Developer: Cavia Inc
Publisher: Square Enix
7111 KB Required Hardrive Space
Dolby Digital/ DTS Digital Surround
Nothing is as it seems in Square Enix's latest action-RPG game NIER. Set in a crumbling world plagued by disease and dark, and unrecognizable creatures, players assume the role of the unyielding protagonist Nier, who is resolute in his quest to discover a cure for his daughter who is infected with the Black Scrawl virus. With powerful allies and a mysterious book, Nier encounters things that will confound even the mightiest of warriors. Sounds great in theory, but how does it play for real?
Quite simply, most fans will notice right away the sparse nature of NIER’s visuals. I was taken aback at how spartan and bland the environments are. There simply is not enough detail and this gives the whole game a somewhat washed out look. Couple this with very simplistic character designs and horrid textures, and this makes NIER one of the worst looking next gen games I have seen in sometime. In addition to confined level design, the towns, dungeons, and wilderness areas are stark and unpolished too. In many ways this game looks like a high-def PS2 title.
The slap-on design seems to carry forward onto the characters as well. Nier himself is quite unimpressive, with very squared off features and a stern look throughout. His daughter Yonah also appears washed-out almost tattered looking most of the time.
Technically speaking I was surprised to find many instances of clipping and screen tearing throughout my adventure. Some areas are so badly affected by the clipping it renders the game unplayable in several scenes. With so many problems I wondered how the Square Enix name made it onto the game. Fortunately, at least some of the magic effects are decent and provide the game with some much needed eye candy.
NIER’s sound effects and voice talent is the surprising high point of the entire game. The music is exceptionally cool and sets the post-apocalyptic mood extremely well. The background score is simply wonderful to listen to while questing, with plenty of choral backings and violin solos. The voice acting is also spot on, and thankfully breathes some life into otherwise lifeless characters. There is even a large amount of profanity from the lead characters throughout the game. It is a bit unnerving as some of the 'potty mouth' dialog comes out of a female, and it is extremely colorful right off the hop. The opening credits feature her swearing away even before the game’s title screen has appeared. Equally well done are the various sounds effects of the game. Everything is represented from birds and horses, to the clang of swords and chainmail. The game sounds fantastic in Dolby Digital Surround and I loved how well the sounds are localized with distinct clarity and volume.
NIER’s gameplay is very simple to master, in fact on a very basic level it mostly involves mashing away at the attack button in order to defeat your enemies. You are also able to wield some magical attacks courtesy of a magical book named Grimoire Weiss, but they are still fairly easy to pull off. I am quite comfortable with the PS3’s controller after an initial 'getting used to' time period and I found the button placements pretty intuitive.
As you progress through NIER's story your goal is typical RPG fare, including building up experience to level up, and although this is great in theory there is no clear leveling system in place. Once your character reaches a certain level it will unlock an additional attack or some sort of magic power. Disappointingly, the game makes the decision as to where and when your character levels. Also adding more strangeness, I found the game emphasized magic over other attributes and you are unable to delegate where you would like to level up giving the game a rather linear feel.
NIER has plenty of weapons each with its own statistics for damage, magic power, and weight. Magic power boosts spell damage, and weight affects attack speed. Once you've reached the forge, you can use random junk accumulated in your travels to level up your weaponry, which increases damage, and occasionally alters weight, magic power, or both. There is usually a balance of sorts, the more valuable and rare the items needed, the better the upgrade. Unfortunately, in spite of the number of weapons available, there are only three move sets.
I found that the two handed weapons are probably the best ones to use. They can inflict huge amounts of damage in some their wide swath attacks. This can compromise speed, although you will learn how to compensate for this during your quest. Spears were my least favourite weapon as their attack is imprecise and it suffers from almost zero damage inflicted. The weapon is speedy overall, but it still doesn’t overcome the lack of power.
In typical JRPG fashion, the best part of the game's upgrade system is also the strangest. After killing an enemy you are sometimes given a "word" to use in a "word edit" mode. Every weapon, spell, and defensive ability can be equipped with up to two words, each of which alters your character in some way. This is usually relevant to what it is attached to. These words can upgrade damage, add special effects like poison and paralysis, or even level up other attached words. It is a confusing system at first, but it does become rather interesting as you learn the language if you will. You can charge up a certain sword or spell to be an incredibly lethal weapon and this can be pretty satisfying once you learn the nuances of the system.
Adding to the whole gameplay experience, NIER also includes a whole raft of mini-games, such as fishing and gardening to name a few. They all have their own relative side-quests, and can also act as alternatives to other quests within the game. While there is a whole lot of well made 'side-quest' content I could not help but note that they can be a bit repetitive and in the end they do not add anything worthwhile to the game as a whole. They seem to be included to make this a more RPG experience.
As I ventured deeper into the game, one problem that I thought was a bit weird was in certain enclosed areas you are forced into a side-scrolling 2D perspective. This effect is somewhat jarring as you are forced to play from a completely different angle. Fortunately, developer Cavia has done a great job of ensuring the controls remain consistent during these instances. Although this change of perspective was strange, I must admit some puzzles were a lot more logical to solve than they would have been having played through the games regular in-game camera.
On a final note, NIER has a quite a few dungeons and forests for you to explore, which is good, but it offers really nothing new in genre, and to honest the level designs are bland and somewhat boring. You will find that you are constantly confined by walls, corridors, and gaps in the games infrastructure. Sadly this means you are again restricted to a set path whilst in dungeons, and they have very little area to explore outside the lines. This linear approach makes it easy to find and grind your way through the game, but it also makes for unsatisfying and tedious bouts of play.
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