An odd ball
Nier is a hard game to qualify and quantify, because for all its successes it has its pitfalls, and depending of the player, the outcome of the experience might range from marvellous to horrific.
The graphics aren't generally worth praising, as they are simplistic and bland, yet coherent with the rest of style and imaginary presented. Although there are some interesting details from time to time, and the game is very smooth in terms of framerate.
The sound department is top notch, with a haunting soundtrack - highly praised - and good interpretations from the main cast. Only some of the dialogue is voiced, with most of the secondary characters' lines presented only as text.
The gameplay is varied. Most of the game is passed as a open world rpg, with some sections inspired by the genres shoot'em up, isometric hack and slash, plataformer, survival horror, and interactive fiction. It is an homage to several styles, yet it doesn't excel in none of them, but doesn't fail at them either. Still there are some parts that are excessive and off-putting, like after a cutscene having to breeze through three different and lenghty short stories presented sequentially and only in text, although you can skip them.
To collect there are thirty main weapons, and some other magical spells learnt as the plot advances. It is also employed a word system, with a use akin to magic runes, that imbue weapons, magic spells, the defence stance and rolling position with new and improved statistics and special bonuses.
The story is unusually profound and demanding. To extract everything it has to offer, it requires a good amount of time and head scratching. The plot is divided in two chapters, separated by a period of five years. To experience everything it is necessary at least one play-through of the first chapter and four of the second chapter, as there are bits and pieces of the story only presented after you finish the game once, and four different endings, accessed through consecutive plays (of the second part) that may or may not have pre-requisites.
Nier features a good and refreshing tale, different from anything seen in this generation of consoles. It is a sad narrative, albeit riddled with a lot of funny moments, especially garnered from the conversations between the members of the party. The pacing sometimes is a little awkward, with things like contrasting attitudes from the same characters in a space of a few minutes, although understandable with the progression, but hard on the senses. The characters are well fleshed and three dimensional, with their personal goals, and behaviour.
A bit off-topic, but still important, is the fact that to full experience the world presented in Nier, you should extend your research beyond the game, into the web and the japanese source-book called Grimoire Nier, of which there exists an english translation project ongoing at https://docs.google.com/View?id=dgvmkf89_228fxgghgg3.
Now some topics worth an in-depth look:
- Side-quests - There are seventy, and none is required to finish the game. Without them the game lasts about 15 hours and with the 100% completion it can last up to 50. These missions follow the norm in rpgs and especially mmos, with an interaction between the quest giver, the task itself, and the quest receiver. The outcome, of taking them through to the end, is generally a welcomed boost into your savings, and a more fleshed out experience, as they help portraying the background.
- Mini-games - There are two mini-games: fishing and planting. It isn't required mastering none of them, although they come into place either with a small part in the story - fishing - or by means of contributing to an achievement. Although neither addictive nor enjoyable, they aren't bad either, just average, with the usual cryptic instructions provided in-game.
- Achievements - They aren't very hard, although they need an obstinate will, as it can take a bit of time to acquire them all.
- Actions permited - Nier can walk, run, jump, dodge, defend and use magical attacks.
- Boar rides - remember chocobos? In Nier you can run atop of wild boars!
- Strange behaviours - the npcs' behaviour is usually strange, with them unable to climb ladders, and respawning right beside the main character preceded by a shinning light.
In the end, Nier's particular visual style, unusual and slow-burning plot, average gameplay and rich soundtrack can make up for an amazing game. On the other hand, for a person scrutinous towards the technical side and with a short patience, it will be terrible. It is a polarising experience like few others.
Nier is an oddball. Ugly, but a cute one.