With the recent coming of Nier:Automata to Xbox Game Pass, the time would seem to be ripe to have a glance back through history to the first game. As luck would have it, 2020 just so happens to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Nier’s release. So, come with me to a world where monsters and robots cross paths, where modern ruins are everywhere, while primitive villages flourish in their shadow, and a father is desperate to find his daughter. Yes, let’s go to Nier World!
While doing research for this piece, I discovered an interesting fact about Nier. Nier is not, as I always believed, a standalone game, and instead it was spawned from one of the possible endings of Square Enix’s Drakengard series of games. To be precise, it is a follow-up to the fifth possible ending of the first game, which apparently saw the Earth reduced to a state of decay. The events in the game of Nier take place 1000 years after these events, although the start always had me confused. You see, in the prologue, Nier and his daughter, Yonah, are taking cover in a grocery store from a snowstorm. They are attacked by some shadowy monsters, and after he defeats them, Nier goes to check on Yonah, who has a bad cough. The game then cuts to 1,312 years in the future, but Nier and Yonah still appear to be the same age. Was it a dream? Was it some kind of suspended animation?
Anyway, in the future, Nier and Yonah live in a village built on the ruins of an ancient town, but all is not well in their rural idyll. Yonah has a sickness called the Black Scrawl, and there doesn’t seem to be any cure, essentially making it a death sentence. As any father would, Nier sets out on a journey to find a cure and save his daughter’s life.
Obviously, it’s not going to be that easy, and this certainly proves to be the case as the game progresses. Luckily, Nier doesn’t have to do this alone, as quite early on he meets a talking book called Grimoire Weiss. Yes, you read that right, a talking book, and quite a snippy, sarcastic one at that. The book suggests that teaming up might be a good idea, as it has powerful magic, and between that and Nier’s weapon-swinging prowess they may well make a good partnership. With the roads between the various settlements populated with Shades, which attack travellers on sight, Nier agrees this may be the best course and they set out together. With the addition of two other companions, a foul-mouthed swordswoman named Kaine and a blindfolded boy named Emil, whose eyes can literally petrify anyone who sees them, the odd bunch hit the road. After some wandering, their hometown is attacked by a giant Shade, the Shadowlord, who not only has his own talking book friend, Grimoire Noir, but also kidnaps Yonah after a titanic battle.
From here, the story gets really weird, with androids, replica people (called Replicants, funnily enough) and souls separated from bodies. It turns out that not only are we not who we thought we were, but neither is Yonah or the Shadowlord. And then it gets very odd. There are multiple endings that are possible to witness through a variety of playthroughs, and in one of them, the game deletes all the progress you’ve made, as if you had never played it. Honestly, this ending was a bit of a shock to me, as you can imagine, and came about after I sacrificed Nier’s life to save Kaine. This act not only erases Nier from the other characters’ memories, as shown in a cutscene, but it deletes the save that you have been playing. So if you do decide to play this game after reading this or playing Automata, just be warned. Interestingly, the start of the sequel, Nier:Automata, is based on this choice happening and Nier being deleted from history.
So enough about the story, as I don’t want to spoil it any more than I have, and let’s move on to the way the game played, and the way it looked. Dealing with the elephant in the room first, Nier looked awful, even by the standards of a decade ago. It was muddy, the world was more brown than any other colour, the character animation wasn’t great, and overall it had a lot of things wrong with it.
But the beauty of the game, the hook if you will, was the way it played. It was really unlike any other RPG I’d ever played, and was certainly a long way from the Final Fantasy games that were a large part of my decision to buy it in the first place. You see, seeing “Square Enix” and “RPG” on a game box was pretty much a guarantee that I would buy it, as this proved. Anyway, with Nier, Square Enix decided to push what an RPG could be, and in this they were certainly successful.
The majority of the experience comes across as a third person action RPG, with the camera sat behind Nier as he combated various baddies. But sometimes, when he entered a building for instance, it would change to a side-scrolling platformer. From there, the boss fights were sometimes even stranger. I’ll never forget squaring up to a big bad, only for the screen to morph into something resembling a top-down shooter. This threw me for a brief moment, as you can probably imagine, but once I was into the swing of it it was genius.
So these then are my memories of playing Nier. With the recent announcement that a remastered version is due to be developed for Xbox One, along with PS4 and PC, it appears that time has not only not forgotten Nier, but has in fact made it into one of those rare games that seems to accrue more popularity the older it gets. The only other game I can think of that has this same kind of cult following is Deadly Premonition, and so I am excited to see what the future brings. But how about you out there in readerland? Did you play Nier? Did you love it as much as I did, or did the more melancholy mood of the game put you off? Let us know in the comments!