It’s pretty incredible to see Nier being as popular as it is today, as I never would’ve imagined that the original game would actually get a remaster. There’s no getting around the fact that Automata was the game to give this series its mainstream success, and if it wasn’t for that game, Nier would’ve remained as an obscure spin-off series that spawned from an alternative ending to a niche PS2 JRPG. I’m extremely happy that things turned out the way they did though as it meant that one of the most fascinating gaming experiences of the last decade has finally gotten a well-deserved second chance.
Nier Replicant opens up in a snowy, post-apocalyptic world in the year 2053, as a young boy protects his sister from an army of monsters. Desperate for a way to defeat these creatures, he calls on a magical book to grant him more power. After the skirmish is done and he reunites with his sister it seems that she has been infected with some kind of disease. The game jumps forward over 1000 years into the future, where it’s revealed that the young boy is still alive and together with another magical book called the Grimoire Weiss, they set out to find a cure for his sister.
Nier’s story opens up with a ton of questions making it immediately intriguing. Looking back, the thousand-year timeskip is as effective today as it was when the game first came out. You’re left wondering what happened to the world and how the characters you saw back in 2053 are still alive after a millennium. While the game does kind of ignore the modern-day opening sequence for quite a while, the pieces do eventually start falling into place. For those who have played Nier Automata, however, you’ll know that playing the game multiple times is a requirement for getting the full picture and uncovering all the truths hidden in its narrative, and that doesn’t change here. While the game does start you at the halfway point with every playthrough, it’s nevertheless still a daunting task; yet it’s completely worth it.
There are so many layers to Nier’s story. Each time you uncover something more, it completely changes the way you view the story as a whole. It’s a risky storytelling mechanism because it relies on the player’s perseverance to push through playing the game more than once (the original game had four endings, whereas Replicant has five), but it’s a risk that pays off in spades. Nier Replicant does a fantastic job of building emotional connections with the cast of characters which really makes all the twists and turns that much more impactful.
The main character comes across as your typical anime protagonist but his personality evolves drastically throughout the game and is also offset by the arrogant and proud Grimoire Wiess. Weiss constantly pokes fun at the protagonist but their relationship really grows into something wonderful by the end of the game. The foul-mouthed yet charming Kainé is also another standout character, and the level of vulgarity she spews is nothing short of awe-inspiring. She’s one of the reasons I absolutely adore this game because Nier always feels like it should be “just another anime JRPG” and yet the story, world and characters are always going against the grain.
Going back to the original Nier after playing Automata has been a fascinating experience. Where Automata focused heavily on existentialism and what it means to be human, Replicant instead focuses on the inevitability of death and how it affects us and the choices we make. Replicant’s focus on the inevitable end borders on obsession sometimes, but there’s real beauty in its morbidity. The game doesn’t just beat you over the head with its themes, but it instead uses its characters to great effect to showcase the myriad of reactions humans go through when faced with their own mortality and those around them.
There isn’t some grand moral to the narrative. There’s no lesson that this game sets out to teach you nor is this some grand JRPG adventure where you set out to save the world. Nier Replicant tells a deeply personal story, one that stuck with me for years. It’s hard to write this review without thinking about all the people I’ve lost, family and friends who are no longer with me. The emotions this game brings out were sometimes hard to deal with but it’s also the reason why I consider Nier to have masterful storytelling.
So enough about the story! What about the gameplay? Well, the new combat system is really good. The original Nier had really clunky combat and felt extremely heavy, and in all honesty it wasn’t all that fun. Replicant however, got a complete overhaul that brings it closer to Automata in its execution. Your main character’s attacks are much faster, making combos feel snappy and enjoyable, and there are three weapon types that you can switch between on the fly. One-handed swords are your all-rounder weapons with decent speed and attack power. Two-handed weapons are much slower but pack a bigger punch, and spears are fast and strong but don’t have as wide of an attack radius as the other types. The core combat is also further enhanced with a new quick side step and air juggles that make the entire package feel much more in line with modern action titles.
The magic system remains largely unchanged. As you progress through the game Grimoire Weiss will learn magic spells that you can execute during combat. These range from the book shooting out a constant barrage of projectiles to summoning a massive hand to smash enemies into the ground. It’s really a satisfying system and one that I’m happy they didn’t change. As you kill enemies you’ll also gain magical words. These words can be equipped to your magic spells, weapons or defensive maneuvers to grant various buffs from increased attack power to reduced MP consumption. As a whole the combat system feels like a fully realized version of what it was always meant to be and I couldn’t have asked for more.
The biggest allure of the gameplay is how Replicant mixes in all sorts of different genres into its foundation. The game has some pretty intense bullet-hell sequences which is really cool as it’s not something you’d expect to see in a JRPG but it goes even further by throwing in some top-down action sequences, a little bit of survival-horror, and even a full-on text adventure section. All of this combined helps keep the game fresh and exciting. Where the game falters however is in its main quest progression design.
The main village wherein you start the game properly serves as a sort of central hub. There are four exits, each leading out to a small but open field. There are connecting dungeons in between but at the end of it is another town. The overall map is pretty small, but the main problem is that the game constantly forces you to run back and forth between these locations. You would get a quest to talk to someone in a neighboring town and then upon completion, you’ll have to run all the way back. Backtracking in the game can get really annoying at times to the point where Weiss and the protagonist even make fun of the lack of a “warp” or fast travel. There is a sort of fast travel that unlocks but only much later in the game. Movement feels a lot snappier so it’s not as bad as the original but it’s still a sticking point.
On the presentation side of things, the updated graphics look good for the most part. One of the bigger changes are in the character models where facial features look much cleaner and more defined. While I always had a soft spot for the old character designs, especially the ugly ‘Papa Nier’, it’s really great to see how much they improved. Textures overall look way better too but the game looks a bit blurry at times and I could never find a proper brightness level that didn’t make it too bright or too dull.
The main star for me however was the updated OST. While I was extremely hesitant about Square updating the soundtrack because the music in this game is already so good, the end result far exceeded my expectations. The re-recorded vocals sound absolutely beautiful mixed in with the new instrumental arrangements. The fact that Keiichi Okabe was able to improve so much on his original score while still maintaining the heart and soul of the music speaks volumes about his composing skills.
I’m so glad Nier Replicant got this remaster. The original game was way ahead of its time but it was unfortunately met with unfavorable critical and commercial reception due to its lackluster graphical presentation and combat system. With those elements fixed Nier finally has a chance to shine, and shine it does. This game tells a story worth experiencing but now it’s actually also a fun game to play as well.
Last Updated: May 4, 2021