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Score: 78%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Cavia
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
Nier is a game that triple dog dares you to love it. And every now and then, you will. But every time you settle into a groove, the game throws a curve ball squarely at your expectations. Nier is not a disaster. It's not doomed to be remembered as one of this generation's worst role-playing games. In fact, I'm convinced it will become a cult classic. You will admire Nier for its triumphs and resent it for its failures. The good news is that there are more triumphs than there are failures.

A good first impression could have made all the difference with Nier. Instead, you're dropped into what you'll initially think is the blandest and ugliest fantasy world in recent memory. It's a wide-open world that sports a weird, medieval steampunk feel. If there's anything wrong with the world, it's that it feels a bit empty. There's a reason for all of this, but I'd be doing a disservice to any interested gamers if I explained the setting any further. Nier isn't a technically attractive game, but there are occasionally flashes of brilliance. Shades look really cool, and magic attacks stand in stark contrast to the sterile environments.

Perhaps the developers thought that a phenomenal soundtrack and solid voice acting could fill that void. I wouldn't believe that for a second even if the lead designer told me, but the game's sound design is absolutely fantastic. The soundtrack is rich with haunted vocalizations; you'll eventually notice that a number of themes sound somewhat recycled. It's interesting, because the music is always reworked to fit each setting and mood. Whatever you're doing, the music fits the world of Nier perfectly. The voice acting is solid overall, but the supporting cast is outstanding. I adore Laura Bailey for her role in the FUNimation dub of Shin Chan, but in Nier, she delivers a fiery performance as the unbelievably potty-mouthed Kainé, but Liam O'Brien steals the show as Grimoire Weiss, the sharp-witted talking tome that accompanies the main character throughout his adventure. Starscream and I compared our experiences with Nier, and we came to a consensus on several points. One of those points is that Weiss is essentially Alan Rickman... if he were a magical book. His snide remarks put several cracks in the fourth wall, and his presence actually makes the game seem oddly aware of its shortcomings. He complains nearly every time the main character picks up a fetch quest and openly mocks Kainé for being as hardcore as she is.

Nier casts you as the most physically hideous human hero in gaming. Mix Heavy Rain's Ethan Mars (played with the right choices) with Oddworld's Abe, and you've got Nier's main character. The game lets you give him a name of your own choosing; the instruction manual simply refers to him as "The Father." His daughter Yonah is suffering from a mysterious illness called the Black Scrawl. On top of that, the world in general seems to have its back to the wall, with the lands being infested by ethereal monsters known as Shades. Dad's just an honest man who does whatever he can to help people, and Yonah is at the top of his list. A chance encounter with a legendary entity starts a chain reaction that has Dad off to save his daughter and the rest of the world as well. If you're interested at this point, know that the story does not get off to a good start. The first eight hours suffer from extremely poor pacing. However, around the halfway point, a major development takes place, and the story becomes absolutely fascinating. Nier also occasionally handles some delicate subject matter, but it does so in a mature and thought-provoking way.

One of my biggest issues with Nier is that it just doesn't know what it wants to be most of the time. The game cribs from several different gameplay genres, and some of the design choices might shock you. It starts off as a Zelda-esque action role-playing game, but before long, the game starts to mix things up. For example, one dungeon starts off as a standard hack-and-slash puzzle dungeon, but once you find a minecart, it becomes a top-down twin-stick bullet-hell shooter. One sequence brings back memories of early survival-horror games, and another hearkens back to text-based games (although the mechanics are simplified). There's not a lot of consistency in Nier, save for the fetch quests, which permeate the entirety of the game. While some of them help connect you with the world, most of them aren't that great. If you're not a fan of this kind of stuff, the first half of the game might put you off.

Nier is many things, but I wouldn't refer to it as difficult. There are Trophies that require you to slay individual bosses within a minute or two, and they're not at all impossible to earn. Enemies don't die hard in the slightest, and even the final boss is something of a pushover. As long as you enter each dungeon with a full supply of Medicinal Herbs or Health Salves, you're good to go.

Nier can be completed in about sixteen hours. I clocked in at about twenty, but I didn't even come close to completing all the quests. Furthermore, Nier's story has four endings, and Cavia's approach to this is actually quite clever. If you want to see everything there is to see, this game will last you a while.

Game Mechanics:
The Father's home village acts as Nier's hub world. All of your experiences in the field lead back to the village; it's where you'll pick up and turn in most of your quests (story-related and otherwise), and it's where your trusted friends Popola and Devola reside.

Nier's combat system is a hack-and-slash affair that doesn't require much in the way of reflexes or strategy. You've got a standard attack button for each weapon, but you can also break down your enemy's defenses and defend yourself. Grimoire Weiss also acts as a conduit through which the main character can use magic attacks. Each time the main character kills an enemy, he absorbs the spilled blood. This bizarre process restores his magic points. All of this is functional, but it lacks finesse. The biggest problem with the combat has to do with knockback; every time an enemy hits you, you'll think you're watching an episode of Dragon Ball Z.

There's a layer to the combat system that deals with passive abilities. Fallen enemies drop useful items, but every now and then, they will drop Words. Words can be slotted into weapons, martial arts, and magic attacks. They provide statistical boosts and occasionally add status attacks to your weapons.

I can't fault Nier for being ambitious, but I also can't help but wish that all of the disparate gameplay elements coalesced into a smoother package. In the end, you've got to ask yourself: can you give up sixty dollars and several hours for a really fantastic closing act? If you can answer that question, you'll know if Nier is the game for you.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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