NieR is often overlooked and I understand why. At the time of release, a lot of the game’s systems were not up to standard and that’s why the original game flew under the radar. And when you compare it to 2017’s NieR: Automata, the conversation shifts towards the sequel, leaving the prequel behind. While Automata’s mechanics are overall better, the original NieR has always had the better story and cast of characters. Hearing Kaine and Emil or Kaine and Weiss bickering stuck with me, ribbing on each other while they helped Papa Nier save his daughter from a terminal illness.
Having good characters is as important to me as the gameplay and if I could compare the two games in the NieR franchise, I’d say while NieR was a character-driven story, the sequel focused on being thematic. I’ve always held out hope we’d see a remaster since playing the original is Nierly(ha!) impossible these days and last year Square Enix revealed they were updating the original.
Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139 is a version up
Well, not entirely. This version is not the same one we saw in 2010. At the time, Square Enix deemed the idea of a brother and sister pair, comical. Series creator Yoko Taro decided to instead, split the experience between the version in Japan and what we received in the West. While the story went as planned with the brother and sister pairing over in Japan, we received the father and daughter scenario.
NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is marketed as “a version up,” neither a remake nor a remaster, and to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the series. With Toylogic helming the project with Yoko Taro, many members of the development team have worked on NieR So now, we’re getting what is essentially the definitive version of Yoko Taro’s brand of storytelling, and one that holds up a decade later.
Combat is refined with snappier controls
Combat was the crowning jewel of NieR: Automata and I thoroughly enjoyed the direction the series went over the prequel. NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139 may not hit the same highs as the sequel does but I appreciate the work done to update the mechanics for today’s market. Nier now moves much like 2B instead of the awkward and settling way he originally did.
In battle, you use both a heavy and light attacked mapped to the face buttons with special attacks equipped to our shoulder buttons. These attacks are supported by the Grimoire Weiss, a magical book that becomes your closest confidant. Weiss can cover ranged attacks and attack modifiers through Sealed Verses, words you’ll unlock by defeating enemies, adding bonuses to your weapons and magical attacks.
Alternatively, each Sealed Verse Grimoire Weiss comes in a few flavours. When mapped to the shoulder buttons, a press of Dark Blast sends out a projectile followed by a wave of less powerful projectiles. If pressed repeatedly, you end up using more magic but you also deal more damage. Dark Lance summons magical lances that are deadly to enemies, with the press of the shoulder button Nier sends out one lance but as you level this skill up, you’re able to charge up to 8 lances at your enemies.
A problem that I’ve noticed is the enemy variety isn’t nearly as large as I remembered it from a decade ago and you’ll often be dealing with the same enemies. Thankfully, the way enemies are implemented throughout the game is a bonus as it feels shaken up enough not to drag the experience down too much. In some encounters you’ll be dealing with a group of enemies in an open field before having the camera shift to a 2D perspective to finish off them off, Yoko Taro knows how to keep players invested and even drops a top-down perspective in the mix to keep things fresh.
A great early example of NieR Replicant’s ability to masquerade between several genres is The Junk Heap. You’re sent there to speak to the blacksmith to strengthen your weapons but he needs your help by going into the factory to retrieve materials. Immediately the perspective goes from one to the other, giving you an all-encompassing estimate of what you’re about to invest your time into.
Perhaps the combat has seen a big improvement but so did the visuals. I remember how ugly NieR was back in 2010 and the topic of discussion was how genuinely ugly everything felt. Environments were drab and dreary and often not even worth spending much time looking at them, and there was a succinct lack of detail before. The new iteration of NieR Replicant has none of that and improves every area and character models, and even the draw distance to a degree. It’s a welcome change that speaks for itself when you sit down and play the game for yourself.
The gang is together again
I’m also happy Square Enix was able to bring the cast together again with the new addition of Zach Aguilar and Ray Chase voicing Nier at two stages of his life. In 2010, I was blown away by how much I enjoyed each character’s delivery. Now, with fully-voiced dialogue hearing favourites like Liam O’Brien as Grimore Weiss and Laura Bailey as Kainé returning, I’m even happier to see them back. You can tell these actors care for these characters, O’Brien’s delivery is some of the best in the business and Laura’s foul-mouth take on Kainé is nothing like you’ve heard from her before.
And since this isn’t a game developer with today’s standards in mind, a lot of the quests in the game feel like relics of the past. While most quests are picked up because Nier is a kind individual, you’ll be relegated to taking on dozens of fetch quests that take you across the map and back often. Some might ask you to find a missing person or to catch a particular fish. Speaking of fishing, catching specific fish leads to a time-consuming minigame that won’t be for everyone.
Keiichi Okabe was brought in to remaster the entire soundtrack for NieR: Replicant and once again, the emotion his work can bring out of you is a testament to how beautiful the music is. I’d even say the music is as important as each character in the game. The thing is though, is the music is sorrowful in such a passive way that hearing it makes you want to cry. Whether or not those tears are full of joy or sadness depends on your mood but the music includes hints of hope that make this, unlike any other soundtrack. A lot of the songs I became familiar with a decade ago have received new variations, helping push the narrative forward thanks to the depth of the sweeping notes.
As for extras, several additions will bring back fans of the original and offer to newcomers. NieR Replicant adds new story content that was cut from the original, which is set in Seafront, a town you’ll visit early on. And for me, this area never felt fully utilized until the cut content was restored, which now adds Episode Mermaid, and adds a new story where you explore a shipwreck. Using both 3D and 2D aspects, you’ll have to make your way through before taking on a new boss. You can also now change costumes for your characters, which is always a welcome feature.
And this wouldn’t be a Yoko Taro game without having several endings to get through. NieR Replicant now has five endings, up from the original four’s A, B, C, D. Ending E is entirely new and was crafted for this release. To unlock each ending, you’ll play through the second half of the game to push through and earn the other endings but progression carries over so it isn’t the worst thing having to play through the game again.
Without a doubt, while NieR Gestalt is my favourite Yoko Taro video game, NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… doubles down on what made the original so good and offers more through expansion and bonus content. The story has always resonated with me in such a way that for me, Automata could never match and the story of Nier, Yonah, Emil, and Kaine is unlike anything in the medium. Nier Replicant is more approachable now and this thought-provoking journey is one you shouldn’t miss out on.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5