Taking inspiration from such diverse sources as Zelda, Resident Evil and any number of arcade shooters, Cavia's Nier is a fascinating hodgepodge of different action/adventure genres. Good combat, great music, and inspired art direction make for a worthy entry in the genre.
- Clever genre-bending elements
- Fantastic art direction and music
- Great boss fights and solid combat
- Repetitive non-boss enemies
- Side quests are boring, fishing minigame is awful.
- Graphics aren't up to modern standards
Taking inspiration from such diverse sources as Zelda, Resident Evil and any number of arcade shooters, Cavia’s Nier is a fascinating hodgepodge of different action/adventure genres. Good combat, great music, and inspired art direction make for a worthy entry in the genre. A very slow start, technical shortcomings and repetitive enemies hold Nier back from greatness, but its eclectic nature outstrips its limitations, if you’re willing to invest in the adventure.
Nier is a game with an identity crisis. So much so that in its native Japan, the PS3 and 360 versions star different protagonists. That's not a concern here, as their 360 version is the only one ported to Western shores. Even so, Nier's constantly shifting genre, tone, and visual style makes it one of the most unique titles in Square-Enix's repertoire and it's a refreshing change of pace.
Beginning in the year 2049, a man is taking care of his sick daughter in a snowy post-apocalypse. After a brief tutorial where they're attacked by monsters, the game jumps ahead 1,312 years later where a similar-looking man is taking care of his similar-looking daughter in a quaint rural village. Determined to save his daughter from "the black scrawl," a mysterious and fatal disease, the father embarks on a quest for a cure.
Expect the Unexpected
What's most noteworthy about Nier is how varied it is, even if it takes a sizable time investment to get there. It gets off to a slow start with simple fetch quests -- you’ll hunt and kill a lot of sheep -- and unremarkable hack-and-slash combat, so one could easily write it off as a mediocre Zelda clone. But if you’re willing to sink the time in, it unravels into a smorgasbord of ideas. At prescribed times, the camera will opt for a top-down perspective recalling Link's original adventure or a twin stick shooter (depending on the scenario). Other times the camera will adjust to turn the game into a 2D sidescroller ala early Prince of Persia, or go for a 3/4 isometric view like Diablo. At one point it even ventures into survival horror territory complete with a haunted mansion and an archaic fixed camera ala Resident Evil. Nier's creative use of the camera drastically alters the feel without changing the controls. This makes genre hopping a more seamless transition than in most games where you suddenly have to learn new controls to say, drive a vehicle or swim. Nier's approach to cross-genre homages is rarely jarring, nor is it predictable. Wondering what's coming up next is among the chief pleasures Nier instills.
No one part is amazing -- save for an incredibly imaginative throwback to text-based adventure games -- but holistically, they come together effectively during the short time they last. The game's pacing is superb, so if you don't like one gameplay style, chances are you'll be doing something else in a half hour’s time.
It helps that combat is a lot of fun, though it takes a while to get to its high points. Melee fighting is rather simple with only a few basic attacks, charge move, and a few different weapons to master. The combat options open up drastically when magic is thrown into the mix. There are eight spells in total, each with their own unique properties and various charge attacks. One lets you slow down time and launch phantom lances at your opponent, another creates a doppelganger of yourself, and one allows you to continuously shoot, essentially turning the game into an arcade shooter at times. There's even a light team-based element as other characters will sometimes fight alongside you. It's nothing you haven't seen before, but Cavia executes well enough that the combat doesn't wear out its welcome in the 20+ hours it takes to complete the campaign.
One of Nier’s biggest standouts are its boss fights. They're uniformly gorgeous, varied, and require you to make the most of your abilities. The only downside to the combat is that there's precious little enemy variety. For the fun that the combat evolves to provide, you fight many of the same enemies at the end of the game as you did in the beginning, only they increase in numbers.
Nier kicks off with a litany of profane yelling that feels out of place, and some of the dialogue is cheesy and takes itself too seriously. At other points, it often borders on a parody, such as when our hero haplessly agrees to help strangers out with errands and his sidekick, a narcissistic talking book, mocks him for taking part in such petty chores when there are larger issues at stake. The overall plot is muddled, straddling the line between intriguing and confusing. Subsequent playthroughs reveal more to the story but that's asking a lot to piece it together. The plot is generally murky at best, but many individual episodes stand out more than the experience taken in whole.
Resident Ico? Shadow of the Hellboy?
When it comes to what we do see, Nier falls short. Technically, the graphics are sub-par by today's standards. It’s riddled with muddy textures and ugly character models and at times looks like a PS2 game. But look past the characters, and there's some inspired art direction on display. Taking inspiration from Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Resident Evil, and Guillermo Del Toro movies, the world of Nier is a mesmerizing blend of aesthetics. Even if the people look jagged and ugly, the environments make up for it. And while the graphics are nothing to write home about, the music is. It emotes just the right amount of haunting, enchanting and rousing for the occasion.
Graphics, sadly, aren't the only of Nier's technical shortcomings. You’ll want to install the game on PS3, since without it, load times are grating. The camera is functional, but slightly unintuitive (though an auto-follow option helps). While much of the adventure is voice-acted, it's inconsistent which lines are acted and which are text only.
Aside from its technical issues, most of the side quests I encountered were little more than rote fetch quests and hardly worth trifling with. Thankfully they're all optional. Also, there's a bit of forced repetition in the game's later third where you're tasked with retreading the same path for the third time. And the game features the worst fishing tutorial since Twilight Princess. Pro-tip: buy bait and try different fishing spots. You'll thank me later.
Don’t Make This a Nier-Miss
Nier isn’t a game for everyone, but it’s still got merit if you’re willing to dig past tedious fetch quests, an incoherent plot, PlayStation 2-era graphics and some wince-inducting voice acting. Underneath those, it’s an undeniably different take on action role-playing games. Its great musical score, distinctive approach to genre-bending, stellar art direction, and a progressively improving combat system help to balance things out. If you’re a dedicated fan of action/adventure games, you might do well to keep pressing on. Nier may not be clear what it wants to be, but by borrowing the best elements of other games it carves out its own unique identity as one of the most imaginative adventure titles in recent memory.