Venture into a dark tale of humanity and existentialism.
What is the value of life, and what makes us human? Following that train of thought, is the life of humankind worth more than the life of anything else? And, ultimately, to what lengths does one go to preserve the life of family?
These are the difficult questions that Nier attempts to answer. The narrative presented to the player throughout the course of Square-Enix’s action RPG is a topic worth debating. But is the game itself worth the time?
Players are thrust head first into the action at the opening of Nier. You play as Nier, father to the sickly Yonah. Snow covers the landscape of a city in shambles, encasing the husks of once lively skyscrapers with soft whites. Moments after taking control, golden and blackened creatures spawn, seemingly out of thin air. And the battle begins.
After the opening scene, the player awakens in Nier’s house, a small endeavor in a pretty town known simply as the village many, many years in the future. Yonah suffers from a deadly disease called the Black Scrawl, and Nier sets himself to find the cure. Things don’t proceed as planned, however, as Yonah believes she is burdening her father and the town. She ventures to find a mythical flower said to cure the scrawl – but she doesn’t return. The game follows Nier as he searches for Yonah and befriends a colorful cast of characters.
As mentioned earlier, the themes behind Nier drive the game. The combat in Nier is extremely straight forward, and it offers little variation throughout. With the addition of Grimoire Weiss, a floating book with a personality (and voiced by the wonderful Liam O’Brien), Nier is able to cast a small assortment of magical spells, but these do little to freshen the gameplay. With that said, however, the stale combat does little to draw from the main purpose of the game: its themes.
The narrative presented to the player unfolds itself slowly and subtly. What seems like a linear and unsurprising story blooms into an intricate and thought provoking flower. Without spoiling too much of the story, the player finds him/herself questioning the intangible ideas of what is good or evil, right or wrong, human or shell. I found myself deeply addicted to the game, to piecing together the importance of its message, and I also discovered something I rarely find in games – a connection with the characters. It’s not that they’re all likeable because they all have flaws. But they make you care about them. It had been a long time since I became so involved in a story and its characters. As a forewarning, to experience the complete narrative, one requires four completions (although after you beat the game the first time, you start at the midway point and not the beginning).
Combat in Nier is lackluster. It mainly consists and hitting and holding two buttons for combos and power, respectively. When you slug an enemy with your weapon, there’s a clunk and delay in the downward arc. The sluggishness would make more sense to me if the blade cleaved into enemies and stalled on the way through. As it is, it just feels clunky. When you meet Grimoire Weiss, your flying, speaking book companion, you gain the ability to wield an ever-increasing arsenal of magic. This sounds promising, but I never found myself using anything other than two of the same spells (as you can’t have them all equipped to fire).
Throughout the course of its enthralling narrative, Nier is presented with many, many side quests. Generally speaking, the majority of these quests are the same in set-up, which is to say that they are hunting and gathering quests. Specked into the mix are the unusual and fresh quests, which keep the experience and trophy/achievement hunting from becoming completely tedious… but it does little to save you from head shaking when another NPC asks you to kill ten more sheep.
One of Nier’s brighter gameplay aspects is its weapon system. There are many numerous weapons and weapon types for Nier to pummel his countless foes with. Each weapon, too, can be upgraded a certain number of times with the use of materials you find spread throughout the world and dropped by slain enemies. This, however, can be time consuming… particularly if you are looking to platinum or 100% your game.
On top of the crafting system, Nier also implements a cool idea in how you can enhance your character and abilities. After slaying some enemies, words drop. This doesn’t happen always or even consistently, but when you do find yourself new words, you can set them to your weapons and increase Nier’s stats.
Nier itself isn’t a stunning game visually, either. The graphics were subpar for its time. The environments that accompanied Nier on his adventures ranged for colorful to bland, but they never offer much variety and are often forgettable. In fact, Nier falls into my top five favorite games of all time, but it’s certainly not there because of visuals. What they do offer is a chance for the soundtrack to thrive.
Without question, Nier’s gem of a soundtrack successfully embodies the tone of the game. The soundtrack, a project composed by Keiichi Okabe alongside a few others from his studios, is simply beautiful. Each location has a memorable tune, and each song does a successful job in encapsulating the excitement, adventure, pain, sorrow, etc. that Nier and the player are experiencing. It’s tough to put into words, and listening to the soundtrack outside of the game – while still an enjoyable experience – does not do it justice. The nostalgia from the soundtrack, however, is something I always thoroughly enjoy.
To re-cap: Nier is a flawed technical and visual adventures that saves itself through an incredible soundtrack and darkly thought provoking narrative. It is a game that I thoroughly enjoyed enough to log well over 100 hours into the gameplay (and platinum) on multiple run-throughs. If you can get yourself past the shallow and clunky combat, you have yourself a gem worthy of its cult following.
If you enjoy action RPGs and a solid narrative, I highly recommend you find yourself a copy and give it a run.