Developer/Publisher – Cavia / Square Enix
Year – 2010
Genre – Action RPG
Formats – PS3 (tested), Xbox360
Players – 1
NIER ® & © Square Enix
Copy provided by Square Enix
Cavia, creator of the Drakengard games – of which this game has a mild link – and the two Resident Evil Chronicles games on the Wii has come up with Nier, an action role playing game for the Xbox 360 and the Playstation3. With a cast of bizarre characters and shameless nods to well known game franchises (most notably Zelda and Resident Evil), is it something to hold near, or just a near miss?
You play as Neir, a guff loner and village protector/errand boy/delivery man, whose only child Yonah is suffering from an incurable disease known as the Black Scrawl Plague, which manifests itself as tattoo-like words on the skin. You chance upon a sealed, talking magical book known as the Grimoire Weiss, and learn of a legend involving the book and its dark counterpart the Grimoire Noir and seven sealed verses. Determined to uncover these verses and hopefully save his daughter, Nier heads out into the world with the surly book in tow. Along the way you’ll meet up and join with a lady warrior name Kainé who fights in her underwear and has a penchant for swearing every other second and Emil, a young boy who – like medusa – turns everything he sees to stone.
The story takes a good hour to get on its feet, and somewhat more to become actually interesting, yet it also offers the best incentive to keep playing and does get better near the end. There are several plot-twists throughout the twenty to thirty hour story to keep you guessing as to the eventual outcome and multiple endings to see. Yet some may find actually playing the game itself too tedious to bother getting that far, because though the story is somewhat interesting; the actual game has numerous problems.
Firstly, the pacing is terrible and broken into dull pieces generally involving talking to the village librarian Popola to get info for the next mission. Finish the quest and you’re sent back to the village for more information and to check up on your daughter. When you are done in the village you go back out on the new quest, from which you’ll sent back to the village again; and so the cycle repeats, knocking the pacing askew in the process.
What doesn’t help is that the regular enemies, called shades, are nearly brainless and generally require little more thought than a mere press of the attack button and the right direction. The majority are more of a threat due to numbers more than anything, though a few of the larger ones – with their own health bars – are more of a problem until you gain enough magic and health through levelling, after which they become a cakewalk. Also your companions in the game do not die in combat, and will always get up to renew the fight after a few seconds; they are capable of defeating enemies on their own (when they aren’t trying to run through walls), although you will have to finish bosses yourself.
The “dungeons” are either linear to a fault, or else large labyrinths with little indication on where you are suppose to be going, this is hindered further by a mapping system which is not very giving with its information. The major hazard in dungeons are the enemies you’ll face, although you’ll get the occasion block puzzle, à la The Legend of Zelda, which consists of moving blocks that are blocking the door, which barely qualifying as puzzles. Occasionally the camera will go to the ceiling and you’ll face a onslaught of regular enemies from you’re new viewpoint. There’s a temple where you’re disallowed from various things such as jumping or using magic attacks in each room, it feels neat but soon becomes tedious after going through several of them all at once.
Bosses offer much relief from the boredom the rest of the combat brings, as well as some needed peaks in difficulty; some bosses are quite imaginative, such as fighting a mass of spinning cubes. However they also have a habit of being overlong at times, especially when the best tactics generally involve running and jumping around to avoid their attacks and countering when they’re open. The bosses – and a few of the later enemies – also fire a stream of death orbs at you akin to something you would see in an 2D shoot ’em up game, which have running around like a loon until you realise than you can use you’re blade or certain magic to block them. To defeat a boss, you have to lower its health down until a timer appears on some point on its body, then attack that point hoping to beat out the timer, failure results in the boss regaining health and the process starting anew, which can be frustrating when you just wait to be done with it and move on.
A number of side-quests are available to the player at any given time, most involve collecting items such as berries and medical herbs or killing and butchering animals for their meat or skins, while others ask you to investigate certain goings on, like finding shop thieves. You can also use seeds to grow your own vegetables and catch fish, then sell them on to those willing to buy. The only thing you get out of this is money for more items and outside of a few mandatory side-quests, none are actually needed to complete the game. The best items – healing, power boosts, etc – are all easy to get hold off, dropped by fallen enemies and in crates.
Your weapons and magic can be powered-up by collecting “words” which you then assign to them in the menu, though it easiest to stick with the ones that give you the most boost to attack or reduces how much magic is used. You can also upgrade your sword in the game’s only armoury, which involves travelling across the dull fields to the out-of-the-way place as well as forking over the dough, yet you will find that any blade will get the job done and wind up sticking to the most powerful weapon of the type you’re most comfortable with and a few choice magical attacks through the whole game.
Also of note is that loading times on the PS3 version are frequent and quite long, though an optional install of four gigabytes reduces them significantly (I am reliably informed that the Xbox 360 version’s loading times are as quick as the after-install PS3 version).
At its best Nier looks good, especially the ancient temples, with their awe inspiring architecture, however, mostly it looks absolutely bland, like it should have come out among the first batch of games of the current generation. Textures are flat, plain and blurry; character animation is awkwardly stiff and the frame rate – time slowing while using magic notwithstanding – dips constantly. Dungeon rooms can also look identical to one-another as you try to find your bearings, and coupled with the sheer size of a few of them, this makes it all too easy to get confused as to where you’ve been and were you need to be going. Landscapes feel empty and lifeless and not just the ones set in desert environments; all-in-all, the game is not going to turn any heads in the visual department.
Audibly things are much better; the main characters – Nier, Weiss and Kainé – are well voiced, although the voices of secondary characters are somewhat hit or miss. Weiss’ and Kainé’s bickering is nicely written, although Kainé’s obsession with swearing seems rather forced to make the game appeal to teenagers and becomes obnoxious in just a few lines. Emil is less worthy of attention, with a much weaker delivery, though he also doesn’t have nearly as many lines as the other characters.
The soundtrack is, for the most part, excellent; though a few of the themes are on a constant loop, which does become noticeable after so long. Strangely during play through the open fields after leaving town, I came across instances where the music would skip while accompanied by low-level static, this could be solved by leaving the fields, or re-starting the game, but having to do this is an annoyance.
NIER wants to be appealing and it sometimes manages to be, if not entirely for the reasons it intends, but while it embellishes itself with cues from other games, it can’t seem to decide what it itself really wants to be. The conflicting styles the game uses; the fact that the side-quests are essentially pointless; the dull combat outside of bosses and the barely taxing puzzles point to an overlong, confused mishmash of a game which could have been quite good had it been given a tad more focus. As it is, it’s merely passable and just a shade of those which it so clearly imitates.
Review originally published at gamingtilldisconnected.com on 6th July 2010.