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Nier is an average game at best, which is why it's so strange that I fell in love with it.
- Utterly bizarre and engrossing story, great dialogue and character interactions, very cool boss fights
- Action is pretty standard and is broken up by jarring gameplay changes, mandatory mini-games and fetch quests, strong visual design marred by poor texture work
It may not be the prettiest or most polished action-RPG experience available, but Square Enix's Nier is still a fun title in its own right, creatively melding hack-n-slash gameplay with traditional RPG elements, and topped off with a bizarre yet engrossing story.
Price$ 109.95 (AUD)
Nier is an average game at best, which is why it's so strange that I fell in love with it. It's a really strange feeling: there are numerous things about Nier that I found completely irritating, and yet, I was completely enthralled by it, becoming more engaged the more I played. Nier bills itself as an action/RPG, but really, it's a 3D action game that makes use of well-known RPG elements. It's about a mercenary in a fantasy setting trying to help his daughter deal with a bizarre disease, which is why I was thrown for such a loop when the game's opening screens were accompanied by a litany of cuss words, and the prologue/tutorial involved a hobo squatting in a subway station beating up computer monsters.
If you think I'm joking, I'm not: the game really is that bizarre. Things only get more so from there: the dystopian fantasy setting finally emerges, and soon the hero finds himself accompanied by a talking, magical book of death and destruction, fighting through a bizarre and intriguing world made of remnants of the modern day. You'll eventually earn other companions like Kaine, a foul-mouthed swordswoman with a hilariously impractical outfit (which becomes much more uncomfortable to see once her "secret" is revealed) and a magic-wielding creature called Emil that looks like it stepped out of a Tim Burton movie.
But for all its personality, Nier is imperfect, and the issues crop up almost from the beginning. The settings are designed well, with beautiful layouts and architecture, but are marred with very ugly texture work and poor color choices. The environment layouts also clashes with your efforts to navigate the scenery. The style of gameplay will sometimes shift unexpectedly as well; you'll be running through a level only to suddenly be thrust into a top-down, classic Zelda-like view or a side-scrolling platformer. This was obviously done to add a sense of variety, but it just makes the game feel disjointed. Boss fights are epic and awesome, but include an aggravating twist where a body part depleted of health must be "finished off" in a set time or it will recover. There are several mandatory, tedious fetch quests and mini-games scattered throughout, including the absolute worst fishing mini-game I've ever been forced to endure.
Yet, strangely enough, there's a lot to Nier that I really enjoyed, too. The hack-and-slash action is fun, though not mind-blowingly spectacular, and it's always satisfying to wipe out a horde of enemies with a powerful magic spell or a flurry of sword strikes. I also found exploration to be particularly engaging; I wanted to see the next locale and meet all the insane folks there. Where Nier really shines, however, is its setting and character interactions. There's a pervasive sense of mystery that flows through the world of Nier. Your daughter's strange affliction, the endless waves of faceless, featureless enemies, the origin of the Grimoire Weiss and your other companions, and the indications that our society once existed in this world kept me playing until the very end, just so I could unravel the mystery. The story is bolstered by the excellent motley crew of incredibly screwed-up personalities that almost never appear in games of this type. They interact constantly as a big ol' dysfunctional family, spouting off enjoyable banter that is wonderfully written, well-acted, and just plain fun to listen to.
Despite its very apparent faults, I personally enjoyed Nier, and I intend to replay in the near future. I found it endearing and enjoyable in spite of the major problems that hold it back. It's like an ugly puppy: it's not appealing to look at and it sometimes makes a mess, but it's got a special quality that makes you love it regardless. Of course, I recognise that not everyone will feel that way, so only invest in the game if you find it intriguing on a personal level. It may also surprise you and find a way into your heart, but it could just as likely end up disappointing you too.
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