There’s been a recent rush of RPGs on the console scene over the last couple of months, some better received than others but none have really made that huge impact that was expected of them. Now Nier, developed by Cavia and published by SquareEnix, tells the tale of a sick little girl and her father’s quest to try and cure her of the ailment. Can this one jump out of the RPG rut?
Nier is an action RPG with a big emphasis on exploration and adventuring. The main character, called Nier, must search for some secret books where the magic within may or may not cure the illness his daughter, Yonah, is suffering from. Things do not start here though. Initially the game throws the player in to a bleak situation, where another father and child are fighting for their lives. Set over a thousand years before the main quest, rather confusingly you are thrust in to the slaughter of hundreds of enemy “shades” (the prominent bad guys in the game). The player could be forgiven at this point for asking “Is that it?” It does little to express what the game will become, what lies ahead to be experienced, and really goes on for far too long.
This first glimpse at the game may also question the graphical quality of the title. The drab colours, weird enemy models and poorly textured backgrounds seen at this early stage could perhaps even damage the perception of Nier. It’s not the graphical power-house that we’ve seen in Final Fantasy XIII, but don’t let the first twenty minutes of the game fool you into thinking it’s all this ugly. As Nier travels on his journey, there are many different lands and areas to experience, from junkyards to rivers of sand, encountering vast and expansive locales with plenty of nooks and crannies to scavenge in.
Once the game skips to present day, the player takes control of Nier in his home village. The homestead covers a fair chunk of space, but actually there are only three main areas of interest: Nier’s house, the library where confidant Popola lives and the market street where various weapons and items can be bought and sold. Getting between these places is quite a trek, but get used to it; travelling by foot is something you’re going to be doing a lot of. Without any form of instant travel, getting anywhere in the game can take some time, even at the Usain Bolt speeds at which Nier runs. It isn’t too off-putting as random combat can sometimes be avoided if the player doesn’t stop to hang about, and also there are shiny sparkling things to discover and scavenge littered about the place.
Along the way Nier can take on side-quests from many of the NPC characters in the various towns and villages across the world. The majority of these tend to be fetch quests, finding certain items and returning them to the client once obtained – it’s worth just taking these quests as exploring the areas encountered through the game will provide the fulfilment of the tasks just by playing through the story. There’s absolutely no need to dip into these if the goal is to simply get through the main narrative, but for those people looking to get the most out of the game, there is a lot of eating here to be done. Nier even gets his own mini Farmville task, which is being able to plant seeds in his garden and nurture them to flower and harvest.
There shouldn’t be too much to worry about in terms of dying and seeing the game over screen. Although inventory is limited to carrying ten healing herbs, combat with enemies often sees them dropping cure items, which keep you stocked up. It would have been convenient to have some kind of white magic to top-up health as some areas provide no such drop and you can end up running a little low on energy.
Combat itself consists of melee and magic attacks. Two spells can be assigned to the two trigger buttons and Nier can duck and weave, as well as dishing out some punishment to those that get in his way of saving his daughter. The fighting can feel a little hit or miss, sometimes the player can find himself knocked to the floor and immediately pummelled again before he can properly get up for a smack-down. There are ways avoid this, such as blocking and countering, but the best way of all is just to not get hit by keeping the combos flowing; there are achievements for fifty and a hundred combos if you can chain for that long.
Eventually Nier will meet up with a few companions who journey with him through the rest of the game. The first and earliest of these is Grimoire Weiss, one of the sacred tomes and a source of magical power than Nier can utilise. You’d not be blamed for thinking this part was read by Alan Rickman, because the vocal characteristics are strikingly similar. Weiss is a bit of a cynic, arrogant and completely aloof, making the conversations between him and Nier as you travel and take on quests funny and interesting. Weiss will often question the pointlessness and triviality of the situation, but Nier with his kind heart and single-minded candour will brush this off and stride forth regardless.
Another character that joins the team later on in the game (and with this a very minor spoiler) is the scantily-clad hermaphrodite Kainé. It’s after meeting her for the first time that you realise this game really isn’t aimed at a young audience – the language that drips out of her mouth certainly wouldn’t feel out of place at a Roy Chubby Brown gig. It's questionable as to whether there’s a story-driven element that really justifies much of it, so if you have delicate ears and are easily offended by bad language, this might be a title to avoid. Kainé will join in the fighting of enemies and will get a few kills here and there, but it’s really still down to the player to take up the majority of the combat, particularly when it comes to boss battles.
Encounters with the big-bads in the game can be fun or tiresome depending on how it’s viewed. The player will need to hit the weak points of the large bosses, and these battles normally play out across three stages or so; slashing away until they finally fall can take some time. There are achievements to be gained by beating these leviathans under the developer’s par time, but they seem to be tight-deadlines and hard-earned badges of glory, yet there are certainly some interesting looking bosses and plenty of variation on how to defeat them.
The character development elements in Nier takes a bit of a back seat in the game, and if you’re not that inclined to pursue this aspect of adventuring, it can be left alone. Those who do like to delve into this part of RPGs aren’t going to find extensive statistic listings, but there is the ability to tweak magic and weapons with words. Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote the phrase "The pen is mightier than the sword" in his play called Richelieu. In Nier, words are collected from fallen enemies that can be assigned to weapons and skills, boosting their effectiveness by small amounts, so it almost rings true here.
Other than the heavy amount of travelling needed in Nier, there are a few more minor niggles that blot the landscape a little. At times the camera angle gets set in a fixed position and pulls out for a wider view; whilst this can give an idea of scale, often it really doesn’t give the best position of the action. Some of the platform sections can get a bit annoying at times too, with the odd double-jump that takes a good bit of precision to get right – and there are also areas of the game where it’s necessary to follow an NPC that crawls along at a snail’s pace.
Apart from that, Nier is an enjoyable action RPG that will certainly appeal to those that like a lot of freedom in their adventuring. Whilst it never really strays very far from the action RPG mould, relying heavily on combat and running about for much of the time, there’s plenty to do and see, especially if taking the time to complete side-quests and explore the environments. If you find this genre of game appealing, then Nier is likely to satiate your appetite for a while.