NIER Review (PS3)

Nier, it turns out, couldnít have positioned itself further from expectations of a Square-Enix console release if it tried. Sure enough, the convoluted plotline, colourful fantasy setting and stereotypical character design may pledge themselves to deceive in pre-release screenshots, but everything changes once you see this thing move - and more importantly, talk.

Initially set in the year 2049, our titular hero opens his quest as a bedraggled survivor of a near-future plague, holed up in a partially-destroyed shop with nothing but his weapon, a mysterious book and a terminally ill daughter to protect. These opening sections introduce basic combat and movement tutorials, before transitioning to a fantasy village some 1300 years into the future. Yonah - Nierís daughter - is still afflicted by a creeping dark illness, and with nary a mention of the previous section, weíre off to find a cure.

Stereotypical? Slightly.
Character design is outlandish.

Nierís playground is, essentially, Zelda in all but name. Various towns and dungeons are connected by fields and deserts full of items to dig up, monsters to hunt and fish to catch, whilst exploration away from the beaten path affords access to unique and rare items. Lying somewhere in-between Shadow of the Colossus and Twilight Princess aesthetically, this is a land that begs to be explored in spite of low-rent texturing and occasionally shoddy animation. NPC characters are plentiful and engaging, towns are alive with quests and distractions, changes in scenery frequent and welcome.

But itís not just a simple slog through a Hyrule-inspired landscape. Power weapons have to be earned, discovered or upgraded with materials, whilst XP and levelling bonuses allow for a contemporary twist on difficulty. Basic combat follows suit, with swiping melee attacks building into advanced techniques as enemies become more demanding. But, never straying too far from the well-beaten path, at Nierís heart is a simplistic control scheme, with one button to stun, another to attack, a trigger to block, and a trigger to dodge - all of which is enough to sustain even the most complex of combo attacks late in the game.

As a primary attraction of titles in the genre, each of Nierís dungeon sequences is designed with atmosphere and beautification first, gameplay and puzzle design second. But that isnít to say they donít work, quite the contrary in fact. The fast pace of combat and simple navigation distil these set-pieces into manageable chunks, whilst brain benders are kept to a consistently average skill level. Even those fortresses that seem incredibly complex during an initial fly-by often prove themselves to be linear, and those that offer separate paths usually cut one short to limit frustration and backtracking.

Combat is simplistic at times.
A merry bunch.

And if that was all Nier had accomplished, it would be a solid if unremarkable title that could easily find a home on both major consoles, considering the 360 and PS3 only really have Darksiders to boast as any real competition in the genre. But, thanks to a string of self-referential jokes, inventive mechanics and a willingness to step into adult territory, it ends up entirely its own beast.

As an example, Nierís camera system constantly shifts throughout the 25-30 hours of main campaign. Entering a building or predetermined combat area forces the walls to become transparent whilst the action switches to a side-scrolling perspective, and yet other times the player is suddenly thrust into the midst of an isometric Diablo-esque battle or FFVII dungeon crawl. Perhaps the most memorable moment is the introduction of a Resident Evil-style spooky mansion, complete with subdued colour palette and extremely familiar fixed camera positions.

These are knowing references, implemented with a cheeky nod to the original material and a reverence for all things gaming. Even the magic system adheres to a principle of lifting from elsewhere and polishing to fit. Magical orbs - often released by boss characters and some of the more deadly enemies Ė project outwards from their source in patterns, swarming the screen in waves that suddenly turn the action into a variant of a Bullet Hell shooter. The skillset required to beat these sequences is resolutely that of a shooter rather than an RPG, and that willingness to play with convention ultimately rewards the audience with a varied experience.

Magic plays a heavy role.
Cute dogs!

And thankfully, the same playful spirit is carried into both voicework and plotline. Muscle-bound and well-intentioned lead Nier bounces off a snarky and intelligent companion in Grimoire Weiss, with the latter producing some brilliantly entertaining voicework and quick-fire quips. Even scantily-clad and foul-mouthed clichť Kaine comes under fire for her attire, suggesting the developer certainly understands the ridiculousness of most female character design, whilst ultimately stopping short of removing such material entirely.

As an action-RPG, perhaps there is a better option available if youíve yet to play through Darksiders, but Nier still manages to stand on its own accomplishments Ė as varied in mechanics and quality as they may be. For that reason alone, Iíd suggest giving it a try.

Top Game Moment:
Listening to any of Grimoire Weissí quick-fire attacks on Kaine



By ALiENZZZZ (I just got here) on May 15, 2011