Also available on: PS3
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Square Enix
With the recent release of Final Fantasy XIII, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Square Enix's adult themed action RPG Nier would be lost in the shuffle, and judging by this week's chart absence, it may have been. However, while it may lack the polish of Square's flagship title, it makes up for it with an engaging story and some excellent characters, which is why Nier isn't one to ignore.
The game takes place in the future, with the protagonist Nier fighting off hordes of the game's baddies, the Shades, in an abandoned shop, surrounded by snow and with his sick daughter Yonah hiding around the corner. The game then skips even further forward into the future, with Nier and his daughter residing in a quiet village, which has once again seen the return of Shades on the outskirts. Without wishing to spoil too much, Nier strives to find a cure for his daughter with the help of a magical talking book named Grimoire Weiss, and a confusing, potty mouthed "lady" named Kaine.
The game's characters are really what sets it apart from the competition. Nier himself is a fairly standard hero in many respects; hardened and grizzled, he works tirelessly to make his daughter and the villagers happy, proving that he has a heart of gold, as well as arms of steel. Kaine, who is a hermaphrodite, is feisty and independent, a bit of an outcast, but finds a friend in Nier. Also, she never stops swearing, which may make Square's claims of an "adult" RPG seem a little superficial, but her outbursts are fairly amusing, even if a little over the top and unnecessary at times. Without doubt, the star of the show is the magical tome Grimoire Weiss, who is quite frankly hilarious. Weiss is pompous, pretentious and at times extremely rude - think of Dr Smith in the original 1960s Lost In Space and you get the impression. For all his faults though, Weiss makes a game that is rough around the edges a real treat, and hearing the minor squabbles that occur between him and the other characters as you travel between locations or accept quests is pure comedy gold.
Weiss isn't simply there for comic effect though, he also provides lead character Nier with the ability to perform magic. In an attempt to cure Yonah, the characters explore the world looking for the dark seals. These spells can be found wherever there are an abundance of Shades, and usually after a bit of a boss battle, you gain one more spell to use. The spells can be assigned to the right and left buttons, and see Nier perform actions such as shooting out bullet style magic orbs, form a barrier to protect himself, and even form a huge fist to pummel incoming enemies. The magic isn't spectacular, but it is effective in different situations; although you can often get by with simply shooting at everything in sight.
The gameplay in Nier is a tough one to define. For the most part it's a bit of a Zelda clone. You swing a sword and use magic to fight the baddies, and some of the bosses, and their weak points are ripped straight out of the Nintendo title. However, there's slightly more to Nier than this, with certain sections seeing the action shift to a sideways perspective with Nier having to navigate platforms by jumping up and down and using double jumps to make particularly big leaps. Other parts see the action shift to a top down point of view, with lots of bullets flying towards the protagonist, while he must dodge and use his own bullets to fight back. However, these various styles make Nier a jack of all trades, but unfortunately a master of none, and although the variety proves to be enjoyable, it never replicates with utter success the games that it mimics.
Some of the locations and scenarios also replicate other classic games and formulas. One scene sees Nier enter a creepy haunted house, which is a clear nod to Resident Evil, while a later scene switches to an isometric viewpoint reminiscent of old school dungeon crawlers. The world in which the game takes place isn't massive, and you will have to revisit places and backtrack through the rather generic plains, but the actual destinations are all vastly different and really ooze personality and charm. One location out in the desert is particularly engaging, with a Venetian style sand city that is bound by hundreds of social rules, while another is a seaside town that is a visual treat, and reminiscent of a Mediterranean city.
Graphically, however, the game never really reaches the heights of other next-gen titles, and the character animations and the majority of the game's environments fail to sparkle. The enemies are graphically mixed, with the basic enemies looking a little dull and boring, while some of the bosses are absolutely massive, and look extremely impressive when in full flow.
The music on the other hand is a different matter altogether, and is a real winner in this title, with a powerful orchestral soundtrack intertwined with mellow music as you explore the land. It really sets the mood for the game, and heightens the drama considerably when needed.
The story is another aspect of Nier that leaves the player with mixed feelings. It all seems straightforward enough on the surface, but the many twists and revelations that come through playing the game for an extended period of time make the overall experience a little confusing and a second play-through is recommended to fully understand exactly what is going on. It's all quite riveting, mind you, but one feels that it didn't have to get so detailed, with the basic premise and excellent characters strong enough to pull off a more standard tale, if the developers had chosen to go down that route.
All in all, Nier is a title that may not appeal to all. Indeed the constant swearing and adult themes mean that youngsters shouldn't go near it. At the same time anybody else, who appreciates a good find and a great deal of variety, would be mad to ignore it, as it is an engaging experience. It probably tries a little too much and it doesn't fully succeed at everything it attempts, but the cast of characters and the solid gameplay make it a title worth trying if you fancy something a little bit different. It may not be a game that will be remembered through the ages, and there's definitely room for improvement, but in terms of being a solid gold game, it certainly come close.
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