If you were one of the few but proud that played NieR when it made its way to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 back in 2010, you’re probably still talking about it to this day. The version we got in the west featured a different protagonist than the original Japanese release, known as NieR Replicant, and was ultimately dubbed NieR Gestalt to differentiate it. Gestalt’s lead is much older and more traditional in design for western audiences, due in large part to pressure from within to appeal to tastes outside of Japan, but now, thanks to NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…, we can experience the game as creative director Yoko Taro intended.
The fact that we’re getting a much ballyhooed release of the updated and remastered NieR Replicant is all because of the immense commercial and critical success NieR Automata enjoyed when it launched in 2017. As amazing as that game was, I imagine even Square Enix was surprised by its reception, and it really served to launch Yoko Taro toward becoming a central figure in the global perspective of Japanese game devs. Now that we know more of what the creator and his team are all about, we’re ready to experience NieR Replicant with fresh eyes.
While there are certainly many differences between the two, those who played Automata will be right at home when they fire up Replicant. The world your protagonist and his ailing sister Yonah inhabit is beautifully designed but not overwhelmingly open. There are a ton of guideposts along the way and navigation is a cinch, but it’s contained enough that most players will memorize the paths from point A to B to C and so on pretty quickly. Those open spaces and the focal points of interest scattered around them have plenty of items to procure, wildlife to farm for ingredients, and enemies known as Shades to battle.
Combat in NieR Replicant is pretty straightforward. Beyond the new weapons you can purchase and find along the way, the protagonist meets a sentient book called Grimoire Weiss early on in the proceedings. Much like the Pods in Automata, Weiss floats right above the shoulder of the player and helps in combat by firing off increasingly powerful magic attacks and even providing the occasional hint upon request. Normal enemies can be taken down with simple melee combat—or even more quickly and efficiently with well-timed parries in the mix—and bosses present their own challenges that are always fun and rarely if ever truly frustrating.
In addition to leveling up your character—which is easy as it’s something that just automatically happens as you fight more enemies in real time—there are a bunch of Sealed Verses to find, which unlock more spells for Grimoire Weiss. You’ll also acquire various Words on the fly, which can be applied as modifiers to your weapons, combat abilities, magic, and movement to improve your repertoire incrementally. There’s a lot of nitty gritty customization you can get into, or you can just automatically set Words to be the most effective combinations possible in each available category. The power, as they say, is yours.
I briefly mentioned the main character and his sister at the top of the review, but all you really need to know about the story is that your quest starts out with the goal of curing your sister’s dire illness. Where it goes from there, including all the characters you’ll meet along the way and the diverging paths the story can take as it heads to its conclusion, is best left to everyone to discover on their own.
At this point, when the name Yoko Taro is thrown around everyone expects something “weird.” It would be doing the NieR series a disservice to boil it down to something so basic. There’s something intangibly special about the way it feels to run around in these worlds, whether you’re fighting enemies or just exploring and taking on side missions, which somehow even manage to make most fetch quests enjoyable. A lot of it has to do with the art direction, but it also owes a great deal of its appeal to the infectious music of composer Keiichi Okabe. Like Automata, Replicant is full of ethereal and otherworldly vocal flourishes and beautiful, swelling orchestral themes. It’s the icing on what is a very, very delicious cake, and it all comes together as both a fantastic introduction to NieR and something that will satisfy those wanting more—including all those lovely alternate ending possibilities—after long since devouring NieR Automata. Recommended.
Publisher: Square Enix