Cranky egomaniacal floating-talking book as a sidekick? Check. Battering sheep to death with a giant magical fist for no good reason? Check. Chickens clever enough to hide their eggs from humans? Check. Barely clothed and vulgar female party member? Check. NIER is one hell of a game, completely fresh, unique and all kinds of strange. It may come as a shock but it is also one of the best RPG’s and one of the best games on PS3 so far. If you overlook NIER you will be missing out on something very special.
Forget all the bad reviews you may or may have not read, NIER is an amazing game. It was something I was honestly not expecting. I didn’t realize until I played it that Square Enix was involved. Had I known NIER wouldn’t have come as a surprise, after all this is the company who created the Final Fantasy series. When I saw the trailer for NIER it made me cringe in all sorts of ways. The graphics were terrible, the environments looked bland and empty, the storyline seemed too bizarre to follow and very dull. But even so I was willing to give it a chance as I do all games. In my experience usually the best games are the ones people completely overlook, and NIER is definitely one of those. Okay so the graphics aren’t top quality, but what difference does that truly make? You could make the most god awful game in history with the best graphics anyone has ever seen and it wouldn’t change what it is, it would still be awful. So it makes no sense that people consider the opposite to be a completely different matter altogether.
I really don’t get this obsession gamers and everyone in the industry has with graphics. The fact is mediocre graphics DO NOT automatically make a game not worth playing and NIER just goes to prove that point. Reviewers should be ashamed of themselves. We rely on them to tell us whether a game is worth forking out money for and they are the reason we miss out on so many great games. Official PlayStation Magazine (UK) gave NIER a 4/10… what!? But then again OPM is probably the most biased magazine I know. If a game isn’t Modern Warfare they usually can’t be bothered with it. Reading the review I did wonder if they had even played the game at all or just rated it on the trailer alone. The trailer is pretty much all they mentioned in their review. I am so tired of people giving great games bad reviews for such petty reasons. So I will make this clear, this is a review written by a life-long gamer for gamers. Gaming is my life in every conceivable way, so you will always get a fair review from me, focusing on the things that really matter and getting a rating based on a game’s own merits.
I was slightly concerned that NIER would be like Drakengard on PS2, which was developed and published by the same companies. I also hoped it would be like Drakengard in certain aspects, it was a game I loved. It had dragons in it and a cast that seemed like they’d fallen straight out of a Stephen King novel, two things I worship. What worried me was that Drakengard had a story that, although amazingly good, was very hard to follow, mainly because the events happened in the wrong order and you didn’t get to see all the scenes involved on your first playthrough. I thought NIER might follow the same format but it didn’t. It all made logical sense, there was no point I struggled to understand what was going on. In fact it might surprise Drakengard fans that the two games are linked, taking place in the same universe.
‘Nothing is as it seems’ is the tagline for NIER. The game takes place 1000 years after the events in one of the endings to Drakengard, in a post-post-apocalyptic world. That may sound confusing but basically it means our world has been and gone, and from the ashes has risen a new civilization living among the relics of our past, a past forgotten by the people alive in the time of NIER. The world doesn’t look like the wastelands of Fallout 3, this is a time once the scars have healed and the land is lush with greenery, populated with small villages and towns. Despite that the world is dying, with food running short, disease running rampant and enemies known as Shades prowling the countryside.
You play Nier, a father desperate to find a cure for his daughter who is dying from a mysterious disease known as the Black Scrawl. In his quest he meets a strange sentient book called Grimoire Weiss who seems to hold the key to curing the illness and possibly the world. Weiss does not know his purpose and remembers little of his past or about the fight against his greatest foe Grimoire Noir, the Black Book. Weiss becomes Nier’s constant companion but as the game progresses you encounter other characters that become part of your party, such as the foul-mouthed Kainé who seems to run around in her underwear and the irritating Emil. I can’t say much about him because it will spoil things but think about what the characters from Drakengard were like and you’ll get the general idea.
But all that only scratches the very surface of NIER. The story is very dark, has incredible depth and is endlessly fascinating. It is full of twists and turns. Don’t expect anything to be as it seems and don’t expect happy endings. There is a depth of character and emotion that Final Fantasy XIII sadly failed to achieve. I enjoyed NIER a hundred times more than FFXIII. It is incredibly philosophical at times, the banter between Nier and Weiss especially. The two characters work extraordinarily well together, giving remarkable insight into their personalities. There are definitely no one-dimensional characters in this game. NIER also uses a genius system for character development. It’s such a simple tool but offers so much insight. Rather than using cutscenes for conversations it is for the most part all done in real-time so you can listen to dialog as you go about the game. This isn’t just once in awhile or random like Dragon Age, the characters will make conversation about everything, usually about things directly related to whatever you are doing at the time. Despite being such a dark kind of game NIER is also unexpectedly very funny. It will have you laughing at usually the most inappropriate moments. But this is done intentionally and it is done very well.
Okay, so the thing everyone is concerned with is the graphics. NIER doesn’t have the greatest graphics you’ll ever see, but it also doesn’t have the worst either. You’ll have to trust me when I say this, but it doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as it does in the trailers. The graphics are mediocre and pretty generic. But to be fair nobody honestly notices graphics unless they are phenomenal or make the game unplayable. The first five minutes playing a game like NIER you might think the graphics aren’t up to scratch but after that you just get used to it and never think about it again. After all it isn’t likely you’ll have two TV’s set up with one running NIER and the other running Uncharted 2 so that you can make a constant comparison.
True it is a bit bland, but the environments aren’t as empty as the trailers show. The characters are pretty well-done and the game does some interesting things with the lighting effects. Nothing in NIER is going to blow you away, but it won’t make you turn it off either. It just looks outdated, but being outdated never stopped people playing and loving Bioshock. It also doesn’t stop people replaying their old games. With NIER there isn’t really anything to complain about except that, it looks a bit old. What’s important is that it doesn’t have any adverse effect on the playability or your enjoyment of the game.
One thing that did stand out as a really unique touch was switching perspectives in certain areas. For example if you enter a building the game will switch to a side-scrolling perspective, if you are in a puzzle room that involves moving blocks around to create a path it switches to a top-down perspective. While it’s nothing incredible it does add something different to the game.