss fights, are big, dramatic set pieces. But, the game has a washed out and decidedly flat look. Although this may be a choice (the tone of the game may purposely echo Shadow of the Colossus) at times it looks like no effort has been put into the graphics at all.
Despite the graphics being very poor, both the characters and the story are very original. Basically you take the part of the rather old and unpleasant looking NIER. In your quest to save your daughter you are accompanied by Grimoire Weiss, a magical book that floats around being sarcastic, Emile, a blind boy with a sad history and the power of stone gaze, and Kaine, a sword wielding blonde who is not only possessed by a Shade, but lives her life wearing a sheer and very short negligee. All the characters have surprises in their pasts and go through some interesting changes, adding to the storyâ€™s emotional depth. The music is also a standout - moody and melancholy, the score weaves its way through the locations adding greatly to the gameâ€™s impact. However, even though the story has an epic feel, the gameplay at times is less then epic.
While Iâ€™ve mentioned that the core gameplay in NIER is basically a hackâ€™nâ€™slash JRPG, there are also some rather strange dips into some retro gaming waters. Along with the pages of text there are actual text based adventures complete with â€śGo Westâ€ť or â€śGo Southâ€ť and â€śYou are now in a room withâ€¦â€ť sections. I got caught in one a had to quit out of there quickly before I started drawing flow-diagrams in the back of my instruction book. There were also unavoidable sections where you have to skip across boxes in typical side scrolling platform style. Add to this underground levels played in Baldurâ€™s Gateâ€™s isometric view and even parts were the view is completely top down like youâ€™re back in the original Diablo. Unfortunately, the idea of putting all these camera shifts and changes of POV into the game is far more entertaining then having to play through them.
That's not to say that NIER isnâ€™t entertaining, because it is. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s unfortunate about it. Get rid of all the annoying parts and itâ€™s a wonderfully entertaining game. There are a lot of side missions to keep you busy, although they do consist of a lot of running from desert, to seafront town, to mist shrouded towers, to underground complexes. Often these missions will require different food so you will be doing a spot of fishing and gardening as well as killing a lot of innocent sheep, goats and deer - always plenty of fun. You also get to kill a lot of little Shades (little black and yellow squiggles) and a fair amount of very big Shades (big black and yellow squiggles - sometimes with armour) with a nice range of upgradeable swords and spears.
In the end, all the good things about the game canâ€™t make up completely for the bad. Compared with other high profile RPGs and Square Enixâ€™s own recent big budget release, the inventiveness of NIER is well ahead. However, the graphics and the bad choices keep it well out of their league. But if you think being interesting is more important than being good looking, then NIER may just be the game for you.