Square Enix, the renowned role-playing guru’s return with 2010's second offering (not including the Star Ocean PS3 port) called NIER, or ‘NIER GESTALT’ in Japan. NIER is a departure for Square, swapping their traditional framework for something a little more action oriented. Is NIER the next evolution in role-playing games, or just another baffled attempt at recreating the magic that started it all?
Unknown to most gamers who have only seen screen shots, NIER is more of a hack n’ slash adventure then a tried and true role-playing game. Depending on your expectations, this wolf in sheep’s clothing will instantly be a welcomed change, or an unfortunate disappointment. Putting assumptions aside (yes, we thought it was a RPG too) we are braving the unexpected to see what NIER is all about.
Before the menu even loads, NIER welcomes you with the sounds of an irate girl screaming obscenities. This quick rant immediately grabs your attention, as the game rolls into its intro movie and main menu. From this early moment, it is clear, NIER is not going to be another ‘Final Fantasy.’ NIER is an original, the type of game you will either love or hate. It is hard to be impartial because NIER is so distinct in its hybrid styled gameplay and surprisingly submerging narrative. No fluff is needed, as NIER is blunt and direct with its approach.
Onimusha meets Zelda
In the beginning stages of playing NIER for this review, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. The opening sequence is the typical ‘let the player be powerful and then strip the powers away’ which gives a sense of NIER will be about, however, the opening is oddly focused on combat built around a muddled prose. The narrative driven gameplay is there, it’s just hiding behind a layer of ‘Onimusha’ styled slashing. Once you get past the introductory tutorial of sorts, NIER starts up with a more familiar structure of a classic adventure game-- let’s say ‘Zelda’ for lack of a better reference. “Onimusha’ meets Zelda” is an interesting combination. However, NIER is more like ‘Onimusha’ without the crowded hordes of enemies, and ‘Zelda’ without the overly detailed a rich world. NIER is really in a class all its own, its own little melancholy tale of cleaving.
The combat, which is a focal point of NIER, is very basic and dumbed down. You will only have a few buttons to worry about without the hassle of memorizing combonation moves, or any overly intrakit stick swivles. The enemies are equally dumbed down (aside from the boss characters) with little or no A.I. to speak of. This leaves an impression closer to the combat in 'Onimusha' then something like 'Devil May Cry', or 'Bayonetta.' The combat isn't totally uninspiring, but its not strong enough to carry the game... and if you are looking for an solid experience more than a role-playing adventure, I would check out any of the above mentioned slashers first. Thankfully NIER inspired to be more than a action game, and it balances out its inadequateness with a a strong story, some interesting characters, and a several extra curricular activities like side-quests, weapon collecting, etc... NIER is more than a one-trick pony.
A Fathers Love
When you look past the combat, you will find an adventure game at heart. In basics the NIER is a love story, but not in the typical sense. NIER is about a fathers love for his daughter as he tries to save her from a horrifying disease. You play as 'Nier,' the father, who’s daughter (Yonah) is cursed with a virus called the ‘Black Scrawl.’ To save Yonah you must push on through several adversaries hunting out a cure for incurable disease. Like the story, Nier isn’t your typical protagonist, starting with his uninviting looks, his age, and then moving onto his multiple inabilities in combat. Even with his uncommon traits as a leading male in a videogame, the originality works. NIER is a little eccentric, which carries on to the supporting roles.
This Book Can Read Itself
The main supporting character (and your first companion) is ‘Grimoire Weiss,’ a talking book.... Yes! a talking book. ‘Grimoire’ isn’t only a book with a name, he is a talking book with magical powers, and more importantly, the key to curing Yonahs’ virus. Voiced in a ‘Vincent Price’ style (thanks to voice-over veteran Liam O’Brien), and a quick sarcastic wit, ‘Grimoire’ is easily the most entertaining character in NIER. 'Grimoire' also acts as an important part of game mechanics aside from his parable purpose, which fits in nicely. Funny enough, ‘Grimoire’ instantly reminded me of ‘Lord Zetta’ from ‘Makai Kingdom.' Hmmm, I wonder if they are from the same library?
Dude Looks Like A Lady
Following “the book” is the obligatory female (cough) character named 'Kaine' who comes around the four hour mark, dressed in skimpy clothing to aiding you in one of the many cool boss battles. 'Kaine' isn't exactly as one-dimensonal as she seems because 'Kaine' isn't really all women at all. 'Kaine' is a hermaphrodite (if you don't know what that is, I'd advise you look it up.) "Kaine's situation" isn't really worth mentioning too much, as it seems like a twist added on for shock value alone. Aside from all the "talk," you'll find NIER does a good job working its relationships and character development. Without giving away too much there are a few more interesting characters that 'Nier' meets in his travels, turning his quest into a nice little accumulation of personalities. The only area that NIER slightly lacks is in its numbers. Not all games need a large cast, but I felt as NIER was a little undersized. However, the group present ends up having just enough charm to carry the game.
Haven't I Been Here Before?
The pacing in NIER might be one of the biggest complaints I had with the game—aside from the so-so combat. NIER starts out extremely slow, taking its time to pick up the pace. In-between the “dungeon” sections that are filled with combat, the mission structure is filled with simply too much running around. Expect to run from point A-B-C multiple times before starting a mission. This isn’t always the case, but it is more frequent then other “modern” adventure games. NIER framework seems like it came straight from the late 90s. Aside from the main plot line, ‘Cavia’ has done its best to include numerous side-missions, although most of them are filler material and not worth the time to explore... unless you are hunting down achievements.
New Game Engine Wanted
Another aspect of NIER that cannot be ignored is the subpar visuals. The visual production is simply dated. NIER has a few shinning moments, but they are few-and-far between. Most of the time NIER appears bland with lifeless environments, low texture detail and so-so character models. NIER is definitely better looking from far.... and this is before the combat starts. In full out action mode, NIER gets even uglier without too many redeeming qualities. NIER feels like it belongs a generation behind on the PS2, rather then the next-gen.
Showing a little Ambition
This doesn't mean all is lost, NIER has some ambition and it starts with the character and monster design-- aside from the common enemies. NIER has some impressive boss characters that are deserving of the 'Square Enix' brand... and as we all know 'Square' has had some of the best. The aspiration doesn't stop at the monster design as NIER innovates with the unique ability to seamlessly manipulate the players perspective. Without warning, NIER can jumps from its normal view, 3rd person action, into multiple other views in real-time during the action (including combat). For example, NIER can jump to a side-scrolling viewpoint in 2D/3D-- simi liar to Microsoft's 'Shadow Complex,' or even a top-down perspective-- that has you playing out parts like a updated version of 'Gauntlet.' In this respect NIER is very clever, which helps break up some of the monotony of the repetitive action.
Thankfully, the subpar quality of the visuals doesn’t bleed over to the audio production. NIER features a top-notch soundtrack along with a strong cast of voice-over talent... including Liam O’Brien (Dragon Age, Tekken, Devil May Cry 4) which I touched on above. The dialog can be cheesy at times. However, since the delievery is so spot on, it also has moments that it is brutally truthful, uninhibited, intelligent, and even funny. The cast really did an excellent job making it a highlight of the game. Along with outstanding work in voice recording is a solid soundtrack. The soundtrack is a collection of soothing melodic tracks featuring some impressive harmonized vocals and nylon stringed mood pieces. Sure, NIER could have used a little more selection, but given that the quality is above average, the repetition is tolerable.
NIER might not the revolutionary title that it inspired to be, but it has some moments that make the downtime worth the effort. The cast, sorrowful fable, and boss battles are some of these moments that makes NIER stand out from the current crop of role-playing games. Given the final score, NIER has some unfavourable traits; predominately it is slow pacing, retro mission structure of running around, and dated combat mechanics. Three points that make NIER hard to get into initially. However, if you manage to overcome the first few hours, you might be surprised on how much pull NIER has.
It is obvious NIER isn’t for everyone, only for the role-playing adventure crowd should apply, and not the beat em’ up action junkies that its combat is trying to emulate. NIER is not ‘Devil May Cry,’ or ‘Bayonetta,’ even though some videos might trick you into believing so. Best advice rent it first to see if Square’s alternative action adventure game finds a spot in your heart, if not, no harm done, there is always ‘Final Fantasy XII.’
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 05.10.10