Nier Replicant

Don’t worry: in this video, you won’t hear any cheap jabs at the game title, or a grinning recitation of each digit following the point, as if to impress. When a software or a game is officially released, historically speaking, it’s version number 1, or “v1.0”.

V1.5 suggests a big revision, a significant upgrade; and since Yoko Taro likes to play with stuff and differentiate himself, he just took the square root of 1.5 and put that in the title. That’s it: that’s all it means. And he called it that in spite of any opposition by the marketing department at Square-Enix.

In Nier Replicant square root 1.5, when you first take control of the main character, you receive a tutorial on combat commands. Now, I Happen To Be An Expert On This Subject, and it’s clear that the game is introducing you to only one of two available attack options: it never mentions the possibility of performing a heavy attack.

It’s unlikely that you’re gonna hear anybody else discussing tutorial prompts, but in a remake dropping 10 years after the first installment, having the game tell you to jump after you’ve been moving around the world for 40 minutes just doesn’t add up. Or maybe it’s necessary for all the noobs – “Hey! Why are you showing my fail? You weren’t supposed to do that.”

As you can see here, the fishing controls have been drastically improved and refined compared to the original version. There are a ton of new lures to choose from and – “Wait, why are you using the footage of me messing up the tutorial 4 times in a row? Why do you keep exposing me like that? Oh, you’re askin’ for it!”

Trivial tutorial prompts may – or may not – be one of the many ways that Nier Replicant takes advantage of your expertise, yet more evidence of how the game is built on industry tropes and stereotypes. It’s a real challenge to not get bored of how side quests are structured, or the many dumb, uninspired errands, which you come to realize are useless unless you wanna waste your time helping random strangers and getting mocked by other characters for zero gain.

If you know anything about the game, you’re already aware that it’s infested by fetch quests – this expression is necessary since it’s so trendy to use nowadays. It makes you sound like much more of a connoisseur. These quests are just a trap set by Yoko Taro for completionists and die-hard JRPG-ers, at best designed to make you reflect on all the time you’ve wasted on other games, and how you’re gonna rely on a guide to know how to play Nier.

It’s extremely easy to label Nier Replicant as a Role-Playing Game, and equally as curious to discover that your character’s Status menu has been relegated to a secondary window you’ll never have to access. The customization factor is very limited: the only thing that’ll require attention now and then is your weaponry. Weapons can be boosted up to 4 levels.

The most powerful weapons are 2 handed ones, but these are costly in terms of weight and have a slower swing rate. Spears have the unadvertised, unintended ability to let you move around faster by exploiting their animation. Look at this: how great is it to spend all your time moving around like this?!

Reviving the mission to collect Sealed Verses alongside “Grimoire Weiss,” your resident flying book companion, you’re able to apply two “Words” to each of your weapons. Obtained by slashing Shades, words are non-consumables, so you are free to swap or add them universally to any weapon you have, at any time.

Magic can take advantage of this kind of buff too. As you advance in your quest, your arsenal of magic grows to include 8 different options. The control bindings allow you access to 4 of them at a time with the dorsal buttons, though at the expense of your Evade and Defend abilities. And that’s not the only change you might think to make; by default, pressing up on the D-Pad will quickly open the item menu.

Right, down, and left can also be selected, each button summoning a different menu of weapons according to their type. By holding down the button, you’ll get the quick-switch weapon function already familiar in Automata. It’s not exactly the most intuitive function, and the opposite actually feels more natural. But fortunately, you’re given the option to flip these functions so you can quick switch by tapping instead – which makes much more sense.

That way, you can easily recall the weapon you prefer in situations that require more magic power, attack power or weight. This would be the smart way to use the tools at disposal, if it weren’t for the fact that the combat, while being acceptable, is far from outstanding. The difficulty of Nier Replicant is simply unbalanced. You can just hold down the light and heavy attack controls to perform consecutive moves without multiple button presses.

Evading is a mechanic you’ll be tempted to abuse due to invincibility frames and the innate ease of strafing to the rear of your opponent. Locking can become an issue if you’re trigger happy. Well, stick-er happy. When locked onto an enemy, you can toggle from one to another by moving the right joystick, but if you have the natural instinct or need to rotate the camera, you’re gonna complicate your life by constantly being locked on.

On Normal difficulty, the game is way easy, to the point where a button masher could easily defeat major bosses with just a couple of swings. A boss fight that would require 9 hits on Hard takes 3 hits on Normal. Performing defend, parry or counter attack is much more tempting on Hard Mode, as it allows you not only to perform more dangerous strikes, but to make use of one of the few strategies capable of carving through all those tanky enemies with fewer headaches.

Don’t fall into the trap of playing on Hard Mode. Not because you won’t be able to change after pressing Start, but because Hard Mode betrays and exposes the fundamentals of Nier Replicant even more. The assertion that enemies absorb damage like sponges is not an overstatement. In late game, armored enemies hardly notice armor breaks or guard breaks, and a boss’s health bar might not seem to deplete even though you’re dealing solid blows.

The natural reaction here is to think that your character is under-leveled, which could still be perhaps. But if that were the case, it would conflict with the provocative, trolling side content, which should exploit the typical behaviors of JRPG-ers: namely, their habit to do whatever any NPC asks in exchange for a reward and character progression.

So, let’s get this straight: Yoko Taro doesn’t want you to waste your time? And that’s why on Normal, progression is quite easy, while on Hard…it’s a necessity? On Normal, you can somehow avoid or at least limit the horrible but intentional, tedious progress system and side quests in order to focus on the main narrative, simply using different magic without worrying about the level of challenge.

Magic is, on paper, a more entertaining support in combat than the limited cold pod in Automata, but this ends up being just a fleeting victory for Replicant when, at the end of the day, it can’t hold a candle to the sequel.

Dark Whirlwind doesn’t appear to be as useful on Hard Mode as it is on Normal. Meanwhile Dark Execution is a smart way to buy some time when outnumbered, allowing you to use a routine you’re gonna exploit in any unbalanced situation: impale your enemy, take it down, and then perform a finisher move. Since Nier refers to many games on various occasions with dedicated dungeons, it’s not far-fetched to think that this routine could be a reference to games like God of War.

The game’s development was consigned to Toylogic, who you all know for titles like this. This is the kind of project that companies consider a perfect fit for less renowned but promising teams, which makes sense. Lower-risk projects are good opportunities to cultivate talent and skills with less pressure to deliver.

A lot of not-so-obvious changes have been introduced to revamp Nier. To give you an idea of the state of the original, development director Saki Ito noted not only how physical and magic attacks were not available at the same time, but how Grimoire Weiss was not always visible on screen, which was unexpectedly difficult to change.

Graphically the presentation is cohered by the art. In Seafront, discrete environments are rendered when they are overexposed in the sunlight, but light sources – of which there are potentially many in a single closed room – exist only to provide some color to the bland palette of this decadent world.

This being the remake of a 10-year-old game that is now not one but two generations of consoles passed, needing to watch cutscenes that are prerendered and lower quality (even just two or three) provides a really distasteful effect. Do we care to think of it as an homage to the tradition of Square-Enix FMV? We can invent this excuse, but production-wise, it’s a step backward. The PC port has a pair of notable issues that simply cannot be justified. Firstly, the mouse cursor doesn’t disappear.

It just sits there conspicuously in front of everything. And secondly, the logic and the gameplay are still tailored at 1:1 with the framerate so you have to lock to 60 FPS externally. But then the game for some reason doesn’t recognize your gamepad, so you have to deactivate Steam Input and inject a dll from an unknown source, using somebody else’s work. And even then, you still notice on occasion, like when you release run or perform evade, that your character automatically executes an attack.

Nier Replicant’s PC port isn’t maybe broken like Nier Automata’s was at release, but if you’re particularly sensitive about the subject, you might have legit reason to think again before buying it. Still, that’s not to disregard the stable 60-FPS framerate. Any occasional frame you see dropping here was due to the burden of recording.

Beyond that, there were literally only two or three instances of really serious dipping: one being a scene where the render distance was quite large and some specific effects had to run simultaneously, and another being on Hard Mode when the game decided to spawn an insane number of Shades within the same small area. Because it’s not enough to play cheap and dirty by surrounding you with enemies at every turn, blind corners included. Why not let them attack when they’ve barely finished rendering? Where are all those heroes saying Hard’s not difficult?

Yet another detail caught while evaluating the AI’s aggressiveness and behavior: a crowded group of Shades will recognize and target your character even if he’s clearly out of sight many meters above them. The only way to explain this behavior is by pretending their agro range and eye sight work exclusively within a specific x-coordinate radius. Even Nier automatically unsheathes his sword in some instances, as if entering combat mode.

It’s a good example of how rough the game can feel at times. The word “outdated” doesn’t apply to Nier simply because of the backtracking or unfashionable role-playing elements. In the game’s 3D environment, your movement is curbed by invisible walls, which materialize when you try to jump over obstacles that should be well within reach. Remnant of an old world-building tradition, it maintains the limited structure of the original level design. Not a bad one, indeed, as some maps that appear underutilized at first start to make more sense as events unfold.

Nowadays, Nier’s trademark camera roll, while no longer cutting edge, is a breath of fresh air, though it is still in no way as impressive, refulgent, or inspired as in Automata. Should you ever hear anyone squawking about the miracle-fast loading times and powerful SSDs that new consoles have, keep in mind that similar loading times have been standard for years: in fact, a modern engine shouldn’t require a loading time when you enter your library.

But with a legacy engine and all the PS4s filled with mechanical hard-drives still out there in the wild, these are the types of compromises you have to deal with even if you have a 2.5 Gb/s SSD.

Not much to say about the soundtrack or musical composition, mainly because there’s already way too many people tearing their dresses in a race to provide the most searing description, a competition frankly not worth entering. The only notable exception to this is the excessive recycling of certain motifs that devalues their meaning and potency. And it makes no sense that you are able to choose between the newly rearranged soundtrack and the… Automata one? Why not just leave the original one in place?

Instead, we have to spend time fiddling with the sound design, one of those things nobody cares about but makes all the difference in the background. It’s immediately apparent that the sound has not been underestimated. The positional detail of what seem like unimportant sound sources resolves any graphical perplexity you may be experiencing in gameplay. Oh… well, if none of what you just heard, or didn’t hear, made sense, just go ask that other YouTuber who tells you every two months how great those new headphones are that he just got.

Nier is a curious case with one great merit. The merit of exposing the fault of humanity. It comes from an era of overrated games that were plagued by technical problems – it’s no coincidence that many PS3 and Xbox 360 games are potential targets for remakes or remasters.

Nier has always been neglected for its lack of commercial appeal and insufficient production, which is aggravated by rigid structure. Still, over time, due to the exquisite nature of its narrative, it has started to gather a cult following – one that exploded with the success of Nier Automata. This reboot arrives under the loud fanfare of bandwagoners trying to ingratiate fans by hailing it as a “return of the classic,” once again, blindly assigning convenient labels and parroting random voices and unsourced impressions.

Nier Replicant is a twisted experience with an impervious wall of 15-20 hours’ gameplay in the first act, a difficult duration for the average user to overcome in terms of maintaining interest, especially in an era where players can receive refunds within the first 120 minutes.

The idea to deconstruct and emphasize some of the industry’s worst practices works in a limited way, but is self-defeating due to its extensive flat implementation: it’s clear that Sakuna is queen of the cultivations, but any meta-attempt still represents real-life time you have to dedicate, and you can just check the achievement trophy percentages to see the number of people with access to the various endings without modern shortcuts, a.k.a. YouTube.

The merge with other design choices is a big factor that ruins the player’s experience. Namely, the way that information, dialogue and specific content plays out on screen, and is conceded to the player, is a key element in a narrative that categorically blasts the majority of popular and highly rated games.

But regrettably, the method for achieving everything this game has to offer only enforces a trite execution of its story. It makes you wonder if it was really necessary, and well, maybe it was – replaying the same game with the incremental addition of context. Perhaps it’s meant to make you further ponder some of the dialogue as part of a more active process, instead of having an information dump in the first walkthrough.

Consider the following statement: “Having to waste hours on repeating the same parts of a game could be a worthwhile sacrifice at least once in your life.” If you agree, Nier Replicant deserves a shot. Though in doing the math, you should also count the time you’ll spend on research outside of the video game. If you’re new to this franchise, Nier is a multimedia experiment with canonic content sketched into novels, Final Fantasy XIV raids, and gacha mobile games. Interested in arguing how great and emotional the story is?

OK, well, don’t forget how much time is spent with this character on the screen and how little you know about it. And don’t forget that Shades are a lot like Kingdom Hearts Heartless, or that there is an old mansion like in Kingdom Hearts 2, or that Yoko Taro is starting to dislocate and redistribute pieces of content around to various media, just like Kingdom Hearts. Or Final Fantasy XV. What a great job that was, am I right?

It’s possible he’s trolling when he states that everything is canon, but it’s also possible that with Nier’s growing fanbase, Square-Enix might consider milking the franchise for all it’s worth. And Yoko Taro’s tricks to impress you could grow stagnant and a little bit predictable after two popular games.

So, when you hear somebody saying that Nier Replicant is a masterpiece, aside from the various genius strokes and many virtues that will make Nier one of your favorite series, that could be a lie.

A thousand-year lie that may just live on for eternity.