I have a love/hate relationship with gaming, in that I am a moron and games know this. I can’t count the number of times I’ve missed an opportunity on an amazing game, and allowed it to slip through my fingers because I’m too simple to see the genius I’m holding in my hands. I did it with the original Thief games, I’ve done it with Majora’s Mask, and I’ve done it with NIER. Until recently, I’ve only corrected one of those mistakes, and my adoration of stealth games is a testament to the brilliance of
Thief. This year, I was lucky enough to cross another missed opportunity off my list, and it’s not the one you’re thinking of.
If I asked you about NIER, you’re reaction would likely range from “Huh”, or “What?”, or perhaps some indescribable string of syllables meant to convey confusion. NIER didn’t have a very long selling run in North American before fading into obscurity, and couldn’t be found on most popular gaming stores shelves thereafter. This is a massive disservice to all fine purveyors of the RPG, as NIER is very likely one of my favourite games I’ve played recently.
NIER was a spin off title from the Drakengard series released in April 2010, though you’d never know they were set in the same universe. Set over one thousand years in the future, you play as Nier, a middle aged man looking to cure his daughter Yonah of a devastating disease known as the black scrawl. This disease covers the inflicted with ominous black runes, is incurable, and fatal. Now content with watching his daughter die, Nier encounters an ancient magical book named Grimoire Weiss, and embarks on a quest to find the sealed verses and save Yonah. The story does descend a bit from there, as there’s a great deal of exploring you can do in the game, and it can be difficult to pace the game enough to keep interested, but to fix this, the developer made Nier a kindly man who wants to help all those around him, and so you often have tasks to complete around town in the way of side quests.
Admittedly, the side quests are cute, but tiresome and only a slight distraction. Almost every quest has you gathering materials for one villager or another, and half the materials can be bought to complete the quest. Coin is ample, and so completing most tasks is rarely more complicated than finding the right person to sell you what you need. In addition, the completion of a certain quest grants you a garden which you can use to grow plants and sell for even more coin. It’s a quaint distraction, but a shallow one none the less.
The main crux of the game is the quest for the sealed verses, mystical passages of Grimoire Weiss, which unlock new powers and bring you closer to saving your daughter. To find these, you must hunt a faceless evil which has consumed the land known as shades. The combat system revolves around melee combat and dark spells cast by Weiss. The controls for this game are surprisingly responsive and simple, and I have very little issue getting the character to do exactly what I need him to be doing at any given time. Rather than boosting your stats upon level up, you do slightly more damage and your spell power increases slightly, but most bonuses come from Words.
Words are collected at regular intervals by defeating enemies, and are used to augment your weapons, spells, and body. Certain words might increase your sword’s attack power, which others cause your magic to cost less, and some allow you to dodge faster. Unfortunately most Words you get are objectively better than others, and your Words can be applied to as many valid swords or spells as you want, meaning you’ll typically lack variety in the Words you use, typically telling the game to give you the optimal Words and leaving it at that.
The characters of NIER tend to be slightly hit or miss, with Grimoire Weiss of all people carrying my interest throughout the story. Nier, for all his love of helping people, comes off as a naïve fool, and Kainé seems to be more interested in finding new ways to swear rather than build a compelling character. Little known fact: though it is never mentioned within the game itself, the developer has reported that Kainé is actually a hermaphrodite, though I feel this could have been used to grow the character more, rather than simply imply it mildly. Of course Yonah plays the apologetic daughter with the affliction, who also loses my attention as she feels more interested in apologizing for being sick than ever building a solid character, though she often performs small favors via side quests and communicates with Nier via letters she writes him.
The biggest treat by far to take away from NIER is the music. The tone of each scene and area is beautifully set with an accompaniment that rivals the orchestral tones of Destiny. Coupled with decent graphics for its time, the melodies in NIER properly capture a grandiose sense of adventure and wonder.
The greatest tragedy of NIER sees to be that it was relegated to “cult classic” status within North America, and so it’s very difficult to find a copy without resorting to online retailers such as EBAY or Amazon. I you ever find yourself looking at this game on a shelf or online, I couldn’t recommend it enough, and for those of you who enjoyed NIER you might be pleasantly surprised to find out that Square Enix is currently in the process of making NIER: automata, though details are light at this time.