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When people think of Square-Enix, the game that comes to mind the most is Final Fantasy. Yet Square has dabbled in a number of JRPGs that have similar nods to their flagship franchise. The Mana, SaGa, Octopath Traveler, Kingdom Hearts and so on. But not many people are familiar with the NieR IP that came out in 2010, an action-adventure game originally about a father trying to find a cure for his daughter’s sickness.
The game, sadly, wasn’t as big of a hit, but became a cult classic due to its combat, story, and it’s quirky cast courtesy of Yoko Taro. Fastforward to 2018 and we get a long-awaited follow-up, NieR: Automata. 2021 eventually saw the return of the NieR universe with a remake of NieR Replicant and a mobile title, NieR: Reincarnation.
While I have yet to play Automata (I recently purchased it and intend to play it), I figured I’d start with its roots first, with Replicant. Having played it, I can see the game’s appeal and why it’s become such a classic to many Square fans. So what exactly is the NieR series?
An absolute trip.
The story follows Nier and Yonah, two kids in a pseudo Germanic fantasy world dealing with monstrous beings known as shades. To make their lives more complicated, Yonah is infected with a mysterious illness known as the black scrawl. When her brother discovers that she left her home to find a possible cure in a strange tower, only to find a magical book known as Grimoire Weiss, who might hold the key to healing Yonah and ending the Shadowlord’s plot once and for all.
I went in with an open mind, since this wasn’t NieR Automata, but it’s original game. That said, while I did have a few quirks with it, I found this to be a very solid game worth at the least checking out. Despite it’s grim plot, the game had an unusual, whimsical innocence to it. Not as quirky as a typical Tim Burton movie, but definitely has its own charm to it. Even with the violence and the magic of blood to attack the shades, it manages to succeed in its humor and storytelling.
Characters acting like the magical book Grimoire Weiss is just a good friend to everyone, much to Nier’s confusion, subtle nods to random game mechanics absent (fast travel, which doesn’t occur until the second half of the game). The game feels like a weird trip yet manages to be entertaining.
One notable section involves a strange disease that actively shatters the fourth wall entirely and sucks the heroes in a book-like scenario where the player is required to read in order to solve some of the challenges. It can be a challenge if you’re like me and try to skip through everything. Despite this game being a Legend of Zelda-inspired action/adventure game, some elements move to a sidescrolling exploration game to a top-down, isometric, action game like Diablo.
The story itself can get interesting, but for the most part, it’s unusually simple. The big bad guy has resurfaced, you find the one artifact that can stop it, you defeat him, the end. It’s not necessarily deep, but there could have been a lot more to the universe that it feels almost arcade-like. Yet the world is rich with so much lore and background that I would absolutely love to know more about it.
My major gripe with this game, and especially as I was aiming to 100% the entire thing, was how much back-tracking there was. Despite the vast world, there aren’t that many locations. Speedrunning it for the PSN trophy, I managed to beat the game in about 8-10 hours just focusing on the main story. Doing everything, it took me around 80 hours. It’s a lot for such a small region of the world.
The back-tracking gets very tedious when I’m forced to go to the Junk Heap, Seafront, and My village numerous times, often in quick succession. One part of the quest requires me to go from my village to Seafront, back to my village, back to Seafront, and then I progress to a boss level. Especially side-missions that don’t unlock until after you’ve visited that same area multiple times. Having them all unlocked beforehand would mean farming the same area for hours, but it’d be quicker since I’m not going all the way to one area, only to backtrack to the other side of the map.
In fact, if you’re aiming for multiple endings (in this game, there’s a total of 5), you’ll replay a portion of the game at least four times total. It gets extremely repetitive and tedious, and while you do learn new things that the first playthrough never told you about, it feels like a hassle.
Despite the issues with backtracking, I had an absolute blast with this game. The combat is fast-paced, the characters are surprisingly memorable, the voice acting is solid. It’s really a fun game overall. It’s no Zelda, but it’s able to stand on its own. If you don’t mind the flaws as much, do check it out if you can.
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