Nier ReviewGreg Knoll
Following a mammoth release like Final Fantasy XIII, it's easy for other games - even under the same developer-to fall victim to overshadowing. The buzz isn't as loud, the advertising not as aggressive and the company's overall efforts committed to one and not the other. Nier was a perfect example. Rightly so, perhaps, given that it's a new endeavor for Square but it's still somewhat disappointing. Nier was a game I'd never seen a commercial for, never given the opportunity to pre-order or read one shred of news regarding it yet in many ways, it was far superior to its overrated counterpart.
All because of one simple, integral element: heart.
The upside to a new franchise is that it allows bravery. You can try different things, and aren't committed to a strict set of rules-that when veered from-could possibly upset and discourage a loyal fan-base. And because of that, it allows you to create something that is simple and powerful at the same time. You simply have to build a new world, not build upon it. Telling a story once again becomes the prime objective, and no company does that better than Square.
Nier is their shining example. It starts out on a mysterious note. The camera pans around a seemingly lifeless city, with every building broken, split and covered with snow-even in the middle of July. It centers in on what looks to have been a school, inside your main character-Nier-sits on the floor, his head bowed, obviously fighting an unavoidable sleep. A bout he loses, and his head falls one more time, with it the iron pipe he was clutching in his frail hand. The clang of metal upon stone rouses him, and he turns his attention to the lone book laying at his feet. With a curse, he kicks it across the floor and wearily returns to his guard duty, his attention shifting to the front double doors. As if on cue, strange, massive creatures that somewhat resemble golden binary code with appendages manifest directly from the ground and charge forward.
Dismissing his earlier lethargic stature, our hero rises up, and-at the behest of you - wildly begins swinging his pipe until the creatures are no more than bloody stains upon the pavement. He stands poised, ready to battle on until a cough from behind the bookshelf draws him away. On the other side, his daughter Yonah, looking even more tattered than her father with an exact replica of the book he kicked earlier. When he rushes to her, she oddly apologizes for being sick and presumably attracting more attention. Despite his earlier callous nature, Nier's demeanor shifts and he comforts his daughter with surprising compassion, then tells her to remain where she is while he goes to find her food. But before he is completely out of earshot, he cryptically warns her not to touch the book, no matter what.
He rushes out, and seemingly unable to take his own advice when a second wave of the binary creatures-Shades-leaves him beaten, crawling towards that very same book, begging for more power, all in order to save his daughter.
His wish is granted, and he stands renewed. The book floats at his side and the game introduces you to the second aspect of Nier's combat system: the magic. Seemingly endless spells of all variety, one a massive hand that looks like a mix of blood and oil that stretches straight from the pages and crushes anything in its path. Another hurls massive lances in every direction, which typically embed in the chest of a Shade foolish enough to stand still.
Regardless of my inept knowledge of the combat system, no enemy could withstand such power and I was free to check on the safety of my daughter. When I returned, all she could do was apologize for an unknown reason. And before Nier's very eyes, a strange, black writing crawls over Yonah's flesh and the camera pans to the book at her side.
Whatever she's done is drastic, but no answers as to why are provided. The scene ends there, with Nier clutching her to his chest, crying out for help. Without warning you're forwarded over a thousand years into the future, oddly with the same man and daughter, with no indication as to what happened that day. They both seem to have never encountered it.
The game takes a step back, switching environments from a broken, concrete jungle to a small, humble village that seems untouched by technology. The premise is the same and Nier seems even more resilient to save his suffering daughter. This time, however, he's not simply protecting her from countless hordes of monsters. Instead, he's searching for a cure. The once fierce, unending battles are replaced with an RPG-style village canvassing that has you searching for clues and completing various side-quests for those in the village.
Ones that can grow to be arduous. Most are simply moving from one town to the other, collecting various items or searching for lost people. Outside of your village, random battles occur but nothing compared to the intense action in the opening scene. It can become dull very quickly but the upside is that most of these serve no other purpose than earning money-that of which can be gathered other ways. It's easy to dismiss them, and push to further the story. Yet as grinding as those quests may be, they play a major part. Skipping them is the easiest way for you to miss out on the magic of Nier. In those, the true story is built. You begin to see how cold and unforgiving the world is. How desperate the people are, and how terrified of the Shades they have become. Most are even afraid to leave their homes, so it falls upon Nier to perform tasks that would be simple under different circumstances. He truly begins to take shape as a hero-a real one. He's humble and driven, never complaining or claiming something is beneath him. He rarely shows fear and no matter the simplicity or complications of the task, he's committed.
Though most are for random villagers, occasionally you'll be asked to undergo one for Yonah. Dealing with her furthered my ambition for a conclusion more than any other. She was not like other children with such a heavy burden. I actually liked her. She's unpretentious and incredibly giving despite her sickness. When they find food, she willingly shares it with her father, letting him take the bigger half despite the fact she's famished. When Nier looks weary, she stifles her cough as best she can, tells him not to worry and orders him to take it easy. While he's away on a trip, she plans special meals for him, or practices her singing to surprise him when he returns. Yonah took care of him as much as he did her. That, inspired me more than anything else, to save her.
I wanted to finish it. And as I pushed on, so did the game, almost as though it was following my morale. I returned to the story with a renewed vigor, Nier retaliated with one climatic moment after the next. Finding Grimoire Weiss and unleashing the magic I had at the beginning. Traipsing through countless dungeons, each with a different theme-from solving puzzles and riddles, to massive death traps that required me to fight for my life all the while leap to safety. At the end, bosses that grew more terrifying and difficult than the last, one made of giant metal boxes with a single weak point that required pinpoint accuracy if I was to hit it with my magic. Another a collection of tentacles that invaded my village, and instead of going through the doorway came right over the wall, oblivious to my attacks on his feet as he stalked his way towards the town's library, where the town's people-including Yonah-had been taken to safety.
As daunting as it seemed, much like it had in the beginning, Nier gave me everything I needed to fight back. With every fallen boss, a new spell was granted. I could summon iron pikes to rip from the ground and impale my enemies. Any that tried to flee were shot down by short bursts of red energy blasting from Grimoire Weiss, hurling them in every direction. When overwhelmed, doppelgangers could be called upon, streaking out in a straight line, sword drawn to slash anything in its path. Yet the more powerful I became, the fiercer the enemies came at me. The bosses growing more mammoth until the final act, and one last bid to save everything from being ripped away.
I no longer cared that the combat was simple, or that camera angles were obscure and mindless. Yes, Nier is slow to start and may have many elements that some deem unnecessary. But it's all to build to one powerful, unforgettable climax-one that would not have had the same sort of impact if there wasn't anything to fill in the gaps. Without them, I would not have connected so fiercely with the story, would not have cared for the characters or the village in such a way so that I was desperate to free them. It was a cold world, without question, but one that I was committed to save. Again, and again.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
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