ニーア ゲシュタルト (Nier Gestalt/Nier, Square Enix, 2010)

Nier Gestalt is an action role-playing game created by now-defunct developer Cavia (the folks responsible for the Zegapain games on the XBox 360, as well as the Drakengardseries on PlayStation 2). This was, in fact, the last game by Cavia before it was disbanded, and thus serves as a sort of swan song for a company behind some of the quirkiest games of the past two generations. But Nier Gestalt(known in the US simply as Nier) is not just an object of interest because it was the last project by a minor studio with a small but avid fanbase. It is also an excellent game. I'm trying to moderate my praise here, but what I really want to say, what I really feel about Nier is that it's not simply one of the best games on 360, it's one of the absolute best games I've ever played in my long history as a gamer, and is absolutely worthy of standing on any list of classic RPGs next to all-time greats like Panzer Dragoon Saga, Chrono Trigger, and Persona 3.

Before I go any further and devolve into a quivering mass of praise, some quick background info regarding the development of Nier might be necessary. Nier began as a PlayStation 3 title whose protagonist was a young man in a post-Apocalyptic future (a lot of games seem to have that sort of setting recently) seeking a cure for a terminal illness killing his young sister. At some point early in its development, it was split off into two versions. The 360 one was created to target American gamers and the protagonist was changed to an older, much burlier man, protecting his daughter instead of his sister. Other than this change in protagonist, the two games are almost identical (one has to wonder why the developers didn't simply institute a character select at the beginning of the game, letting you choose between the older and younger protagonists). The PS3 version with the younger protagonist was released in Japan as Nier Replicant. The 360 version was titled Nier Gestalt. The other major differences are that the 360 version is entirely dubbed into English, even in its Japanese version (and if your language settings are set to English, you can play the game entirely in English form, which is how I played through it), while the PS3 version is dubbed into Japanese and has no English option. Confusing matters further, when it came time to give the game an international release, the international PS3 version replaced the young protagonist with the older male, with the idea that this character would be the more appealing archetype to Western audiences. As such, unlike the Japanese PS3 and 360 versions, the international editions all feature the older male as the lead playable hero. Thus, Nier Replicant really is a Japanese "exclusive" game in every sense of the word.

Onto the game itself. As an action RPG, Nier has been compared to everything from Zelda to God of War. What it most resembles, however, is a mix of traditional action RPG mechanics mixed with a bullet-hell shooter, especially in its boss fights, where you'll see boss characters spamming projectiles which you'll have to dodge, duck, and weave through. Nier himself fights with a sword (at the game's midpoint you also get access to two-handed weapons and spears) as well as magic he receives from a sentient grimoire, thus being able to do a bit of "bullet hell" magical projectile shooting himself. The game is a smorgasbord of pure gameplay. Some dungeon sections play like classic 2D vertical shooters, while other dungeons are set up to look like classic isometric platformers like Land Stalker. Through it all, Cavia's love for playing with video game tropes shine through (there's even a "haunted mansion" that's all fixed camera angles deliberately meant to echo Resident Evil, and even text-only portions of gameplay that remind one of ancient PC games such as Zork). These geeky, knowing winks and plays on genre and modes of play, all streamlined and perfectly executed by the very talented developers at Cavia was probably missed by the majority of reviewers who judged the game solely on its (serviceable) graphics and focused on the optional sidequests available early on in the game (which admittedly can drag the game down if you focus on solely doing sidequests for hours on end instead of actually playing through the game's main story).

I've focused so far on the gameplay, which is excellent (I have actually seen people point to games like Bayonetta and complain at how "limited" or "shallow" it is in comparison - thus absolutely missing the point as the games are two wholly different genres), but a special note also has to be made for the game's art design (which is suitably creepy and perfectly appropriate for the setting), music (easily the best music of any current-gen game other than possibly Mass Effect 2), and voice acting (in a word, perfect - perfect casting, perfect performances, and so good that it makes me cringe when I think of bigger-budgeted games such as Star Ocean 4 which feature such subpar voices that they actually manage to bump the game down several notches).

I haven't even started talking about the story yet, and for good reason. The way Nier's story unfolds (and you will want to watch it unfold and replay through the latter half to get the multiple endings) is a perfect example of storytelling discipline (giving players only the necessary information instead of inundating them with pointless encyclopedias of useless factoids that do nothing but distract). All you really need to know, all you really shouldknow, is that Nier is a father desperate to save his daughter's life. Let the story take you to its ultimate destination and marvel at the fantastic world Cavia created.

If you haven't already noticed, I love Nier, and I think, if you like video games at all, that you will love it too. One of the very best games of this generation. I give it my highest possible recommendation and hope you give it a try.

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