NIER (Xbox 360) review
"So Nier and yet so...no, I'm not falling to this level..."
When discussing video games as an effective method of telling a story, Nier is an amazing success. While it might start out as the typical action-JRPG trope-fest, spend enough time and those tropes get distorted and twisted until they're no longer recognizable and you're getting thrown from one emotionally-crushing moment to the next, only able to wish for normalcy to return because, man, a mission to avenge an innocent girl by slaughtering the monstrous wolf that killed her shouldn't conclude with me being so bummed that I have to put the game up for a bit.
If only the rest of the game was at that same standard, Nier might have been a legit hit instead of a game that didn't exactly get love from critics, but eventually gained a respectable cult following. But the combat system is quite simplistic, you have to go through some dungeons multiple times to finish the game and, to do all the side quests or see all four endings, all that repetition gets multiplied to such a degree that even the most devastating moments had lost most their emotional impact by the very end, regardless of how effective the game's excellent score is at reminding players of how much they had hurt to watch initially.
It does take a while for things to go from good to blah, though, so if a person cuts things off after seeing the first two endings, their complaints might be minimal. The third and fourth trips through the game really don't offer anything new, other than a new final boss and subsequent choice of two endings, so you'll have gotten most of the meat and won't be enduring extreme padding to get a tiny bit of original content. And it's pretty easy to recommend this game up through that second ending, which is the perfect bookmark to the game's beginning.
Nier, a father trying desperately to protect his sickly daughter to the degree that he's reluctant to even take a small portion of the meager amount of food on hand, makes some sort of deal with a mystical book in order to gain the strength to fight off hordes of enemies in what is a fast-paced combat tutorial where you'll get access to each of the game's spells one after the next, while gaining levels at a dizzying pace. And then it ends and you control…
Nier, a father trying desperately to find a cure for his sickly daughter to the degree she's emotionally suffering because he spends all his time fighting the monsters known as Shades and doing odd jobs for people in order to fund his search. And since the pair of sisters who lead the town are of great help, with one offering advice on leads he can pursue in seeking that cure and the other informing him of available side-quests, there always is work to do.
As he searches the land high and low, he'll visit all the land's communities and dungeons, even gaining allies — a sardonic talking book named Grimoire Weiss; the foul-mouthed, antisocial and barely-clad Kaine and the young lad Emil, who is amazingly optimistic and cheerful despite having to keep his eyes covered because they're cursed to turn everything he gazes upon to stone.
But things change. One day, Emil stumbles into town warning of a really big Shade approaching. And while Nier and company are trying to fight off this seemingly-unstoppable behemoth, a very human-like Shade abducts his daughter. In the end, Kaine is turned to stone by Emil in order to keep the giant shade locked away, while Nier is seriously wounded in the conflict.
Cue a five-year time-skip. Nier is now a stronger warrior and, with the help of Emil and Weiss, quickly releases Kaine from petrification. The quartet has one goal now — rescue Nier's daughter from that humanoid shade, known as the Shadowlord. To access his abode, though, they need to obtain the five pieces of a key, generally having to kill very powerful shades in the process.
It doesn't take long for the revelations to start coming when you reach the Shadowlord's castle. A few key characters perish in very dramatic fashion after it's explained how things really are in Nier's world and those revelations are proven true when you take on the Shadowlord. Subsequent trips through the game begin at the point after the time-skip when Nier, Emil and Weiss free Kaine from her stone prison. And, in light of those fact-bombs dropped on you in the Shadowlord's castle, you'll now get to hear the dialogue of certain important Shades, as well as see cutscenes showing their lives before their paths and Nier's fatally cross.
Suddenly, those glorious victories you had during that first trip through the game become something way different and far more depressing, taking the concept of poor (or non-existent) communication killing and gleefully running with it, regardless of how many brutal blows your psyche takes as a result. Like I said, killing that monstrous wolf became a feat I no longer could celebrate. And that wasn't the only such encounter; this game is determined to make you feel like a monster and it damn sure doesn't fail in that.
If that's all a person would be enduring over those repeated trips through the game, it'd be an easy recommendation. It's pretty rare that a game's story actually affects me emotionally and this one did so repeatedly. But after a while, I just wanted to skip all the stuff happening between cutscenes and boss fights because I was so damn tired of it all.
Combat is handled via a simple system where you have strong and weak attacks, as well as the ability to set two of about eight or 10 spells to the shoulder buttons. You'll collect a number of weapons in the categories of one-handed, two-handed and spears and be able to upgrade them if you collect the proper resources. While some of the game's many side-quests are enjoyable, many of them are little more than potentially time-consuming fetch quests. Or involve a fishing mini-game that would be really boring if not for the minor detail of the game not really explaining anything pertaining to it remotely well.
For a good portion of my first trip through the game, I found melee suitable for wreaking the more common shades, but tended to utilize magic against bosses and other powerful adversaries. Going after the other three endings, though, I only seemed to use magic when directed to by the game. Upon beating the game once and starting back up, you'll still have all the power you finished the previous run-through with, making virtually everything become child's play. You'll now have a simple combat system and the ability to kill bosses so quickly that it takes a concerted effort to keep them alive long enough to hear all of a given fight's dialogue. In a word: Dullsville.
And anything annoying in the game will be multiplied to infinity when you have to do it repeatedly. Those block-pushing puzzles in the Lost Shrine? Super-tedious! The really long cart ride in the Junk Heap? Not fun! That sequence in the Forest of Myth where you have to read an ungodly long story and answer questions about specific bits of it? Experience the sensation of damnation! The first time through, these things can be excused as either "meh" or a temporary misstep; but when you then have to re-do them up to three more times in order to truly clear the game, they become this hellish ordeal that takes away from all the stuff I liked about this game.
Nier is a solid game with some great story-telling attached to it. It's fun to go through once and it's definitely worth it to persevere through the second ending, but there isn't enough meat to justify investing more of your time, even if there are still two more endings to get. After a while, the combat will be too simple and non-challenging, making it way too easy to fixate on all the repetition — whether it be the multiple trips to the same dungeons or dealing with annoying challenges you've had to endure at least once before. Regardless of how much one enjoyed that first trip through it, it's hard to imagine those feelings not fading dramatically long before full completion has been achieved.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (May 03, 2020)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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