Remakes and remasters are extremely popular nowadays. That seems to be the logic behind the release of NieR: Replicant ver.1.22474487139…, which is a remaster of 2010’s NieR, which was originally a spinoff of Square Enix’s Drakengard series. If this is a bit confusing to follow, don’t worry, because the game itself doesn’t rely on any of this to tell its story. The game follows the same style of gameplay and visuals that most people will recognize from 2017’s NieR: Automata, which is an extremely clean and crisp combat experience with beautiful scenery and music.
The player character is a young boy named by you, whose sister has a rather serious illness called the Black Scrawl. Your goal is to cure this illness. And lest we forget that this is a fantasy world, you quickly find a talking book called Weiss that grants you magic powers with which to fight dark creatures called Shades. These Shades may also hold the key to curing your sister, and so the main goal of the first half of the game seems to be just to fight as many Shades as possible until one of them drops the answer you need. Of course, it’s never this simple, and you’ll meet other party members with similar curses and ailments, and who have their own stories and troubles. The plot itself is simple enough to follow, but the game has a tendency to forget that your sister’s sickness is potentially fatal, and all sense of urgency is lost among the side quests and aimless meandering. The player character is never quite certain where the cure can be found, or if it will even work, which results in a lot of dead space between travelling to places and subsequently accomplishing very little. The scenery and various locales are absolute works of art, but they can feel very forgettable when you don’t move closer to your goal when you leave.
Replicant’s combat is versatile and fluid and generally fun to engage with. You’re equipped with a main weapon and your talking book companion and both of them are equally effective at dealing with the Shades you find in the world. Aside from your sword, you have four ability slots, bound to the bumpers and triggers on a controller. In these four slots, you can equip a dodge, block, and various magic abilities. These are able to be changed around at any point in the game, allowing you to experiment with different playstyles and combos. Your magic covers a wide range of uses, from area-of-effect attacks to shields to long-range blasts. Each is useful in their own way, but it is also possible to pick a few that you really like and just use those for the whole game. Both abilities and weapons are able to be augmented with “words” that you collect from defeated enemies. These will apply buffs such as decreased mana cost, increased attack speed, poison damage, etc. Words can be swapped around among your weapons and magic, and while this might have been intended to be used for different playstyles, the differences are, in practice, trivial and negligible, so there needn’t be much thought put into what words are on which weapons. Overall, the combat is definitely an upgrade from Automata’s, and it feels satisfying to pull off long hit combos and flashy attacks.
NieR Automata had some rather depressing and dark story moments. Replicant seems to think that it was a brilliant idea, because most of the main story points and side quests like to revolve around the inevitability of death and a meaninglessness of the player’s good intentions and actions. Dealing with loss can be an excellent plot point in stories, but when I complete two or three side quests in a row that all end with my character delivering bad news to the quest-giver, I start to wonder why I bother taking on the quests at all. Of course, not every sidequest is like this, but the game is rather heavy-handed with the nihilism, and it can be overwhelming to say the least. The main story has its own moments that might be good in a vacuum, but just get lost among the other depressing moments. In short, NieR Replicant has fun gameplay, but has a dark story that sometimes makes me want to put it down for a minute and do something else for a change.
At least the protagonists themselves seem to hold out hope and uplift each other throughout the story. The player character is driven by the hope that he can save his sister, which is a noble goal, even if he seems to have a tunnel-vision problem when you’re not sidequesting. He also acts as a wake-up call to his companions Kainé and Emil, who have a tendency to despair over their own curses and misfortunes. The former is a girl who swears like a sailor and is severely underdressed, in case you forgot this was a Japanese game. The latter is a child who, later in the game, can shoot lasers from his mouth, in case you weren’t sure if the game was weird enough yet. Both side characters are, to put it mildly, not Catholic. However, they eventually become important parts of the story, and long-time NieR fans will undoubtedly already know why.
Nier Replicant is certainly fun to play. The player’s actions can feel stylish and satisfying, and the world in which to fight is beautiful. The story, however, suffers from crippling depression, and can’t help but have the worst possible thing happen to the protagonists at every turn. If you wanted more of NieR: Automata’s combat, you’ve certainly got it, but at the cost of a darker story that can sometimes feel heavy and un-fun.
Language: Harsh language with seemingly random and arbitrary “bleeps” at times.
Sex/nudity: Kainé isn’t wearing very much for the entirety of the game.
Violence: Blood spills from your fallen foes, and the story isn’t kind to the protagonists either. The game overall is very dark and violent.