Cavia's last (and possibly first) hurrah
Let me talk a little about a feeling I have with certain video games: Beyond Good & Evil, Deus Ex, Fallout being prime examples of this. Whenever I go back to these games, playing through them reminds me exactly why I love playing video games and why I'll always be a fan of the medium in general. While opinion varies on titles such as those, it can be said that none of them are perfect (as hardly anything could possibly be) as each has flaws that can irk just about anyone, but the overall feel of those specific games just envelope me into spending hours upon hours just making my way through them. Nier is the latest game I would place into that category. You could boil down the plot of Nier in a very short phrase: Save the girl, but it's the characters, world and little intricacies that make the plot of Nier engaging for the player.
Talking a bit about the gameplay, it is an Action-RPG where the progression is mostly reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda titles (although not as close of a comparison piece as something like Darksiders). Besides the main story, you have sidequests you can accept from NPCs, a small field you unlock where you can grow your own crops and you can also go for a bit of fishing aswell. The combat is a pretty simple matter of pressing the square button to attack with your weapon, and occasionally using the triangle button to use your weapon-specific ability to dispatch of enemies, you also have a dodge roll and block button and finally you also have magic spells at your disposal which prove handy depending on the situation.
The world in Nier isn't incredibly huge, indeed there seems to only be about a dozen or so actual environments, which you also happen to visit atleast twice during the course of the main game, which is a shame considering that each dungeon has a very unique mechanic attached to it during the first half of the game, but it seems like ideas started to run out during the second half. That said, I don't want to spoil how exactly each dungeon functions, but I can say that there are points where the game will pull the camera back into a top-down view and it will just suddenly become a bullet-hell shooter, and in one of the areas in the game, you go through a series of rooms each with one or more limitations on the player's abilities (such as always having to keep moving, or not being able to dodge roll).
None of the dungeons ever felt like a headache, this might make the game feel a bit too easy for some players, but I like that it kept a relatively smooth flow as a result of that. The main character isn't quite a lone wolf either, as he picks up quite a few companions throughout the game: You have Grimoire Weiss, an ancient book with a bit of an uppity attitude; Kaine, a woman with quite a potty-mouth on her and Emil, a naive young kid who serves as one of the more optimistic members of your team. The character development in Nier is done very well. By the end of the game, you will have plenty of reasons to give a damn about each and every one of your companions, your own character, aswell as certain characters you meet through side-quests and along the main story aswell.
The voice acting helps a great deal in this regard, a few characters might have a couple of spotty sounding lines, but overall the voicework is well done and one of the highlights in Nier. On the topic of audio, the game's soundtrack is absolutely brilliant, with a unique musical piece given to each of the game's areas to help set the mood just right. While I think the main story in Nier is pretty good and gameplay-wise has a good flow to it, I feel like a good chunk of the optional side-quests can be a bit of a pain in the neck, with some folks demanding that you bring them materials which don't drop very often off monsters which don't spawn in abundance. It's a bit of a pain, but luckily that stuff can all be avoided as there is no penatly for turning down a sidequest (achievement-wise it's just about finishing 10, 20 and 30 of them) so the more tedious ones don't need to be wearing down your progress. General length of the game is about 12-15 hours without doing any of the side-quests, and add another 10 or so hours if you're up for getting a 100% sidequest completion. There is also a New Game+ feature for unlocking the other endings (there are 4 in total), and it even starts you off in the 2nd half of the game which is helpful.
Overall, I would say that Nier has it's share of issues: the gameplay feels alright but doesn't have anything too exciting about it, some of the side-quests are just annoying to try and complete, frequent loadtimes due to there being no fast-travel until late in the game and the visuals don't look all that great, but it does make up for those shortcomings by having a generally understandable story which in itself is told pretty well, a very likeable cast of characters who remind you constantly why you like them by way of having small dialogues while the player is traveling around the world (they can be triggered by side-quests, main story progress or other events that happen during gameplay), a soundtrack which really helps set the stage for alot of the events and areas of the game and some fun mechanics to the dungeons the player explores while on his journey through the world of Nier. If you have any interest whatsoever, I would highly recommend checking out Nier, just be warned that there are things about it that take getting used to, but once you do, you will hopefully be enjoying of the best sleeper hits of 2010.