Nowhere Nier the Mark
There’s a lot to like in Nier, however, there is also a good deal more to dislike; the game has a handful of quality needles hidden under a haystack of tired gameplay mechanics. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this title is the well-crafted, heartfelt story that will keep any RPG connoisseur engaged. Players will also be treated to a few interesting dungeon puzzles and bosses, as well as an ability/weapon enhancement system with serious potential. That’s why it’s such a shame that the overwhelming number of asinine side quests, blight of mundane minions, superfluous diversions (fishing, collecting, harvesting), and boxed-in, featureless environments reduce this game to little more than a common slog.
Players take on the role of an anxious father consumed with protecting and curing his afflicted daughter, Yonah. The game setting takes place in a future Earth where today’s humans are considered to be ancients. All the technological knowledge that humanity harnessed has been lost to an apocalyptic event and the passage of time. The survivors now find themselves in a world fraught with danger, magic, and nightmarish Shades.
The player character and Yonah live in a sleepy village, surrounded by wilderness. Your character fills his days taking on odd jobs and errands, while his sickly daughter mostly stays home resting and cooking. Yonah also has a penchant for getting herself into trouble. On one such unsupervised outing, she ends up being held captive at an ancient shrine. The player-controlled hero saves her from the clutches of Shades, but Yonah contracts a lethal disease called the Black Scrawl.
Fortunately, the PC’s rescue efforts also net him a powerful companion: Grimoire Weiss. This magical tome is the counter to Grimoire Noir; the black magic compendium that is spreading the devastating Black Scrawl. But, Grimoire Weiss is no standard magical text. This book is a supreme being that’s both loquacious and arrogant, but also extremely powerful. Throughout the journey, the protagonist will harness the power of Grimoire Weiss in order to battle the Shades and secure the cure for his daughter’s affliction.
While the story may not seem to be particularly unique when painted with broad strokes, it eventually evolves into an charming narrative about the love of a father for his daughter and the great lengths he’ll go to, to ensure her well-being. The story, more than any other facet of Nier, is what kept me going through the game’s myriad shortcomings.
But before I hit you with the bad, let’s talk a bit more about what Nier gets right. For starters, the musical score is full of nice background tracks, some of which are actually quite excellent. Also, the voiceover work, for the most part, is capably done – Grimoire Weiss is voiced especially well.
Players will undoubtedly find the weapon and ability enhancement system to be quite nice too. As you hack and slash your way through the game, Shades will drop prefixes and suffixes that can be combined by Grimoire Weiss to form more potent weapons, higher player stats, and augmented magical abilities. There are even bonus effects that grant, for example, paralyze or poison modifiers. While these word portions can be combined in many different ways to obtain distinct results, the game also offers impatient players the ability to simply utilize the best combinations at the touch of a button via the Word Edit tab.
In addition, weapons can also be enhanced in a more conventional manner. By finding key components strewn about the world and dropped from enemies, you can, for a fee, have your current weapon leveled up by smithies. This typically adds bonuses to damage or even magical force.
There are also a number of bosses in this game that, while straightforward to beat, will have you using all of Nier’s abilities. The result is several instances of very satisfying gameplay – almost Metroidvania-like battles that will test your mettle. Similarly, there are several dungeon puzzles that nicely break up combat and keep you thinking.
Unfortunately, that’s about everything redeeming that Nier brings to the table. As interesting as a few of the bosses are, they are matched by an equal number of pushovers that simply don’t live up to the term ‘Boss Fight.’ This is also true of dungeon exploration. While some puzzle elements are a great way to massage your little grey cells, most others simply make the level last artificially longer than it really should. Nier wishes it had the puzzling chops of Zelda, but it just never comes close to reaching those lofty heights.
Along those lines, world and dungeon design is mostly pathetic. Not only are players constantly confined by walls, corridors, and gaps in the infrastructure, they’ll also be inhibited by sheer cliffs, impenetrable forests, and static bodies of water that will actually leave them unconscious if they wade out too far. In other words, players are wholly confined to a set path whilst in dungeons, and they have very little real estate to explore out in the wider world. This linear approach makes it easy to find and grind your way through the game, but it also makes for unsatisfying, tedious bouts of play.
Even worse, the side quests in Nier are about as bad and meaningless as those from the worst RPGs from yesteryear. Taking quests from various towns’ people will have you collecting herbs, playing postman, even going on an egg hunt. You’ll be going back and forth between discovered zones looking for all manner of objects, none of which really impact the main storyline. The most you can hope for is to be compensated for your errand boy tasks with gold. Disappointingly, the monetary rewards are often mediocre, meaning you’ll be forced to take on loads of these side quests just to raise enough money to purchase some of the better weapons and items needed to progress through the main story. Really, all these side quests do is pad the length of Nier so that it feels more like an RPG and less like an action adventure.
Ironically, there is no true leveling mechanic in Nier, however. So the game is hardly a true RPG. Players will see that their character does receive experience and will level up, but they have no control over how he grows. In this way, Nier feels very much like an action title, though it certainly doesn’t have as much diversity of character growth as the best examples of the genre do.
Additionally, the combat in Nier is quite weak. That’s because it is essentially a button-mash hack and slash, punctuated by magical abilities. No matter how strong the protagonist gets, you’ll never unlock interesting combos. All you’ll have to do is tap buttons or hold for charged attacks and let the animations render. Further contributing to the dull combat are the umpteen, regenerating Shades. These minions are faceless obstacles that serve little purpose other than slowing down your progression. Sure, some carry shields, some attack in groups, some even wield magic, but none of them is particularly satisfying to kill.
In fact, there are several other annoying bits in Nier. For starters, rummaging in the dirt for material collection is completely unnecessary and wastes a lot of time, as is fishing and harvesting. Also, the ridiculous, foul-mouthed companion you’ll meet early on, Kaine, is a poorly constructed character. Finally, the visuals in the game are not up to snuff. In addition to confined level design, the towns, dungeons, and wilderness areas are stark and unpolished. In many ways, this game looks like a high-def PS2 title.
Nier is a game that will undoubtedly appeal to a handful of RPG enthusiasts because of the interesting story that is told. But, for almost everyone else, this is a slapdash effort that fails to make good on its promise and falls into a pit full of worn-out RPG conventions.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
There simply isn’t enough detail in the environments, and the character designs are simplistic. Fortunately, the magic effects are decent. 3.7 Control
It is very easy to make your way through Nier due to the straightforward control scheme, but combat is boring as a result. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The musical score is excellent. The voiceover work is quite good. 2.2 Play Value
The story is rich and engaging, but gameplay is little more than a chore. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.