My experience with NieR was… really something. While it is pretty weak in the gameplay side of things, it really makes up for it with a very well crafted story, albeit one that has some pacing issues on the first playthrough. NieR was one of the last games by Cavia, a company that has been previously known for the Drakengard series. NieR also takes place after one of the first Drakengard’s ending D.
NieR is pretty much a game that is driven on its narrative, and it manages to hold its own well enough that it will still be a very impactful experience by the time you are done. Yes the gameplay is undeniably bland, but the overall artistry of the game makes it one that is definitely worth playing.
After the End (Story & Presentation)
NieR opens up in a post apocalyptic scenario in 2049 where our main protagonist Nier and his daughter Yonah are fighting to survive. In addition to starvation, Nier and Yonah are attacked by shadow creatures known as shades. Naturally, Nier’s steel pipe is not enough to fend these creatures off, so he is forced to make a pact with a mysterious book in order to become more powerful. After a battle sequence against several shades, the game has a thousand year time skip to where Nier and Yonah live in a small village where Nier makes a meager living by hunting shades and performing various odd jobs. He works hard t find a cure for a disease Yonah suffers from called the black scrawl, which causes several black marking to show up on her body. He then has a chance encounter with a talking book named Grimoire Weiss, whom he gains magic abilities from, and sets off on a quest to cure his daughter’s illness.
It should be noted that the game’s prologue is not referenced by our main characters and is treated like it never happened throughout the game, until it is later revealed. That is something that this game succeeds at very well; subtlety. The game does not stop and spoon feed you every detail of our character’s backstory or explains every twist to you. However, it does give you just enough that you should be able to put your own conclusions together, and if you can’t, there is always the internet to explain it to you.
Chances are, even if you can put together everything the plot gives you, there is still quite a bit that you may need to look up in order to find out on your own. Specifically, any background information about what occurred before the events of the game and its connection to Drakengard, as well as explaining what happens after the events of the game, is stuff that can only be found in a Japan only book called Grimore NieR (although said book has thankfully been fan translated so you can find it through google).
Furthermore, there are some aspects that were left out in the game’s localization such as Emil being gay and that the reason Kaine was bullied so relentlessly was because she was intersex. Granted none of these interfere with the player’s perception of the main plot, but it would have been preferable if Square Enix did not intentionally withhold the game’s lore for the purpose of not offending homophobes.
Now it should be worth noting that the game suffers from some pacing issues early on. In the first half of the game, the plot pretty much comes down to a mcguffin fetch quest that requires you find the sealed verses so you can cure Yonah. After collecting those verses, you have a very intense sequence of events… only for it to fizzle out when it sends you on another fetch quest to collect piece of a key to get into the Shadowlord’s castle. I will give credit that conflicts in the second half are at least more interesting than in the first half and have a stronger emotional charge to them. Afterwards, you have the final dungeon which is very intense plotwise and ends on a strong note, only to reveal that beating the game once does not reveal all that there is to the game.
Instead, upon a second playthrough, you get access to added scenes that were not present in the first playthrough that will really change your perspective of things. This combined with the optional endings cause the game to gain a much more somber and depressing tone to it than one would initially expect, and then it really sets in just how well written this game’s plot is. Of course that does not change that the first playthrough will have some stretches of boring parts.
However, it is worth noting just how endearing the cast of this game is. Nier, as a protagonist, is a breath of fresh air seeing as how it is not often you have a jrpg protagonist whom is middle aged. He also manages to have a nice balance between being violent and having a soft side that greatly cares for his daughter and friends. In contrast, you have the snarky Grimoire Weiss whose banter with the cast provides the bulk of the game’s humor. There is also Kaine, a foul mouthed girl who fights in a skimpy outfit and is aggressive yet also has a soft side and becomes more caring as the game goes on. Lastly, there is Emil, the cute one whom is the softest and most optimistic despite having a tragic backstory.
Given that NieR was not a AAA budget game, it should generally be expected that NieR’s graphics aren’t up to the standards of something like Final Fantasy XIII. However, it should still be noted that the game still looks good enough to give off the appropriate impressions. The game looks nice in an artistic sense that has a lot of the usual shades of grey and brown, but also throws in enough colors to not fall too far into the trap of modern games.
The game’s sound design is fairly serviceable, but not particularly great. It doesn’t really make anything pack an extra punch or anything; it’s just kind of there. The voice acting is very solid and the cast does a very good job with the exception of some scenes that kill the tension with melodramatic “NOOOOOOOOOOO” screams. The sound track is simply amazing and it easily deserves all the awards it won.
Pretty much every song in the game is brilliantly arranged and is simply stunning. The “Snow in Summer” track that plays in the prologue for instance, giving off a melancholic feeling that perfectly sets up not just the current scenario, but the game as a whole as well. The rest of the soundtrack is just as amazing. The various boss themes in the game are all intimidating and imposing, and there are a lot of emotionally powerful songs such as “Emil Sacrifice” and the game’s ending theme “Ashes of Dreams.”
The gameplay of NieR is a bit of a turning point in the game’s quality. The story and presentation were fantastic, but the same cannot be said about the gameplay. The gameplay is not terrible by any means, but it is unfortunately has a lot of problems.
NieR is an action adventure game with a hack and slash style combat system. It works in a rather predictable fashion; you press the square button to attack and you dodge their attacks. You have the ability to roll out of the way of enemy attacks and to guard against them. You also get access to magic abilities as the game goes on that are, naturally, much stronger than normal attacks but also cost MP.
Unlike most JRPGs where you need an item to restore you MP, your magic gauge in NieR fills up gradually over time, so you need to wait for attacks to charge up. The exception to this rule is the dark blast attack, which allows you to deal a small amount of damage in a constant stream from a distance, and you will never run out of magic while using. Even when the gauge is empty, it restores fast enough that you can still fire off a constant stream of shots by holding down whichever button you have assigned to it.
A problem with the game’s magic system is that you can only ever have 2 spells set to best used at the same time. Technically you could set four spells but that would mean having to remap them to the R2 and L2 buttons, which means you can’t guard or roll. The two spells you have equipped will pretty much always be the aforementioned dark blast, and the brutally overpowered dark lance that both allows you to charge it and slows down time when you are aiming.
Really though, the problem with the combat in this game is that there is way too little variety in your strategies. Every enemy in the game can be beaten by just pounding away at it or using Dark blast from a distance. They try to subvert this by having armored enemies, but you instantly remove the armor with dark blast attacks. There are enemies that have barriers against magic, but they also leave themselves wide open to physical attacks and can be beaten really quickly. The game does also have enemies fire off massive rows of bullets reminiscent of bullet hell shooters, but this also becomes pointless because you can just block every bullet instead of needing to dodge them
There is really little challenge to the combat system in NieR. Yes one could just set it to hard mode, but the only difference is the standard “enemies do more damage and have more HP” setting. All this would serve is to make battles more tedious and any difficulty would artificial and cheap. The game also tries to spice things up giving you three types of weapons to use in combat; those being one handed swords, two handed swords, and spears. The problem with this system is that you will pretty much be sticking to one handed weapons for the entirety of the game. The reason for this is that two handed weapons handle very slowly and clunky while spears only attack in a straight line in front of you, which provides far less range. As a result, one handed swords will be the only useful weapons in the game.
The game’s boss battles suffer from the same problems. While they are intricately designed, the problem is that you will almost always beat them on the first try as long as you have enough healing items, which the game gives you plenty of. Of course there can be problems if you run out of them because, while the game is very convenient in that it you will just be put at the beginning of the phase of the boss fight you died on instead of at the beginning, you start the phase with the same amount of HP as when you beat the last phase. That means that if you have no healing items left and start with a low amount of HP, you get to reset the game. Also you can beat several bosses in mere second using the overpowered strength capsules that increase your attack power.
As for the RPG elements in NieR, the only elements are that you gain levels and experience points, and that you have an equipment system where to set words that you collect to weapons or magic abilities that have various status effects. As such, this is mostly a pure action adventure game with some light RPG elements.
Another complaint I have with the game is just how tedious the side quests are. Just about every side quest in this game is to gather materials, find a certain item, or to find a certain NPC. The amount of items you need to gather will almost always require a significant amount of item farming which is naturally tedious, and the game does not mark sidequest objectives and often does not even give you a clue as to where to go. To top it off, there are even some sidequests that offer no reward. These quests can be easily skipped on a first and second playthrough, but you will pretty much need to complete some of them in order to get every weapon in the game, which is necessary to get ending C or D.
On that subject, the game does make a decent use of the new game plus feature. As stated before, you get to see additional scenes in the story upon a second playthrough. However, the game also is convenient in that, upon a second playthrough, you don’t start all the way back at the beginning and instead start halfway through the game. Unfortunately, there is no change to the gameplay other than that you are stronger and that the game becomes even easier.
NieR is a bit limited in level design as well. As opposed to something like Ocarina of Time where you have a set of intricate dungeons with special puzzle elements culminating with a boss fight at the end, NieR only has dungeons that sometimes have puzzles, but mostly just waves of generic enemies. You also don’t even have that many dungeons to begin with and a lot of arcs will just be an enemy wave or a boss fight. However, the game is not above making you retread the few dungeons it has. You will need to go through both the lost shrine and the factory level three times on one playthrough without the level layout changing.
One last complaint that I have is when the game shifts to a top down isometric camera angle. This ends up making things infinitely harder to deal with seeing as how you need to turn right control stick in order to re-aim your dark blast attack, and because the camera will often be blocked by the scenery. The game does allow you to turn the camera, but this has often caused me to lose track of my current position and backtrack accidentally.
All this being said though, it should be noted that the gameplay is not bad perse, and there were some fun moments; it is just that there are a lot of flaws that prevent it from being appealing. However, NieR is one of those cases where the story and music will be reason enough for a lot of people.
Yes the game starts out kind of slow story wise, but by the end, I was seriously hooked on it and felt quite attached to these characters and their world. This game is definitely one that has made me want to go and check out the Drakengard series, and it has left me quite excited for its upcoming sequel, especially seeing as how it’s bound to have better gameplay given that Platinum Games is working on it. Overall I am glad I played NieR despite its flaws and I recommend that others check it out as well.
Note: This review was originally posted August 10th 2016 as a GameFAQs user review. A few edits have been made grammar wise, erasing references to a review score, and the addition of links, pictures, and captions.
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