The Nier series is one of those rare instances where a series is both a cult classic and a fevered cause of hype and amazement. This happens because those of us within the Yoko Taro fan club will adamantly remind you how good the games are whenever the titles are mentioned, or a new entry has dropped. This is the case for Nier Replicant, wherein Nier fans everywhere have rejoiced at the true definitive version of the game that (sort of) started it all.
Nier Replicant is a remaster of the 2010 version of the game (released as Nier Gestalt in Japan at the time) we received on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms and is a prequel to the oft-revered Nier Automata. What many may not know is Nier is also tied to the Drakengard games, spinning off one of Drakengard’s non-canonical endings into what we have today. Characters dealing with their true selves, existentialist crisis everywhere and just what it means to be human are all common themes in both series, and Yoko Taro is heavily intent to shove them in this game and into the brains of the player. American players received what is lovingly referred to as “Dad Nier,” while our Eastern friends got the effeminate looking male main character that Replicant places front and center. The reason for the change had to deal with executive decisions at the time, where then Square-Enix North American execs thought the frail-looking white-haired boy wouldn’t sell the game in the states, and forced Taro to remake the main character into a more Western-appealing tough guy. Yoko Taro followed, but as those of us who are fans fondly remember, Taro purposely made him ugly as both a form of silent protest and his characteristic trolling. These types of actions, his behavior during interviews and just his overall aesthetic and design philosophy have led to what we here at DEE lovingly refer to as “Yoko Taro Things™.” “Dad Nier” is a fan favorite though, and this game delivers his return in a special mode unlocked after you beat the game and achieve the game’s first ending. It is a fitting tribute to the character, a welcome easter egg and manages to fit into the canon of the series by referring to him as, “The Forgotten Warrior.” Those who have beaten the game and achieved all five of its endings (or the original four from the 2010 release) know what I speak of.
Multiple endings are a Yoko Taro staple, often giving us extended dialogue or new cinematic sequences from other points of view. Replicant originally launched with four in-game endings, and its fifth ending was put out originally as a text-based offering in a graphic novel that released only in Japan. With the remaster, we have been given Yoko Taro’s true vision for Nier Replicant. Not content to just deliver us the definitive narrative version of the game, Taro sought out to also redo the game’s combat system as well. Moving away from the clunky combat the original had, Replicant adapts Automata’s fighting system to allow for excellent combo-based fighting mechanics. With multiple weapons being able to be wielded by the main character, you can switch from a regular sword to an axe and to a polearm all at the press of a single button. Each has their own combos and multiple weapons also have weight disparity depending on if they are a Light, Moderate or Heavy weapon. The weight affects the speed at which Nier can dish out combos and high damage attacks. You’ll also have access to magic courtesy of your floating book, Grimoire Weiss, and the various spells can be swapped in menu. You’ll only really find yourself using three or four of the main unlocks, but there is variety in this system as you combine strong magic attacks with powerful weapon combinations to destroy the hordes of enemies you face.
The enemy design isn’t exactly the greatest: a lot of the Shades you fight are very same-y and you’ll encounter them repeatedly over the course of the adventure. The larger ones take more hits and eventually will wear armor to take more attacks from you. Some of the “boss fight”-type Shades are just lumbering and slow and you’ll be able to Dark Souls the lot of them, evading behind them to slice away at them from behind for plenty of free damage. For seasoned gamers, this game may come across as incredibly easy so you may want to put the difficulty up.
Part of the easy difficulty are the hidden weapons to find within the game. For the most part you can go through the game with the base weapon and be fine, upgrading it as you see fit. Some of the hidden weapons do more damage per hit and will have higher stat value overall. However, you can also simply upgrade the base weapon you start with and be fine to slash through every opponent with ease. You can also equip words to your weapons and skills so that they gain bonus effects like easier shield breaking or less mana usage for your spells. It’s a simple system to follow and work through but isn’t anything grand to write home about. It’s nice that it is there for curious gamers, but eventually you realize you can largely ignore that portion of the menu system.
One of the things I find interestingly curious is that though this is a prequel, it has much in common with its sequel which I also reviewed on this site. I initially walked away from Nier Automata with mixed feelings, and it wasn’t until further reading up on Yoko Taro and his way of designing video games (as well as playing through the game multiple times to get the full story) and his enigmatic behavior in real life that I realized what kind of video game director he is, and why I’ve largely stuck with the games this much. I love all the Drakengard games, and with the Nier games out at their best versions on todays console generation, I can safely say that Nier Replicant is a beautiful video game despite its obvious show of design age. I may have been initially harsh at my earlier review of Nier Automata, but over time my attitude towards the game has largely changed. Both titles are worth revisiting now in all their updated splendor, and Yoko Taro has solidified his spot as one of gaming’s true auteur visionaries. Nier Replicant is an absolute must have for fans, and for those curious enough to check it out, welcome to the wonderful world of Just Yoko Taro Things™.