Game reviews: Nier is an action RPG from the makers of Final Fantasy filled with buried secrets, intricate plotlines and unforgettable characters. Not to mention dungeon bosses, farming and fishing. Hurrah!
Buy Nier (PS3)
Buy Nier (Xbox 360)
Nier is billed as a fast-paced action RPG with a mature and mysterious narrative, designed to appeal to action, adventure and RPG fans. Packed with unique and memorable characters, intense action-packed battles, explosive magic and storytelling, Nier is set in a crumbling world plagued by disease and dark, unrecognisable creatures.The twists and turns of plot are integral to Nier, a game in which nothing is as it seems.
But who is Nier? He’s an unyielding protagonist (think dour, noble and grumpy) who’s determined to quest until he discovers a cure for his daughter who has been infected with the Black Scrawl disease. Great name for a disease, by the way. It sounds 30% foul and 70% sexy. Who wouldn’t secretly want to be infected with the Black Scrawl? Armed with powerful allies, magical abilities, mighty weapons and a mysterious and slightly ill-tempered magical book, Nier will do battle against waves of dark enemies and giant bosses to discover the truth about the disease, his daughter… and himself.
Nier… The first battle
The opening sequence. We’re told that this is a thousand years in Nier’s past – it’s a flashback. As darkness unfolds, we hear a girl’s voice. She is challenging an unseen entity called the Shadow Lord. The girl sounds desperate – belligerent but afraid. She’s referring to him in ways I’d expect more likely to emerge from the mouth of a raging Courtney Love than from the pearly lips of a fantasy princess. I’m highly amused and also quite impressed…
Then we get an evocative cut scene as Nier (our hero. A grouchy, grey-haired warrior with feral teeth) is stuck, trapped in a snowbound industrial zone. Personally I’d love to stay and watch the pretty snow, but Nier needs to reach his daughter – and hordes of shades block his path. While not as intentionally pixelly or shadowy as the Zelda: Twighlight Princess meanies and their evil portals, the shades in Nier are fluid geometric demons that provide a striking contrast to the dreamily-lit fantasy realism of Nier’s world. It has to be said here: the graphics on Nier are outstanding.
Aside from nodding my head with pleasure at the undeniable beauty of the game, I didn’t enjoy the first twenty minutes very much. Nier was forced to battle wave after wave of shades, and there was poor old me still trying to control Nier’s point of view as I hurled myself around with the intention of surviving long enough to figure out if the shades were in front of me or behind me (clue: they were all around me. They certainly weren’t above or below me, which is where I seemed to be looking half the time). The beginning was initially confusing, as I reached level 30 in ten minutes and battled my first big Shade Boss ten minutes later.
Surely the rest of the game wouldn’t continue at this pace?
No, of course it didn’t, for that would be poor gameplay. The wave of shades felt like it lasted forever, but it only felt that way. I soon destroyed them all first time around (partly because Nier soon finds a magical talking book that gives him a massive magic boost, and partly because I sapped out and played the game on an easy setting). Having vanquished the shades with sword and magic, Nier stumbled into an old snowbound library to reach his daughter Yonah as she lay curled up with pain behind a bookcase. He probably shouldn’t have left her alone in the first place, because Yonah suffers from a beautiful but terminal disease called the Black Scrawl.
Then we’re taken out of the flashback into another intriguing cut scene and I’m level 1 again. And the game – a satisfying blend of side quests, vast plots and action – begins for real.
Nier… The game begins
Once the shade hordes are dealt with, Nier finds himself in a very, very different world… the world we will be spending all our time in from now on.
And good heavens, Nier’s world is beautiful. It’s a richly fantastic and idyllic setting. Imagine fantasy rolling countryside with rivers and mountains and white stone ruins. Think stone towns by the sea. Think charming villages with bustling market squares, fat clucking chickens and plenty of people to talk to, both for sheer fun and to move the plot forward.
And everything is gently hazy with a warm golden summer light that softens everything and creates a fantasy look I haven’t seen in prior games. The background music in Nier is absolutely fantastic. Each new area has its own fitting soundtrack, whether it’s LOTRO-style fantasy or thrilling tension in battle scenes or stirring celtic Clannad-style stuff when you’re hunting, gathering or travelling through the plains.
So what about the gameplay? RPG games are famously addictive. Will I want to play on, or do cold turkey?
Cue ten hours split over a weekend later…
Nier… The RPG gameplay
As you might have guessed, although the first twenty minutes of Nier were cold and stark and beautiful, the relentless (though easy) battling nearly put me off continuing. I was concerned that this would be a very linear battle game with occasional puzzles along the way, much like God of War – which, though a fine game in itself, isn’t an RPG.
Fortunately, the makers of Nier have paid attention to making sure all the elements are there for a classic RPG game. The kind where you laugh, get involved with story, go on a million side quests then sweat it out in crazy dungeons to emerge victorious and ready for another two hours of noodling around doing your own thing. Games like Zelda, for example. My kind of game!
As your quest unfolds, you are led through a satisfying process of levelling, learning more about the rich storylines. You’re started off with quests that let you get used to the controls and explore the world a little (hunting for wool and mutton is rather satisfying – there’s plenty to hunt and gather in Nier, that can either be bought and sold, or used to make your own stuff as your skills grow, or be used in side quests as preferred). I gave thanks to all those sheep and goats (and even mice and lizards) on the plains – they turned me from a confused fool into a victorious warrior. Battler of sheep! Beware, though… if you approach them the wrong way, they’ve got a bit of a kick.
Once you move on from sheep, you soon start unlocking new abilities that enrich the level of gameplay by creating new side quests and minigames that progress through the whole main game. Like fishing! Everyone who’s played Zelda and LOTRO knows that fishing is far more fun than it ought to be be. And Harvest Moon fans will be delighted to hear that if you get sick of buying vegetables and seeds at extortionate prices from villagers you can soon start farming your very own field. As the game progresses, Nier’s abilities to harvest clay and various metal ores lead me to suspect there might be some smelting and building to be unlocked, too…
Nier… The characters
I came into this game knowing it was done by a subsidiary of the same people who created Final Fantasy (cue angelic trumpets). So I was expecting a lot from the characters. In that first battle (okay, you get the picture, I didn’t like the first twenty minutes) I wasn’t initially impressed. This Nier, I thought, is so dour. So humourless. So grim. He’s really ugly. And his teeth look too defined. But once we got into the main game, I realised… Yes! Nier is grim! He really is dour and humourless! He’s really quite wonderful at being grim. He’s totally dedicated to being a nice grim old man and looking after his daughter. And he’s an absolutel gem. You couldn’t get anyone more grumpy than Nier.
His daughter Yonah is very pretty and sweet. She’s also very brave and optimistic, and a terrible cook, who tries to put a brave face on her Black Scrawl disease by begging her father Nier to go and locate ingredients to cook stew that is absolutely inedible… but made with love, so he’s forced to wolf it down and ask for more. Nier gets to choose to what degree he’ll look after her… I found myself dropping all major quests to make sure Yonah and her stew were okay.
Nier is supported by powerful allies and well-defined, believable but unique characters. One is an extremely vicious young woman, dolled up rather provocatively in bandages and a baby doll nightie that’s barely there. People warn Nier to stay away from her, but she seems to be pretty solid with her magic in a fight. Unfortunately for Nier, she struggles to control her blazing nature, and her idea of moving him out of the path of danger in battles is to give him a crescent moon kick to the face. You know it’s going to end with wedding bells…
Oh, and let’s not forget the Grimoire Weiss. Remember how Nier picks up a helpful magical book in the first battle? Grimoire Weiss is a powerful entity in book form, steeped in magic and potentially holding the cure to poor Yonah’s disease, the Black Scrawl. Even more importantly, Weiss is one of the most hilariously acid-tongued characters I’ve yet seen in a game. Weiss is basically Alan Rickman. Weiss sounds like Alan Rickman, talks like Alan Rickman and acts like Alan Rickman does in movies. Weiss is very fond of sticking his oar in, either to be helpful or unhelpful as the situation demands. Every tart comeback, whether helpful or unhelpful, drips with jaded sarcasm. If one could ever fall in love with a book without reading it, Grimoire Weiss is, perhaps, the one. Alan Rickman in a book? Works for me.
Nier – storyline hints
Even if you get happily sidetracked in a million side quests, there are always reminders that the story is unfolding all around you and not everything is as it seems. Loading scenes start off with cute excerpts from Yonah’s diary – these become tantalisingly interchanged with apocalyptic case reports you’d more expect in Resident Evil. These case reports mention airborne diseases, cell mutations, visitations and nuclear retaliation having been insufficient. What is this strange world that Nier inhabits? The game plays on the most part like pure and excellent fantasy RPG, but there are hints here and there of something other. Hints come in conversations, or loading scenes, or the fishermen at the dock who describe huge oil tankers from the past without knowing their names. Or Nier’s quest to the Junk Heap, a mountain filled to the brim with rusted ruins, broken elevators (for who in Nier’s fantasy world knows how to use such things?) and high-tec robots ready to engage…
Nier’s storyline is definitely intriguing. A melding of fantasy (for the most part) with hints and tweaks of a world plagued by human anguish, buried secrets and a ravaging disease that make you think of the Umbrella Corporation more than anything else…
I’ll be playing on to find out more.
Nier… The final mooky reckoning
In the first twenty minutes, I was vexed, panicked and seriously considering putting the game down.
In the next ten hours, I physically couldn’t put the game down.
Nier: Two thumbs up from Mookychick!
Buy Nier (PS3)
Buy Nier (Xbox 360)
Buy Nier (PS3)
Buy Nier (Xbox 360)