LTTP or ‘late to the party’ pieces are opportunities for me to catch up and write about games I missed out on the first time around. They may contain spoilers.
A copy of Nier was sitting on my shelf for well over a year. It was recommended many times on NeoGAF and I’ve seen it rank highly when people discuss excellent gaming soundtracks. So when I saw it for $10 over a year ago, I said to myself:
“Why not? I played and replayed Modern Warfare 2’s campaign for its soundtrack and that wasn’t all that great either.”
Nier isn’t tough to describe but it is all over the place with regards to quality, themes and tone. For example, it simultaneously has some of the best and most grating voice acting in games.
Inconsistent voice acting isn’t a significant unless the poorer performances is coming from a character whom I’m supposed to care for. The run of the mill NPCs in towns generally have corny lines and cheesy voice performances. And when an important character like Emil has similar quality voice work, it de-emphasized his importance to me which made for an awkward moment of me realizing that I was supposed to be feeling sorry for him when a grim moment occurred.
Is Nier a game full of doom and gloom or is it a cheerful self aware romp? Both? I didn’t know in hour one and I still don’t know 25 hours later. The game launched with a humorous excerpt from one of the main characters, Kaine, cussing up a storm directed at Grimoire Weiss, a talking book. It didn’t seem serious at all.
But then the story starts at a very low point where I’m playing as a father who is trying desperately to keep his sick daughter alive. It all seemed very serious until the screen faded to black and transitioned into the actual game itself where everything was lighthearted for a couple of hours and then I had to deal with a mother abandoning her children for a moment. Then I’m riding a giant drifting boar. And then someone gets brutally crushed to killed by a giant robot. It’s constantly switching!
It surprisingly works though. The lack of clear direction enabled the game to meander into weird game homages like the Resident Evil mansion and throwback sequences like the twin stick shooter or text adventure segments without me questioning them.
This isn’t a indictment against Nier, but if you were to tell me Nier was an HD remake of a PlayStation 2 classic: I would believe you. The visuals look like they employed higher resolution PlayStation 2 assets. The music also harkens back to that time where soundtracks were catchy and melodic. I’m not a big fan of soundtracks with lyrics but when the lyrics are from a made up “future language”, it’s okay. It also helps that the vocalist sings them beautifully.
Nier suffered from the same problem that I run into with every action RPG. It started out with a nugget of challenge but within the first two hours, I was already overpowered and dispatching Shades with ease. There were also a whole array of spells and weapons available to me but I never felt the need to change from my one-handed sword and the instances where I needed to swap out my Dark Lance spell were rare.
Whilst the abilities were under-utilized, the game’s locales were reused multiple times. A handful of places were revisited at different time periods but it didn’t offer enough differences to ward off the feeling of repetition.
The main character and his partner, Weiss, acknowledge fetch quests are silly and joke about them but they keep going back to that well. Acknowledging boring concepts is cute and funny but it doesn’t mean that it’s a free pass to use them.
What kept me going through Nier was its story. They did a admirable job hooking me in from the get go. I had questions that needed answers and they continuously seeded out tidbits to keep me engaged. The pay off was worth it despite having one of the major twists spoiled to me by an errant Google search.
They relied on text to convey some of the deeper characterizations which was convenient but like with Lost Odyssey, I felt it wasn’t the ideal use of the medium. I don’t know what they could have done instead but I still felt it was silly that I was reading so many pages of text on my HDTV. I’m a fan of flashback sequences, so I guess they could have gone down that route.
There’s a new game plus mode to Nier that offered more insight to the world and its characters. I immediately jumped back into it and after ten minutes or so, I dropped back out. But then I listened to the soundtrack and got the urged to back in again. It’s this kind of schizophrenia that I have towards Nier that freaks me out.
There’s so much to love about Nier. In some ways it’s one of the most interesting role playing games of this generation. At the same time, there are so many dull design choices that make me dread the idea of going back in. It’s too bad the developer, Cavia, is no more. There’s a lot of great ideas that just needed a bit more iteration to nail down.
Worth a try
For more information on Nier, visit the official website.