There is a disease upon this world. An unstoppable plague that has stifled the human race’s development. Ruins of our previous accomplishments lay strewn across the land, whilst we huddle together in small groups simply trying to feed our loved ones. Reduced to a frail husk of what we used to be, regressing almost to the point of extinction. Can we ever rid our lives of the shades that hunt us? Will we ever cure the Black Scrawl that haunts us? And will we ever rebuild to the heights of our predecessors? Why does NieR Replicant hold a special place inside my gaming heart? Let me take you on an adventure filled with love, devotion, perseverance, naivety, futility, and heartbreak.
The World of NieR Replicant
Nier was the very first game that I played that really got me invested in the RPG scene. I loved how the game made me feel. With its atmospheric soundtrack, a story that is simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking, with real relatable characters with real motivations. Now I have had the chance to go back and experience that again. Not only as a more developed gamer but also as an older, more experienced person. And I was not disappointed.
Slamming my way through the shade infested world felt dynamic and satisfying. The story was ambiguous, convoluted and somewhat confusing. Just as the Nier franchise is known for. The boss fights were grandiose, interesting, and lavishly engrossing to pulverise. NieR Replicant was mostly a complete marvel to play through.
“What a Curious Power Words Have"
Tadeusz Borowski – Tongue Twister in Human Form.
In NieR Replicant, Grimoire Weiss acts as the main character’s main companion, magic caster, and long-range weapon. He also serves as the primary way in which you upgrade abilities. His power comes from the contents of the words he has inscribed inside him. (He is a magical floating grimoire after all. The only problem is, he has lost his memories, which are represented as words. See where this is going right?
As you slay enemies, Weiss will slowly ‘remember’ things, this is portrayed as unlocking new words. These words can be used to enhance abilities. The longer you play, the more of these words you unlock. I find it a remarkably interesting mechanic, one which I have not seen replicated. Ha. See what I did there? Replicated? Replicant? No? Pah! Peasants.
“An Original Idea. That Can't be Too Hard. The Library Must be Full of Them”
Stephen Fry – National Treasure in the Making
I played the original game quite substantially. Having said that, however, NieR Replicant has shown me that there was so much that I never discovered of the original. So much so that it feels fresh to delve into. I was not aware that there were multiple endings or extra content for replaying the game ten years ago. This made picking up the remake more important to me, so that I could fill in some of the gaps in terms of story, and of course, get to sink my teeth into even more Nier gameplay.
The combat has been fine-tuned in NieR Replicant to resemble more closely that of NieR Automata. This was a wise choice as the original combat system would not have aged well. Things that do age well: wine, whiskey, Keanu Reeves, brandy, the never-ending DFS sale. Things that do not age well: fresh milk, ‘your mum’ jokes, my hairline (stay tuned for the inevitable mid-life crisis special), and dated video game mechanics and systems.
I mostly loved this game but playing it has helped solidify for me just how far we have come in game design. Especially regarding quest structures, transitions, and character development. There is nothing more banal than a quest that tells you to “find X amount of this”. And unfortunately, this game is rife with this kind of thing.
Coupling it with the lack of a real fast travel system makes for some incredibly mediocre gameplay in between all the awesome bits of gameplay. Especially for people like me who NEED to tick every box, complete every collectable, talk to every NPC, and act as a game-lore sponge as much as humanly possible. You will replay areas, complete fetch quests, run back and forth, fight the same enemy groups, and yawn. I am so grateful that video games have evolved over time.
“To Improve is to Change; to be Perfect is to Change Often”
Winston S. Churchill – Car insurance mascot Hero
The improvements that have been made to the original game have been incredibly well-received. I love that companies are taking note of what we want when it comes to remakes/remasters/re-imaginings. NieR Replicant thankfully mostly follows suit and offers up a slew of improvements over the original.
The most commendable of course is that of the combat. Having the combat system reflect that of NieR Automata makes a lot of sense. Not just for a modern feel for the game, but it also helps to couple the two games as part of a coherent series. The combat is a little slower, heavier, and more precise than what you may have come to grips with in Automata. This makes sense from a mechanical point of view, however, as we are no longer nimble, high tech androids that can calculate the speed of evasions at breakneck speeds anymore. We are simply human.
The most noticeable on the other hand is that we are playing as a completely different character. We are playing as the dashing, young, brother main character, not the gruff, old, daddy Nier that we played as in the original western release. I am still not exactly sure as to the reasons behind this. My best guess was that it makes the whole main character and Kainé ‘will they, won’t they' dynamic more relatable to those who are fresh out of the 2B and 9S experience of Automata.
Adding to the immersion are improvements such as a massive visual upgrade, most NPCs now having voices as opposed to walls of text, we can now lock on to enemies and dash around the environments, and an expanded and revisited soundtrack by the original score’s composer.
There is also additional game content comprising of both originally cut content and new content that bridges the story between the two games. No spoilers here though. These lips are sealed tighter that Weiss’ sealed verses.
All these changes, additions and enhancements mostly make this game worth playing over the original. The things that have not been changed however has Replicant falling a little short of a masterpiece.
“There is no Friend as Loyal as a Book”
Ernest Hemingway – One of the Original Influencers
If there is anything to take note of from any of my blogs, this is the most important thing to ever learn about me. A good voice acting performance can truly make or break an experience for me. The original Nioh for example, had some great English voice acting. I loved that game. Nioh 2 on the other hand, some very cringe-inducing English voice acting, and the main character does not even speak. That ruined that game for me considerably.
NieR Replicant absolutely nails the English voice acting though. I freaking LOVE Liam O’Brien. Voice actors such as Troy Baker and Nolan North may absorb all the voice acting limelight these days. Rest assured, there was a time that Liam O’Brien towered above all others. In NieR Replicant he has reprised his role as Grimoire Weiss, but you may recognise his celestial voice from roles such as Asura (Asura’s Wrath), Gaara (Naruto), War (Darksiders) and many many many more.
If I could afford to hire Liam O’Brien to just accompany me everywhere and narrate my life, you best believe that I would rack up an extortionate amount of debt doing so!
Mostly Mostly Mostly…
As much as my heart sings for this game, there are some things that niggle at me and stop this from living up to my immaculate memory of the original.
The improvements that have been made to the original have by no means gone unnoticed. If anything, I have nothing but praise for what they have done for the original Nier. The improvements should not detract from the negatives here. However, there is no escaping the fact that NieR Replicant, is in essence, an old game. With underwhelming quest structures, repeated areas, no fast travel, a mediocre sprint, a fishing mini-game that makes no sense etc this game is like riding a snail in a horse race.
Kainé (a member of your team) is scantily clad in what seems like sexy negligee. The reasons behind this are scarce at best. In NieR Automata 2B was in a dress that could have been a bit longer, but it was tongue in cheek, and she is an android that is seemingly been around for thousands of years. Kainé on the other hand is a 17-year-old human girl. Well, half-human. This makes seeing her dressed in such a way incredibly awkward. Her potty mouth also seems incredibly misplaced.
There's an amazing performance by Liam O’Brien. Unfortunately, it does cast a shadow over the main character and Kainé. They are not bad VAs by any means, but the voices and characters do not seem to marry well for me. The main character sounds too similar to 9S from Automata and Kainé sounds like a middle-aged chain smoker.
Reuniting with one of my all-time favourite PS3 games has been a humbling experience. I was one of the few people who seemed to play Nier when it was first released way back when. At this point, I have fond memories of trying to convince people to play it. Most of the time, failing miserably because everyone was still very much so consumed by the tired turn-based RPG tropes of the time. I may very well have been the person who fangirled the most when a remake was announced. I adore everything about the Nier franchise.
This “version up” is mostly well-received. The fetch quests and fishing are not why we play this game. We play it for the interesting characters, the heartwarming stories, the intricate plot, the narrative that fills you with adrenaline, and the sheer hope that we can (as heroes should) bring a semblance of peace to the characters and locations we grow to love. But as I am sure you are aware by now; the world this franchise is not known for happily ever afters.
If you have not already purchased both Replicant and Automata, then expect me to be kicking in your door with my copies in hand, foaming at the mouth and ready to force you to experience them like a rabid dog. Do not test my unrelenting dedication to this franchise.