Cult Classics – Nier

by Andrew Reiner on May 27, 2013 at 09:00 AM

On those rare occasions where I find myself not wanting to play any new games, I retreat to my library to look for a title I’d consider playing again, or never got around to playing when it originally released. There are also games like Dragon Age 2 that I started, shelved, started again, shelved, but never finished. I’m determined to finish it before Dragon Age 3 comes out. For whatever reason, it’s my Kryptonite – and this is coming from someone who routinely finishes some of the lowest scoring games each month.

Once my eyes gloss over during one of Dragon Age 2’s story sequences, my mind often drifts to other games I could be playing. These titles are usually monster hits, like BioShock, Left 4 Dead, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Red Dead Redemption. I also find myself contemplating playing Nier, a little-known action RPG developed by Cavia and published by Square Enix in 2010 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

In Nier, players step into a distant future where humanity is on the brink of extinction. The world is overrun with creatures known as Shades. These vile beasts roam the land, eliminating all life they see. They appear from thin air and take on many forms, some in the shape of humanoids or familiar beasts.

You play the role of a father (named by you), who is seeking a cure for his daughter, Yonah. Her blood is contaminated with an ancient disease that produces black tattoo-like runes across her skin. People call this illness the Black Scrawl.

The game begins with you racing to save her life. What lengths will a father would go to to save his girl? You'll find out as this emotional tale unfolds. With the help of a magical talking book, calling itself Grimoire Weiss, you take the battle to the Shades and anyone else who stands in your way, even humans.

This is a hell of a build up, and the story that follows stays strong, even after snaking unpredictably through many twists and turns.

When I reviewed Nier, I said that it “held my attention for over 30 hours,” yet I was quick to point out that I spent half of that time walking. Fast travel becomes available later in the game, but it's not enough to cut down the amount of time spent running across plains, exploring vast dungeons, and completing errands for villagers. In addition to doubling as a walking simulator at times, Nier runs into problems with some of its side content and puzzles, such as having to read pages of text to solve a strange riddle. That's not fun. As I said in my review, “Nier just needed an editor to cut the fat out of an otherwise excellent game.”

When Nier is firing on all cylinders, its combat satisfies, and is capable of dishing out 100-hit combo strings uniting powerful sword strikes with crazy magic. Your character isn’t the only one doing the fighting. Grimoire Weiss lends a hand…er…page to unload fireballs and demonic slashes. Other companions join your cause, too. Like the feisty Kaine, whose banter with Grimoire Weiss is clever and entertaining to watch. The game offers a robust selection of enemy types, many pushing the player to approach them in different ways – whether it’s full-on combo flurries, stun approaches, or picking away slow from a defensive posture.

Some of the gameplay sequences force unwanted camera switches on the player (such as Zelda-like isometric views for puzzle solving), but these moments are few and far between in a game that offers a wealth of variety in its gameplay. Fishing, farming, boar riding, platforming, and several other diversions are included. I got a kick out of most of them. Weapon upgrading and leveling up are a part of the picture, as well. The gamer offers plenty to get swept up in. And let's not forget the wonderful soundtrack, which has been turned into four official albums. 
The more I talk about Nier, the more I want to play it. I’ve already played through it twice (something that is required if you want to soak in the full story), and will probably give it a third look over this extended Memorial Day weekend. If you’re looking for a lengthy story loaded boiling with intrigue, give it a try, unless you can’t stand extensive overworld exploration and fetch quests. The game is loaded with this stuff.

The Nier video below is from Game Informer's Extra-Life Marathon. Ben Reeves provides abstract commentary to Nier while former Game Informer intern O'Dell Harmon tries to keep things on track: