Nier may require you to suck up a few hours of nondescript scene-setting but it rewards with a dark and moving story that eclipses the few technical flaws.
Set over a thousand years in the future after a cataclysmic event on earth, Nier is a third person action RPG that pit you against ethereal Shades as you strive to save your daughter from a fatal illness.
Though it's easily described as a post-apocalyptic setting, this isn't some eastern version of Fallout 3 with an unlimited expanse of ruin and despair with wide eyed pre-teens dressed provocatively. In this world the post-Apocalypse has long gone and the painful slow decline of humanity is reaching its most desperate and final end.
You wouldn't think this by looking at the environments though. Most are pastoral hills, a bright sea town and a scorching desert city. This serene deception masks the deep sadness that the game subtly works into the narrative. It doesn't pull any punches either with delivering quests that end bitterly or in great sadness. Yet there's no sappy lingering on people's grief like so many Japanese RPGs that we're used to. People die, their loved ones grieve and then have to move on and survive, or go insane.
There's plenty of both in Nier and it helps to frame the experience in its own unique and melancholy setting which cocks most action RPGs into a dark and moody hat. Add to that a range of fascinating characters and you have a recipe that comes together better the further you progress.
The protagonist may look like a typical muscle-bound hero but his brutish looks conceal his passionate love for his daughter. This relationship is the core of the game's narrative as you find out what lengths he'll go to in order to save her from the cancerous Black Scrawl. Though this gives Nier a deep heart the real deal comes in the form of Grimoire Weiss - the patronising yet powerful magic book whose humour and wit give him more humanity than most RPG characters.
The relationship between the arrogant tome, the Hermaprodite Kaine, the boy Emil and the protagonist all feel oddly real. Yeah, the translation suffers a little when you get to the emotional parts but the humour and the friction between them all compensates for any kind of technical jankiness and awkward dialogue. The music is the last piece of the atmospheric puzzle and wraps Nier up in the kind of grade A ambiance you'd expect from a triple A Square title.
It doesn't get away without tarnishing the extraordinary experience with some shaky voice acting and multiple fetch quests. These are enough to put a dampener on the narrative but if you're willing to overlook a few genre staples that have the 'generic' stamp put upon them then by god your in for a ride. Highs and lows punctuate each story quest and there's no doubt this is the darkest narrative to have been told in an action- rpg for some while.
Bad things happen to good people and just as you think a victory is within the characters grasp an horrific event swallows up hope and deals another blow to their journey. It's not all Japanese Straw Dogs as the humour and dialogue between the characters can be hilarious and moving at the same time. Kaine, the potty-mouthed hermaphrodite, blows a shit-hog-like fart into the game, lightening the mood but also offering the most meaningful backstory of the main cast should you wish to pursue it.
But if you want melodramatic pathos then the character of Emil will fill your bleak heart with dark glee. That is, if you can block out the simpering voice acting his tragic story tries so hard to derail. Finally, the most awesome aspect of the entire game has to be the Forest of Myth. Here the gameplay changes so dramatically that you're either going to love it unconditionally like me or be perplexed into a stupor. Hopefully it'll astound you just as much as the inventive boss battles and the occasional perspective changes did to me.
With the possibility of multiple playthroughs revealing more about the characters and the origin of the apocalypse event, Nier offers nearly 60 hours of game should you wish to devote your mind and body to its existence. For those possessing more sanity a single playthrough will set you back 15 hours if you ignore sidequests. It's short enough to disregard Joystiq's pathetic wet-eared moaning and if you just give Nier a chance to shine it can reward you with an understated and moving tale.
Alright I admit - the fishing minigame sucks like finding Kaine has boy bits even if her lace-up-from-behind panties instinctively give you a rise. But that's Nier down to a T. Full of bizarre, sometimes inspired, game design that gives falls into boring quests too easily yet resuscitates itself with an emotional journey that will cut you deep.