Developer: Cavia / Publisher: Square Enix / ESRB: Mature (Blood, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence) / Played on: PS3 / Price: $29.99
One of the most unique games released so far in 2010, Nier looks like a fairly standard action game but contains tons of surprises. Along with heavy RPG elements, a wonderful soundtrack, an original protagonist, an unexpected amount of variety, and a refreshingly dark story, one of the most novel aspects of the game is its use of talking magical books. Not since The Care Bears Movie has a work of pop culture featured such menacing and powerful tomes. Its use of this underrated and underappreciated device aside, Nier is definitely different, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s entirely good and it’s certainly not for everyone.
The dark, dire, and sometimes depressing narrative is arguably the most striking facet of Nier. The core plot is simple — you play a father trying to find a cure for his daughter’s mysterious ailment. After a few twists and turns, the adventure becomes larger, which is a typical videogame convention. What’s atypical here is that events often take a turn for the worst…several times over. You know how moviegoers refer to The Empire Strikes Back as the dark chapter in Star Wars? Nier has several dark chapters.
Nier, the titular character, is also different, particularly for Square Enix. The company is known for its beautiful heroes. Whether they’re chipper like Kingdom Hearts’ Sora or angst-filled like Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud Strife, they’re always beautiful. Nier, on the other hand, is one ugly mofo. There’s a fine line between rugged and disgusting. Nier smashes that line and goes full-on ugly.
Instead of beautiful people saving the world from an ominous threat, you have an ugly guy that wants to save his daughter. The plot and characters in the game are refreshing and different.
Nier will remind some people of THQ’s Darksiders, which reminded several people of The Legend of Zelda. All three games contain action, adventure, and exploration. The biggest difference is that Nier is much, much heavier on RPG elements. In addition to the standard action-adventure elements of running, jumping, and climbing trees (also known as “the army,” according to comedian Eddie Izzard), you’ll spend a ton of time searching for items, upgrading weapons, collecting magical words, and upgrading weapons some more.
Let’s focus on the action first. There’s a lot of hacking and slashing in this game. Minions are shredded like parmesan cheese in an Italian restaurant. Thankfully there are a few weapon sets that add variety to the carnage. The fighting isn’t God of War good, but it has its moments and should keep most gamers entertained.
The game’s use of magic makes it stand out from other action games. In many ways, it’s very RPG-like. You’re not just hurling magic balls of power. Magic is earned and leveled up throughout the game. Spells can be assigned to different buttons, adding a highly strategic mix-and-match element.
In some cases the magic changes up the gameplay significantly. Some spells transform the game into a shooter, which was disarming at first, but you’ll appreciate the different ways magic shakes things up in Nier.
There are two aspects of Nier’s gameplay that bothered me and will likely bother you: the exploration and mini-games. There is a lot of backtracking. You’ll see several of the game’s areas — and the enemies that populate them — many times over. Going back to an area once can be fun, since you’ll be more powerful and know how defeat certain enemies. Revisiting the same areas three or more times is annoying and a cheap way to extend gameplay.
Some of Nier’s mini-games are harmless diversions, while others are frustrating exercises. I understand that the developers were trying to add variety with these minis, but there are too many that are simply annoying instead of a fun or interesting break up of the action.
For the most part, the game’s controls are straightforward and work well. There are times when you’ll have to dig through menus, but that isn’t too big of a deal. What can be truly bothersome are the game’s questionable camera decisions. There are quite a few moments when the game will make you wonder why you’re looking at things from that perspective.
This is Nier’s weakest link by far. The visuals are jagged and dated. Depending on your standards, you’ll think you’re playing a game from the very end of the last generation of consoles or a title from the very beginning of the current gen. Nier, the character, is ugly. Nier, the game, is also ugly. There’s no escaping the ugliness!
Nier’s soundtrack is superb. Easily one of the best scores of 2010, the music in the game is just wonderful. The orchestral compositions are varied — some piano driven and others are prominently feature string instruments. Almost all the tracks use haunting vocals; I’m pretty sure the lyrics are in one of Nier’s fictional languages…that or some Japanese accent I’ve never heard in my life. In some cases the vocals are the main melody, while in others they’re used in an ambient way.
Along with Final Fantasy XIII, it’s one of the two 2010 game soundtracks I want to buy. I’m confident that most gamers will dig it.
Nier is definitely different, but as I said up front, that doesn’t always mean good. From a straight gameplay perspective, I think most people will enjoy Darksiders more than this game. From a gameplay standpoint, it just tries to do too much. While some aspects of the gameplay are good, there are several facets that are poor and annoying to the point where it detracts from the overall experience. The incessant backtracking and frustrating minigames are enough to turn off many gamers.
The positives Nier offers aren’t for everyone, but they should be explored by gamers that want something different. The story and characters are surprisingly real and dark. They’re so different that they make slogging through some tedious gameplay worth the effort. Once again I have to mention that the soundtrack is undeniably superb.
At the end of the day if you’re looking for a strong action-adventure game then I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Nier. However, if you want something distinct and different then you should give this game a whirl.