With the success of NieR Automata a few years back, the time is right for a renaissance of interest in the games of Yoko Taro. It’s taken four years for this to come to fruition, but NieR Replicant is finally available in the West – we originally received the modified NieR Gestalt instead. Whether you’re familiar with the original releases or missed out on them and are looking to catch up, Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is by far the best way to play this cult classic.
Back in the days of the PS3 and 360 those of us outside Japan got the alternative version, NieR Gestalt, which was reworked to suit the supposed tastes of a Western audience by replacing the sibling relationship of Replicant with a father-daughter dynamic. Despite this alteration, there were few real differences between the two versions as the story followed identical paths and it was only the central relationship that changed. Nier Replicant ver.1.22 restores that original pairing, but the more significant changes come in how the game has been refined, smoothing away many of the rough edges whilst retaining the core aspects that make it so compelling.
As is characteristic of Taro’s games, the narrative of NieR Replicant is deceptively simple at first glance. Your protagonist is the elder brother of a sickly younger sister named Yonah who is suffering from a fatal and mysterious illness known as the Black Scrawl. This disease takes the form of the sufferer’s body being slowly taken over by darkness and transformed into one of the monstrous Shades that plague the land. Swearing to do whatever it takes to cure your sister, you embark on an epic journey to explore the world and end both the illness and the wider darkness threatening to consume everything.
This epic narrative expands out from small beginnings in very traditional RPG fashion, but remains ambiguous through several different endings, each one adding extra complexity and detail or providing an alternative perspective. To truly find out the full story you’ll need to finish the game at least four times. Thankfully later playthroughs have you start halfway through the game.
The majority of your time spent in the world of NieR involves third person exploration and combat, with a focus on fetch quests and dialogue. It is here that the game shows its age, with the first few hours feeling particularly dated as they play out at a glacial pace. This is one of the aspects retained from the original and resulted in many players being put off back in the day. At least the improved frame rate and combat system here should ensure that it is less of a chore working through this slow opening and getting absorbed into the unique world that Taro has designed.
For the first half of the game you’ll play as a younger version of the central character with only one handed swords to fight with, alongside magic attacks that you slowly unlock as you explore. At the midpoint you age five years and then have a choice of spears and heavy two handed weapons to add to your swords. This ensures that the combat remains fresh throughout and there is a real level of strategy to choosing the best weapon for different encounters, one that is enhanced by the various spells you have at your disposal. Levelling up and finding new weapons will see you change your equipment at regular intervals, although there are a few overpowered options. Enemies also become more complex and challenging as you progress, becoming more aggressive and starting to wear thick armour.
Aside from the many smaller enemies that populate the world of NieR there are some truly epic boss fights that can often see the game transform from a third person combat system to a bullet hell encounter. The blending and blurring of genres is a continuing characteristic of the game with some surprising twists and turns. Suffice it to say that NieR continually keeps you guessing and throws in new ideas and playing styles.
The various strange characters that join you on your journey are incredibly self-aware and make frequent references to the more gamey aspects of your adventure, such as the repetitive fetch quests and voyeuristic clothing choices. The end result is a game that is always playing with expectations and becoming something far more than the sum of its parts. A major factor in this is the quality of characterisation at play, with your companions being some of the most memorable you could encounter in any game: Weiss the talking book, Emil the tortured child, and Kainé the mysterious ninja-like figure with a dress code as skimpy as their language is foul.
Working through the various endings results in all of these characters being fleshed out and offering their unique perspectives on events, ensuring that even repeated playthroughs feel fresh and rewarding. Add in the deep crafting and resource farming, a surprisingly compelling fishing minigame and all of the extra DLC from the original and there’s a lot of game here for you to enjoy.
The game’s distinctive style looks great in a higher resolution and smooth 60fps gameplay on the base PS4. It is lacking in colour, but this is a design choice rather than a limitation and seems intended to show the perilous state of the world. That being said, there are some glorious vistas and vivid blue skylines on display. Character and enemy models are detailed and well designed, albeit with costumes that may raise more than a eyebrow.
Perhaps the main highlight of the game is the soundtrack, filled with ethereal folk tunes and giving everything a mystical quality. I’ve had the album on my playlist since 2010 so was delighted to hear these songs sounding better than ever.