Up until the release of NieR Automata in 2017, the original NieR seemed destined to fade into obscurity. A cult classic since it first appeared in 2010, Yoko Taro’s genre-bending action adventure game was beloved by the few who played it through to completion, but many bounced off its glacial opening complete with seemingly endless fetch quests and limited combat mechanics. As one of the aforementioned fans, I jumped on the chance to get hands on with the brand new remastered update, concisely titled NieR Replicant Ver 1.22474487139… (let’s just call it NieR Replicant from here on in).
Taking the previously Japan-excusive Replicant version of the game – Western audiences got the Gestalt version where the protagonist was a middle aged dad – and fully updating it for the capabilities of the PS4, Xbox One and PC, the result is a game that lives up to the rose tinted memories I had of the original.
Graphically, NieR was always a distinctive title. A standard third person action adventure with a dynamic camera for the most part, it superficially looked like countless other titles during its release window but the more unique twists and turns revealed themselves to players who persevered through this generic opening. Toro’s design choice to use a washed out palette of greys and browns in order to depict the perilous state of the world also contributed to this feeling of the game looking the same as countless others. This colour scheme is retained in the new version, but the improved frame rate and resolution helps everything look much more crisp. The contrast between these muted environments and the vivid colours of magic effects and shed blood ensures that everything is clear and easy to parse, while also keeping an atmosphere of mystery and dread.
Accompanying the action, the soundtrack to the original NieR is one of the greatest of all time and I’m happy to report that this is present and correct. Utilising a mixture of languages to ensure an ethereal feeling, the vocal performance of Emi Evans sounds just as fresh and mysterious as ever. Voice acting in general is impressive with the main players having a fantastic sense of character that suits their bizarre appearance. Grimoire Weiss, in particular, stands out with his sardonic and superior tone, whilst the language of the perpetually under-clothed Kainé remains as fruity as it is often hilarious.
Before playing the new version of NieR, I returned to my copy of the Xbox 360 original and was immediately struck by how clunky it felt compared to my memories of it. The frame rate and muddy graphics were brought into sharp relief upon playing Nier Replicant which is massively more responsive. Playing on PS4, there were very few drops and it feels wonderfully smooth and fast. This makes the Devil May Cry-esque combat shine as you string together combos and fire off magic.
In updating the game for current (well, strictly last-gen) console capabilities, Toro and his team clearly decided to stick to the ethos and feel of the original, warts and all. To this end, the character design of Kainé remains as embarrassingly voyeuristic as ever. Yes, there is an in-game explanation as to why she is wearing a flimsy negligee, but the male gaze in action here threatens to undermine the central themes of grief and despair that the game focuses on.
The early hours of NieR Replicant hold true to the original, so could be just as off-putting as they were back in 2010. Fetch quests are the main order of the day, with a long list of side quests to fulfil to raise money and collect items for upgrading your weapons. While these are optional, they do serve to flesh out the world of NieR and give insights into the characters that populate it. Dungeon exploration and boss fights are where the game really comes into its own, such as with the mechanical background and enemies of the Junk Heap, and the windy and atmospheric environments of the Aerie. These two early encounters in the game illustrate the range of areas you will traverse, from subterranean factories to villages built into the mountains. Each has a wonderful sense of place and atmosphere.
Even with just the opening stages of this game to preview, I can already safely say that NieR Replicant has got its hooks into me again. Given Toro’s characteristic gameplay design of his games needing multiple playthroughs to unlock the full range of endings and scenarios I know what I’ll be doing for the next few weeks, working toward our full review for the game’s 23rd April release.