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Hidden Gems: Nier

Hidden Gems: Nier

This is a tricky one to include in Hidden Gem status because Play awarded Nier 54% back in issue 192 and it’s hard to disagree with the score or the complaints raised back then. If we have a look at what was actually said in the review, it’s pretty much spot-on.

“Early on, Nier is little more than dull fetch quest after fetch quest, broken up by fights of varying scale”

That’s definitely true.

“This is a sub-GOW affair reliant on hammering Square and the dodge-roll command until any given encounter is resolved, with little room for tactics or instinctive kinetic reactions”

That’s also true. It takes a looooong, long time before you unlock enough magic spells and face enemies difficult enough that you’re forced to vary things up and have the actual combat variety to do so.

“Left to save the day is the game’s contextual quirks, a polarising set of sub-features within the world that seem almost engineered to bother the mind-set of the modern Western man.”

Erm… probably? Oh wait, this isn’t a complaint. Sigh.

So anyway. You read all that and you think, so it’s a fetch-quest game with boring combat. Big deal. But Nier definitely has its strengths, even if they don’t translate to black and white reasoning that fit into a punchy bulletpoint list. So time to get a little vague and use more words than necessary to explain the wishy-washy reasons why Nier just works.

The Soundtrack

So this is an easy one to argue. The soundtrack is really good. It just is. No arguing. Early on in the game, you’ll hear tunes like this…

But what it does that’s really cool is it takes the village song above and comes up with different versions and interpretations to fit the scenario you’re in, so it almost becomes the game’s theme as different variations run throughout. The only other game I can think of that’s done something like this – and there are probably more – is Final Fantasy X with its Hymn of the Fayth track, which is heard throughout and is then chanted before the boss battle against Yu Yevon in one of the game’s climatic scenes.

It’s probably my favourite soundtrack for any PlayStation3 game, given Mass Effect skipped release on Sony’s console. We’ll see if Mass Effect 3 changes that…

The Characters

It’s worth noting there’s a significant difference here between the story and the characters. The story manages to stay on track for the most part but also flirts a little too strongly with J-RPG insanity and cliche, so some people will inevitably get turned off by it. Fair enough. J-RPG story conventions are definitely are an acquired taste.

The characters, however, are anything but convention. The two stars of Nier are Kaine and Grimoire Weiss. Kaine is the token sexy-girl-in-sexy-outfit of the bunch with the difference being that she’s a real bitch. It makes a change from the usual damsel in distress attitude, especially when she starts telling the rest of the group to ‘piss off’. There isn’t even an awkward love-angle with Nier shoe-horned in. Thank god.

There might be another reason for that though. Garbled marketing meant no-one knew if Kaine was supposed to be a hermaphrodite or not. In the story, Kaine is possessed by a Shade (essentially the evil spirits of the game) and dodgy translation of the Japanese marketing material means no-one is sure if Kaine is possessed by a male Shade or if Kaine is a hermaphrodite. Just to add to the confusion, it’s never mentioned in game, bar some very ambiguous lines of dialogue and references that could be interpreted as proof or not. No-one really knows.

What is clearer is the role of Grimoire Weiss. He’s Nier’s talking spellbook, who spends most of the game telling you how stupid you are and gets the game’s best lines. Emil gets his moment when he’s transformed to emo-kid who wants the fact he is blind to emo-kid who hates the fact that he’s been transformed into a disfigured skeleton because… well, he’s a disfigured skeleton.

In fact, it’s only Nier himself who lets the side down, offering nothing much beyond the typical ‘father saving his daughter’ gurning and shouting. Still, three out of four is a pretty good ratio

The Second Playthrough – MORE GAMES DO THIS PLEASE

This is why Nier is a hidden gem and sadly, its best feature was one few will have ever discovered for themselves.

When completing Nier, you get a New Game+ option. So far, so usual. What’s different is this one starts from the halfway point in Nier and then offers extra dialogue and story, mostly through Kaine. Her arm has been possessed by a Shade, and the second playthrough allows you to hear what the Shades are saying and the voices in her head as you kill them. Because she keeps these voices to herself anyway, it doesn’t break the narrative but helps flesh it out, allowing you to glimpse life from the side of the enemies you’re killing. As it turns out, they’re not all bad, which adds some nice ambiguity and texture to the overall story.

Better still, there’s extra narrative on the bosses too. For example, one scenario sees you meeting the brother running a weapons workshop outside a ruined scrap factory. He tells you that his brother was killed by a robot inside the scrap factory, piloted by a tiny shade. We then see a flashback from his point of view of a huge crash inside said factory and the brother turning the corner to see the robot standing over his fallen sibling, crushed under fallen metal. Gain revenge for him by destroying the robot and he’ll help you with your quest.

The second playthrough shows that the little Shade wanders into the scrap factory after its mother was killed by humans. It finds the robot, called Beepy, who it becomes best friends with. One day it hears a noise inside the factory and sees the brothers, who are trying to collect scrap metal. The Shade wants to warn them that the area they’re in is dangerous but before it can save them, some of the girders above give way and kills one of the brothers. This sets the events in motion where the brother mistakenly believes the robot killed him and you then destroy both robot and Shade in a misguided act of revenge.

Every boss plays out this way, showing you the alternative side of the conflict and making you reflect on decisions made in your first playthrough. You’re not given a chance to change your ways but then you won’t demand the choice either – Nier shows you an alternative viewpoint on what you have already done rather than asking you to be the moral judge to decide the fate of characters around you.

The ultimate message of the game is that Nier’s actions have doomed everyone, so it’s fitting that you directly doom some characters to their fate. That you don’t know it until you play through it again is where the real genius lies.

Anyway, this is far longer than I planned it to be, so let’s get to the point. Whether this is enough to overcome the mashing nature of the combat, the slow opening and the repetitive dungeons is a call you can’t really make unless you commit yourself to invest money and time. But it should be cheap enough now that if you’ve got an action RPG itch that needs scratching, Nier is definitely worth the gamble. If nothing else, you’re buying yourself a lovely soundtrack…

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  • Adil

    -4 years later-

    I just finished this game and its amazing, If you havent played it, try it!