In family, I trust.
Soedesco, hero of indie developers everywhere, struck again. In July, Soedesco published NERO (Nothing Ever Remains Obscure) on disc for PS4. After experiencing the success I found Ziggurat to be, I figured I’d give Soedesco the benefit of the doubt and take a gamble on NERO. After all, the game was only $20 (minus 20% via Amazon Prime). While the experience of NERO wasn’t as fast paced or gut wrenching as Ziggurat, it still offers much in the form of an emotional sucker punch.
NERO is the tale of a small family – Nero, Silvia, and their son, David. This is all you gather from the opening chapter. You see, NERO is many things. It’s an exploration game; it’s a puzzle solver; and it’s a visual novel. The opening cinematic shows a small, blue glowing boy half asleep (and fully robed) in a boat. His destination? A mysterious and neon lit forest. Once he docks, you take control of the boy to explore the forest.
A few things struck me forthright. NERO is an exploration/puzzler at heart, though the exploration is fairly limited and the puzzles aren’t overly complex. Scattered throughout each chapter are 12 photograph fragments that you can obtain to piece together an image that helps bind the narrative together. In NERO, the player is rewarded for time spent exploring and solving puzzles, as the narrative unfolds with each step or puzzled completed. Sometimes, photograph fragments are only obtainable after completing a puzzle. Should you choose to witness NERO’s entire narrative, you must find and complete every puzzle and obtain every photograph (or memory) fragment.
The gameplay in NERO is simple. You control the protagonist with the left stick, command your ally with L1, aim with L2, fire your magical orb with R2, and sprint with R1. This list sounds more complicated than the game actually is. There are no enemies to slaughter in NERO; no, there are just various puzzles to complete and stories to learn. With that said, I found no complaints with the mechanics of the game. Really, my biggest issue with NERO’s gameplay was how slow, even with sprint activated, the protagonist moved.
Sound in NERO was excellent. The soundtrack was unique and different on each level, creating a subline, almost unnoticeable addition to the experience. In particular, I found the unsettling piano in the third chapter to be significant, almost frightening. Each bar of music appropriated the surroundings and accompanied the narrative with such power that it, alone, could move someone to tears.
Yet NERO is not without its flaws, however minor they may be. As I mentioned, the game is split into four stages or chapters (it never actually calls a level a stage or a chapter). Each chapter only requires about 30-45 minutes to complete, so the overall gameplay time probably clocks in around 2-3 hours. A platinum trophy is simple, and, if not obtained on the first run, will only add 2-3 more hours. When calculated for completionism, NERO still offers less than ten hours of content.
NERO’s presentation really saves the game from a short death. The story is told in three methods simultaneously. An elderly, English man narrates the protagonist’s journey, while written dialogue is scattered throughout the game, seemingly suspended in midair. Blue text was conversation between Nero, Silvia, and David, where the magenta text seemed to be a piece of fiction, perhaps being read to David. These methods are effective, and I couldn’t think of a better means to portraying this story – especially when taking a look at how well the scenery matches each segment (they’re all beautiful and essential, though chapter three was really a great example of level design in hand with narrative).
In conclusion, if you’re interested in an emotionally charged puzzler for less than $20 (before tax), then NERO (Nothing Ever Remains Obscure) could be a solid buy. With 3-6 hours of gameplay at your fingertips and a story to last you well into the night, NERO cuts short on the length value to offer players a thought provoking and meaningful story. And while the gameplay/mechanics hardly suffered from flaws, the overall experience stalled occasionally, and the short gameplay length nearly detracted from the story.