When I first booted up Platinum Games’ critically-acclaimed Nier: Automata, I went in expecting hot anime babes and funny robots. Instead, what I got were existential dread and crippling depression. Nevertheless, in the genre of action JRPGs, it is truly a genuine masterpiece (read our “2B or Not 2B” Review of Automata here). What was originally planned to be a fluke sequel to 2010’s Drakenguard spin-off Nier became the most successful entry in the series.
Ever since, I had wished for a remake/remaster of the original spin-off Nier (Released as Nier Replicant/Gestalt for Eastern and Western audiences respectively). It was initially developed by Yoko Taro’s studio Cavia. Since the studio had several failed projects in the past years, it was their last chance to redeem themselves. Despite its rather ambitious plot and an array of appealing characters, the game was met with several criticisms due to its choppy and inconsistent combat and washed out visuals, making it Cavia’s wailing cry and it was eventually absorbed into other divisions of Square.
Years later, now with the success of Automata, Square Enix and the Toylogic have finally sought a middle ground to revitalize Yoko Taro’s original vision for Nier. This new version is not a remake or a remaster, it’s a version upgrade as Yoko claims himself. It has been named ver. 1.22474487139.., which is actually the non-terminating value of √1.5 (That’s oddly clever of you, Square!). It comes with small yet subtle changes that make up for a huge difference. How Huge? Let’s get into it.
Save Your Dearest Despair
The events in Nier follow the fifth ending of the PlayStation 2 Classic Drakenguard, where the earth ends up in a state of decay. 1412 years into the future (following the prologue and 9982 years before the events of Automata) a new species of intelligent life-form coined as ‘Shades’ threaten the very existence of remaining human lives. Their existence has manifested an illness named ‘Black Scrawl’ which has plagued the already abysmally small population of humans. Even in these troubling times, the humans have somehow managed to form strong yet crude-looking settlements to hold out the shades and fight the Black Scrawl.
In this not-so-modern era, the game puts the player in control of ‘the protagonist’ as he attempts to find a cure for Black Scrawl, to which Yonah, his sister has succumbed. Partnering with a talking book known as Grimoire Weiss, he journeys with two other characters, Kainé and Emil, as he attempts to find a remedy and understand the nature of Shades that stalk the world.
The plot of the game has been sub-divided into two major segments. In part 1, you play as the young protagonist, and in the latter part, you play as the adult protagonist. Part 2 follows 5 years after part 1 and contains major decision-making that leads to A, B, C, and D like the original Nier. Beyond that, this special ver. also hosts a fifth super-special ending named ‘E’. While endings A and B can be achieved by casual play-throughs, endings C, D, and E require full completion of all side-quests and weapons available in the game.
Though completion of side-quests and gathering all the weapons is excruciatingly tiresome, the endings do make up for it. The game demands 4-5 subsequent play-throughs to get all the endings. Thankfully you will be able to keep all your weapons and the side-quests won’t be repeated whenever you fire up a new playthrough. Overall the game can be beaten in under 20 hours with a single playthrough, but it’s worth spending at least 30-35 hours if you like to see its true value.
Tagging With The Trio
Though Nier houses a healthy amount of significant characters like Yonah, Devola, and Popola, it is the trio of Kainé, Emil, and Weiss that steal the show.
Firstly there’s Kaine, a fierce warrior whose left half of her body is possessed by a Shade. As she was harassed for being intersex and to prevent further possession by the Shade who is weak against sunlight, she chose clothing that exposes her skin. Despite her looks, she is brash and violent- she’s crude and eats a lot. She wields dual swords – ‘The Blades of Revenge’ and eviscerates any Shades that get in her way.
Then there’s Emil, a boy who lives with his butler in a manor. He is gentle and calm but has a mysterious power that turns everyone he sees into stone. He is guilt-ridden by this power and wishes to be able to one day see the world with his own eyes without turning those around him into stone. He senses a special friendship with the protagonist, who accepts Emil and his special powers. However, he is a bit dense at times when it comes to other people’s feelings.
Lastly, there’s Grimore Weiss, a tome that has slumbered for ages and can miraculously speak the human language. He seems to know everything there is to know about this world, but he has a silly side, which makes his gruff, often condescending persona more tolerable. It seems he has lost part of his memory, so his true identity is unknown.
Since all the characters have been properly voiced in this with no mute dialogues, they feel more authentic compared to the original. Laura Bailey’s and Liam O’ Brian’s performance as Kaine and Weiss respectively is quite noteworthy. Weiss and Kaine being at each other’s neck over the smallest of things make up for some of the best moments I had with the game. Thanks to their well-written character arcs and fateful endings, I won’t be forgetting them for ages to come.
Juggling the Genres
The changes made in combat for the game have completely changed the way the game used to feel like before. Thanks to its super-smooth 60 fps gameplay on the base PlayStation 4, it does not feel choppy like it used to on 7th Gen hardware. It is as fast-paced as Automata, so much so that at first, I thought the combat was a total ripoff of it but that wasn’t the case. The game hosts several fresh mechanics when it comes to its melee and magic combat system with each featuring numerous voice lines from the voice actor.
The weapon selection largely remains in-different compared to the original featuring three types- one-handed, two-handed, and spears. Besides, weapons players can rely on Weiss’s magic abilities and two martial abilities- Defend and Evade. Four slots can be allotted to either martial or magic abilities. As per my build, I had three magic abilities equipped with Evade skills. Using evade you can circle halfway across the enemy and perform vicious attacks. A combination of these attacks allows you to pull off some insane combos and it’s really handy in quickly taking down the bosses for trophies.
Things get even more interesting when the game seamlessly juggles between genres. Whether it’s 2D platforming, DMC-like hack-n-slash, bullet-hell bouts like Cuphead, or classic-isometric style RPG exploration, the game handles everything perfectly without a sweat. It’s almost as good as the way Automata nailed in back in 2017.
However, the only thing that can be a bit let-down is the fact that the game is still pretty easy even on normal difficulty. So, if you like a bit of challenge you can go hard. Also, those who don’t like combat can switch to easy and turn-on auto-battle to skip the combat section itself.
Besides the combat, there’s the world of Nier that except for snow, features every kind of terrain. First, there’s the village where the protagonist stays with her sister and takes up jobs from Popola the librarian, and Devola who sings at the village’s tavern. I would often stop by the tavern to hear her singing, Devola’s cover of the ‘Song of the Ancients’ is truly enchanting.
Then there’s the seaside where you can learn fishing from a master fisherman and do peculiar jobs for an old lady who stays at the lighthouse. You can even do fishing in sand-rivers of the desert near the city of Facade.
The only weird thing, however, is the weather and day-night system of Nier. Throughout my entire playthrough, there was no nighttime and the weather was either cloudy or sunny, nothing more. It can be a bit puzzling for those who haven’t played old PS2 titles of the series. Also, for most of the game, there is no boat available for fast travel. Though after completing ‘Boar Hunt’ the game allows you to ride a Boar (even if Boar-riding is not even a thing), it is mostly restricted to the wilds. But most annoying of it all is the fact that the protagonist can’t swim. Thankfully he does make up for it by being totally immune to fall damage.
More Than What Meets The Eye
On the first look Nier replicant ver. 1.22.. may look like the same 2010 version with a fresh coat of paint and slightly altered texture models, but there’s much to discuss for what lies underneath it all.
Compared to its original counterpart’s yellow-tinted visuals and low-poly character models, this new version hosts a relatively more thematic approach towards its visuals. It features diminished saturation in colors. Its shaders bear a heavy emphasis on Black-White colors and no HDR support. This greatly conveys the theme of sadness the game deals with and provides a solid boost to its overall. Some might disagree on this take but for the genuine series fans, this is a far better option than a fully-fledged beefy remaster.
Its sad and bleak take on visuals is further bolstered by the game’s remastered soundtracks. My personal favorite of it all was the ‘Song of the Ancients’, followed by ‘Emil/Karma’ and ‘Kaine/Escape’. Each terrain also features a notable soundtrack, especially the ‘Junk Heap’ area. It starts off with clinching sounds of robot hands and with slow-buildup it unleashes amazing orchestral beats like the ‘Bombing Mission’ track from FF VII. Nier Replicant is a powerhouse of the amazing soundtrack and a clear winner for this year in the genre.
The Final Verdict
If depression was a genre in video games, Nier lies highly close to Zenith of it all, if not at the top. Yoko Taro’s version upgrade of this 2010’s cult-classic is undoubtedly the perfect way to reminisce what was lost all those years ago. Sometimes it’s better to leave things unchanged if they aren’t broken in the first place and it stands true in the case of Nier. Despite its several flaws, it perfectly manages to address those criticisms from a decade past. Though its current price tag might sound a bit too steep, if you like Automata – it’s a perfect way of re-living the classic you might have missed out on.