I wrote up a review of Nier: Automata a good while and, while I did love my time with it, I couldn’t help but feel lost. The story was mostly self-contained but there were some documents and cutscenes referencing past events and I couldn’t help but think I was missing out on some meaty details as Nier: Automata is kind of a sequel to a game on the PlayStation 3 I’ve never played before, Nier.
So when Square Enix announced a remastered version of the original Nier, now entitled Nier Replicant, for current generation systems, I was eater to get my hands on it to see what I missed out, or rather, if I actually missed out on playing this PlayStation 3 cult classic. Was I wrong to pass this up? Well, read on to find out!
The main story of Nier Replicant takes place centuries from our present and several hundred years prior to the events of Nier Automata. You control the protagonist, who I named Nier so I’ll just be calling the main hero Nier to make things easier, live in a small village with your younger sister, Yonah, who is infected with a deadly sickness known as the Black Scrawl. He eventually finds a mysterious book called the Grimoire Weiss, a sentient tome, who grants Nier the ability to access magical attacks. Nier, alongside Grimoire Weiss and his companions, the lingerie-wearing hothead Kaine and the young Emil, scour the land and battle creatures known as Shades as well as a way to save Yonah from her fate.
The graphics in Nier Replicant aren’t what I would call gorgeous but they are pretty enough that I’m not retching from how awful it looks. Animations do come off as stiff, though. There’s even a certain “blockiness” to all of the buildings and terrain but I do love how most of the textures are hi-res images. It’s not the most gorgeous game but there is a simplistic charm to Nier Replicant’s overal aestethics.
Audio design is really good, though. Everyone, and I mean everyone, you talk to has some recorded dialog. There are games, like in Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake, where you can hear background characters talking to each other, so this shouldn’t be all that impressive. However, the mere fact you can literally go up to every person and start a dialog with them and actually hear them speak did strike me as something I’ve never experienced before. Sure, they don’t really say all that much but the mere fact they hired a voice actor to record some throwaway lines was phenomenal.
What even more impressive are the vocal performances for the main characters! There’s a really nice, well, familiarity whenever they speak. You can also tell what kind of personality the main characters have from not only their lines but the intonations as well. Emil has youthful naivety to him and loves to look at the positive side of things. Kaine is no-nonsense and tough but you can tell she has a softer side to her. Yonah breathy manner of speech lets you know immediately she’s frail but wants to help out. Nier, the main character, does bounce between decent man who want to help everyone he comes in contact with and homicidal maniac who will kill each and every Shade in the world. The best performance, by far, comes from Grimoire Weiss. His air of superiority mixed with his English accent lets us know how highly he thinks of himself.
The music in Nier Replicant is good but, sadly, not as good as the songs in the sequel Nier: Automata. I would like to refrain as much as possible from comparing the two but I can’t help it. Nier: Automata has one of the best soundtracks in video game history and, since Nier Replicant is its predecessor, I half expected the music there to blow my mind. They were good but nothing struck me like Nier: Automata’s A Beautiful Song, Peaceful Sleep or The Weight of the World. The best song in Nier Replicant for me is easily The Song of the Ancients when sung by Devola and Popola. Then again, they also used this song in Nier: Automata, didn’t they?
Nier Replicant unfortunately really shows its age with its gameplay and level design. Once again, I hate to do so but, when compared to Nier: Automata, Nier Replicant comes off as very basic, especially when it comes to combat. In Nier: Automata, there are context sensitive attacks, like pressing the attack button just as you press the jump button to perform a rising slash and things like that. In Nier Replicant, you can simply mash the light attack button to defeat each and every regular monster you come in contact with.
There are some enemies who have armor wherein you need to time your attack to get through their defenses and flying enemies will require you to use your magic projectiles to take them down. You can even press the block button at just the right time to deflect an attack and follow up with a super damaging melee strike. However, as there is very little variety with the enemy types so, once you have a strategy on how to take them down, you can use it over and over again, no matter if they have armor or not.
Magic does seem much more useful in Nier Replicant, something I rarely used in Nier: Automata. However, some magic abilities aren’t all that useful. They might look cool, like Dark Phantasm, which creates a shadow of Nier that attacks every creature in its range, or Dark Execution, which impales enemies on spears that protrude from the ground. It’s just they lack the utility of things like Dark Lance, which is a super powerful projectile, Dark Whirlwind, which summons blades to orbit around your for a certain amount of time, and Dark Hand, which has Nier summon a demonic hand to punch his target. I would use Dark Lance to destroy targets, even bossed from a distance, Dark Whirlwind to speed up battles as it attacks everything around Nier, and Dark Hand as it will knock down enemies, even ones clad in armor.
Levels and maps also come off as very disjointed and, well, unimaginative. Some areas, like the Desert and the Northern Plains are big but, besides, killing all manner of creatures, exploration is pretty boring as they’re mostly featureless fields of nothingness. Even Facade, the most elaborate town in Nier Replicant with its different heights and tiers, doesn’t come off as vast because there’s nothing which draws your eye to make it feel distinct. Some towns, like the Aerie, feels like a chore to explore because, while you have to traverse different heights, there’s nothing to do there!
Probably the most unimaginative and worst aspect of Nier Replicant are the side quests. Sometimes, you get a quest where you have to look for a person, which leads to to bounce from location to location, trying to find him or her, which means going through the lifeless fields I mentioned earlier. Most of them, though, are just fetch quests where you have to collect a certain number of items for the client. Most of the time, you just need to run through the aforementioned fields and gather them or buy the items from another shop. The most bothersome ones require you to have some weird knowledge the game doesn’t tell you. The fishing quests are a good example as they never really tell you where to find what specific fish or what bait to use. The worst one will have you trying to crossbreed plants to get a particular seed a client needs. How the heck am I supposed to know this? Do you think I’m a horticulturist or something?
I can’t say the same for Nier Replicant’s story as you can tell there was a lot of thought put into the overall plot. The first time through, you do get a very straightforward quest of a brother trying to save his sister. However, this story is only a small part of Nier Replicant’s grand tale. You have to finish the game a total of 4 more times in order to get the complete story. Subsequent playthroughs will also reveal more details, like Kaine’s backstory, Emil’s destiny and even give a little look at what the Shades, the enemies, are like behind the scenes. You don’t have to play through the entire game but just the latter half of it.
Unfortunately, despite wanting to see the complete story and you only have to play through half the game, this can still be a grind because of how repetitive Nier Replicant feels. The combat, like I said, can get really monotonous and having to run from place to place, even after unlocking the fast travel option, feels incredibly tedious. You do have to power through all 4 ending to ultimately get a totally new story involving Kaine and, while that’s a neat little reward, it feels a little too late by then.
Ultimately, I like Nier Replicant but only because I totally loved Nier: Automata. Learning about the world’s history by playing through the game was a blast but I did feel I was just powering through to get the other endings. Despite the fresh coat of paint, it definitely feels like a last-gen game because of some archaic gameplay designs. If you did love Nier: Automata, I do recommend Nier Replicant. If you weren’t, then I say pass on this.
Have you played Nier Replicant? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!