Japanese games are different. And if nothing else, this hack’n’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.

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If you’re trying to get your head around that last sentence, I’ll try to explain. A few hours into the game you’ll find yourself in a little village talking to the local leader. After a short while chatting you’ll realise that you’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 he’s doing what it says he’s doing. It’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. It’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, it’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 story’s emotional depth. The music is also a standout - moody and melancholy, the score weaves its way through the locations adding greatly to the game’s impact. However, even though the story has an epic feel, the gameplay at times is less then epic.

While I’ve mentioned that the core gameplay in NIER is basically a hack’n’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 “Go West” or “Go South” and “You are now in a room with…” 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 Baldur’s Gate’s isometric view and even parts were the view is completely top down like you’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 isn’t entertaining, because it is. That’s what’s unfortunate about it. Get rid of all the annoying parts and it’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 can’t make up completely for the bad. Compared with other high profile RPGs and Square Enix’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.

"A lot of good ideas - and a lot of bad"
Follow Own it? Rating: R18   Difficulty: Easy   Learning Curve: 15 Min


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Comments Comments (5)

Posted by SpawnSeekSlay
On Monday 10 May 2010 10:49 AM
Yeah the graphics from the launch trailer were PS2 looking, similar to FFVIII, definitely not new-gen.
Im normally a reasonably big JRPG fan, but I think ill pass on this
Posted by ChatterboxZombie
On Monday 10 May 2010 11:42 PM
im sorry, can "original" and "JRPG" even be used in the same sentence?

Oh look. they have swords
Posted by itachi
On Tuesday 11 May 2010 6:03 PM
Played and finished and agree with the review, nice to see something a little different
Posted by itachi
On Tuesday 11 May 2010 6:06 PM
Also contains new game plus which develops the characters further, adds cut scenes and so on.
Posted by ChauncyTalon
On Saturday 22 May 2010 11:27 AM
10 May 2010, 11:42 PM Reply to ChatterboxZombie
im sorry, can "original" and "JRPG" even be used in the same sentence?

Oh look. they have swords
Now that is what I am talking about. Everybody think original means JRPG. Swords, Magic and a story about a girl is "original?" Or is it a "JRPG?"


[GRAPSF]Chauncy "TRU" Talon