When it was revealed a year ago, there was a fair amount of mystery around Square-Enix’s lastest IP, Nier. The publisher was tight-lipped about any story elements and even most of the gameplay for the game until very close to its actual release. Now that the game has been launched on the Xbox 360 and PS3, it’s pretty easy to see why they stayed mum. Nier is a dull, slow-moving exploit, with simplistic gameplay mechanics, boring fetch quests, and weak visuals. There are some shining moments in the storyline, but getting to them takes many hours and will try even the most hardcore action-RPG fanatics.
Whereas other Japanese RPGs will pit you as a whiny teenager (often an amnesiac) on a quest to save the entire world from destruction, Nier’s story is a welcomed departure from the norm, focusing on an older warrior simply trying to save his daughter from a deadly virus that has taken her over. Everyone in your village appreciates and respects your character, offering him random jobs to help him make ends meet and take care of his sick child, while you begin to uncover the secrets to her condition and possible cures. And all of this while coping with a world on the verge of destruction by dark forces known as shades. The story has some interesting bits mixed in, but it moves very slowly in general, and it takes a while before the plot starts to get good.
The game’s combat is pretty simplistic. You’ll have access to some basic melee combos from your weaponry, as well as some magic spells that you’ll be able to get after attaining the Grimoire Weiss, a book that is supposed to save the world from destruction at the hands (or pages, rather) of the Grimoire Noir. You’ll be able to dodge and block attacks, and spells can be easily mapped to the shoulder buttons. Unfortunately, the game still feels overly simplistic, and enemies rarely put up a good fight.
Nier does some interesting camera work here and there, intersecting the free-roam camera common to action-RPGs with some pseudo-2D platforming moments, as well as going with a top-down Zelda-esque look for some sequences. These moments are strangely compelling, with the platforming scenes feeling pretty fluid and the top-down moments even mirroring some top-down shooter games in both gameplay and look, but they are few and far between. More often than not, you'll be trudging through the game's open, barren expanses without a whole lot going on.
The game’s sidequests are plentiful, but very tedious. For example, early on there is a quest chain that has the player delivering a fragile parcel to another person on the game map. You’ll do this by running from one area to another without getting hit by any enemies; should a single-attack connect, the parcel will break and you’ll be forced to return to the quest-giver and restart the whole damn thing. This is extremely annoying, considering how enemies will literally pop out of thin air to attack you, causing you to restart the whole mission. These sidequests are rarely compelling, and even completists will find themselves scratching their heads and wondering what the point is of finishing them. In another strange move, you can’t get your sidequests to show up as indicators on your map, leaving you to guess where you need to go to cash in on them with only vague clues from the quest-givers.
The game moves fluidly at a 30 FPS clip, but there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t since the graphics are devoid of any real detail. The game lacks the graphical panache of other games in the action-RPG genre, and the drab, colorless environments fall well short of the mark. Nier himself is one ugly looking dude, but some of the other character models look decent enough. However, in terms of technical prowess or art design, the game won’t wow you like other recent Square-Enix games, namely Final Fantasy XIII.
What the game lacks in the visual department, it makes up for in audio. The soundtrack in Nier is excellent, featuring some haunting tracks that do a great job of capitalizing on the game’s general dread-inducing feel. The voice acting is also pretty solid for the most part. Nier’s dry delivery will make you groan at first, but once you get a better understanding of the character you will understand some of the more subtle nuances in his personality, reflected in the voice acting. It should also be mentioned that Nier is for a mature audience, and some of the dialogue is laced with profanity. While it works in the game and never detracts from the characters or the storyline, be on the lookout for some f-bombs from some of the game’s more colorful personalities.
Nier is a missed opportunity. There are moments when the storytelling shines, but those are few and far between in a pretty drab quest-laden game with boring missions and fetch quests. The combat also lacks depth and finesse, and the whole experience just seems to plod along without a lot of reward.