Rental Review: NIER

Posted: June 8, 2010 in Rental Review

Another 7 days with a game from the shelf of Rogers video.  This one’s an action RPG from Square Enix which puts it in the company of such greats as the Secret of Mana and pretty much every Zelda clone on the market.  Let’s open the box and see what we got… hey a manual!  Sweet!  But is the manual any good?  Let’s see…

  • A whole page on story, nice.  It seems Square actually wants me to want to play their game.  What is the story? take a look:

It is the distant future. Humanity’s past glories are but a forgotten

memory, its greatest achievements vanished into dust on the wind. The

world that remains–a strange and savage place–is dying.
The few humans who remain now live a medieval existence, eking out

what sustenance they can from a harsh and unforgiving land. Dark,

twisted creatures known as Shades roam the world, bringing with them

terror and death. Fear and chaos rule each day. As it did yesterday.

…As it will tomorrow.
In this world lives a modest, unassuming man and his young daughter.

She has been infected by a deadly disease known as the Black Scrawl,

and so her father has sworn to journey in search of a cure.
The adventure that ensues will be beyond anything he has ever

experienced.
He will encounter Grimoire Weiss, an ancient book of almost unbelievable

power who can use words as weapons. He will face off against Grimoire

Noir, a supposed harbinger of the end times. And he will learn the

truth behind both the legendary Sealed Verses, and the cursed Shades

that hound his every step.
As the world collapses into chaos around him, as his very mind betrays

him, the man will press on with a single, dim light flickering in his

mind:
He will save his daughter. No matter the cost.

  • Nice a story that is straightforward and doesn’t involve saving the kingdom or a protagonist who doesn’t know who he is or why he’s doing what he’s doing.
  • There are 29 pages in this manual all explaining the things the player can do and a simple explanation on how to do them.  Some game mechanics require several pages to explain and it does that well.  Honestly there’s no excuse not to do this and I applaud Square for doing so.
  • The amount of different gameplay mechanics is daunting.  There’s a lot going on in this game and I hope I’m not overwhelmed trying to remember it all.

Popping the disk into the 360 it’s time to get down to daughter saving stuff and things.

Woah, that was quite a tirade during the boot up sequence and intro video.  Well voice acted if a little tourettes-like.  upon starting a new game I’m prompted for my name, so that’s what I input.  It turns out this is the “hero” naming and not for a save file or something so my hero’s name is not Nier.  I wish that was explained in the dialogue box, I didn’t want me to save my daughter, but Nier instead…  oh well.  On to the first gameplay sequence.

After a short cutscene where Nier and his daughter Yonah are introduced.  Armed with nothing but  a length of pipe Nier is tasked with defeating wave after wave of enemy Shades.  Shades appear as black ribbons floating in a monster like shape with yellow runes all over it.  They are the main enemy in the game.  Here in the tutorial level you must defeat many Shades of increasing difficulty.  This is similar to the tutorial in Prototype, only there’s only one move to begin with; the basic attack.  There are no real combos with any depth to them, it’s mainly hack and slash until the Shades are gone.  I leveled up from level 1 to level 14 in this first fight, which struck me as odd- it’s only the tutorial.  Another cutscene starts at this point and Nier grabs the book he seemed to vilify so much in the first one, “for more power.” he said this time.  Then back to fighting Shades again, though more of them and slightly tougher than before.  This time you can use magic through the “evil” book ( I know, it sounds weird, but bear with me here).  There are a few spells to use at this point, one is a constant stream of projectiles and the other is a chargeable lance type weapon.  Both can be used at any time while you fight the Shades.  After quite a few Shade minions a boss appears.  The boss takes much more damage than the minion attackers, and once his health is depleted another gauge appears with a timer.  You must do enough damage to his health before time is up or you’re back to square 1.  The lance weapon, fully charged, is pretty much the only thing that will do the job in time.  I tried hacking and combos but no dice. I made it to upwards of level 30 in this tutorial and thought to myself that this game just gives out levels like candy.  This is not the case.

Just like Prototype the tutorial/intro sequence actually takes place in the future and you’re not there yet.  Nier actually begins much earlier in a quiet town full of happy people way back at level one again.  This shouldn’t be an issue, but I was already level 1, in the future, and yet I start the “past” at the same level.  Is there a level drain before the end of this game to bring me back to level 1?  It doesn’t make sense and it’s wasted all the XP I already earned in the tutorial, losing 29 levels is not cool- losing them at the beginning of the game?  Just weird.  This is starting on the wrong foot here Square.  Don’t do this.  If the controls are hard to master then the tutorials and first levels should not make use of all of the abilities in the game.  Start with nothing more than a sword and task the player with getting used to exploration and movement, then introduce things like attacking, defending and dodging on a few enemies and finally magic when the ability is unlocked.  This makes the player more involved in the process by making them feel like they’ve earned something and unlocked more, deeper gameplay.  This style of opening/tutorial only works on games with deep fighting systems, like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta (also Dante’s Inferno) where the combat is stylish and varied no matter if you mash buttons or make the combo system your bitch.  It works for these games as the difficulty generally increases at a steady pace, being linear the enemies are tailored to your character’s abilities and new moves are added as new items are found, thus ramping up the tools at your disposal.  Nier, being a non-linear game, isn’t like that.  There’s only two attack buttons (regular and heavy) and combos consist of “press ‘X’ a lot”, attacks only vary with different types of weapons (though it’s only the animations and damage really) so there isn’t really much to learn.  Zelda isn’t about swordplay, even though it’s a major component, you would never see a Zelda tutorial like this…  it would be (and in this case is) boring.  ARPG’s are about adventure and it’s not very adventurous to start with everything you’re pretty much going to use, there’s no progression, no feeling of accomplishment and it feels hollow.

As the game progresses, Nier finds himself in his home town.  The town is small and sparsely populated, there’s a few shops, a library and some inhabitants.  At first, your quests stem from the librarian, a well trusted and wise lady who basically settles all disputes from the community.  The first few quests are simple fetch quests.  Kill and skin “x” animals, or collect “x” amount of items.  These quests set up the mission structure in the game to acclimatize the player to the world.  At first all quests are simple fetch quests with little strategy or thought to them.  But as you progress through the main story line, eventually they become optional as side quests.  I seriously believe that the whole game should have started here.  The first section where you’re battling waves upon waves of enemies could and should have been a cutscene.  It would seem that [some] game developers could learn a new trick or two on setting up the narrative of their game(s).  This shouldn’t be the issue it is, sadly.

Enough harping on the beginning, it’s becoming unfair, the game isn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be at this point.

After you’re done filling out the whole town’s shopping lists we get down to the meat of the game.  Shades begin to appear all over the main field just outside of town and the townsfolk are getting scared.  At about this time your daughter, Yonah, is afflicted with the black scrawl; a terminal disease that causes black runes to fluctuate about the body.  The librarian asks you to clear out the shades, to no avail, then to seek the aid of other towns to fight off the shades.  It’s about this time when you gain  your first party member: Weiss.  Weiss is a book (no really), a magical one, but still a book, that talks.  Weiss may be the great “white book” you heard about from the librarian, who says will destroy the “black book” of legend.  I still have no idea what this means, but the character itself is a pretty cool idea.  Through Weiss you may now cast magic by pressing the L or R bumpers (as you could in the tutorial).  Weiss also knows a lot about the lands and monsters surrounding your home town.

The main quests are rather Zelda like in nature.  Requiring you to backtrack from town to home town and back again quite a bit as you gain new powers to gain access to new areas or to simply return for side quests or boss battles (and so-on and so-forth).  There are limited dungeons throughout the first 15 hours or so and puzzle solving is limited.  Though once you do enter a dungeon it gets pretty good.  Nier is mostly a 3rd person hack and slash type ARPG with lush 3d environments, but in certain areas the view will change to a 2.5d top down or side scrolling vantage point; channeling classic adventure games, platformers and, strangely enough, bullet-hell shooters.  Some enemies blast out sweeping patterns of bright red bullets forcing you to block, dodge or simply stand in the gaps between them.  This adds quite a bit to the dungeon crawling and exploration to be done around the world and makes combat interesting for the most part.

Further on through the game you meet another party member, Kaine.  Kaine is a female half-human half-shade who fights in her lingerie.  Her mouth is about as foul as my thoughts for where she keeps her twin, saw-tooth swords when not in use, but it fits the story well.  She’s good in a fight and stays outside of towns when you arrive and for that I’m thankful.  Kaine is the type of character that probably has a great story to her, but in my short time with the game I never got to see it play out.  I’ll definitely have to fix that.

As I’ve stated earlier, Nier is a non-linear game.  You can go anywhere (though you may not be able to do something important to move on, but still…) and do anything, but there’s some issues with it’s implementation here.  Some quest strings will lead you to places just down the path from your home town, one of these is the quest to catch some fish to make some medicine for your daughter.  The fishing village is just down the road from the beginning town, it’s literally a 10 minute walk from home for Nier.  On the way to the village there’s a guard being attacked by simple shades and defeating them is no problem at this point in the game.  The guard thanks you and on to the town.  Once in town, you must find the fishing guru to teach you to fish (makes sense right?), he gives you a rod and a brief tutorial then tasks you to catch some fish at the nearby beach.  I thought this meant the sandy beach right next to the pier, so I spent a freaking hour trying to catch a fish there.  I’d get a bite, then follow the on-screen prompts only to lose the fish the instant I went to fight it.  I thought I was doing something wrong so I checked the internet and read and re-read the manual thinking I’d missed something about this fishing thing.  Nope, I had it right, so back to it I went…  same thing.  I got to the point where I was just going to go back with nothing, so I went and explored the town a bit.  One screen over, there’s another beach… /facepalm.   I caught three fish in as many attempts there. Grr…

But wait!  There’s more…

So here I am, an hour plus into a simple introduction to fishing quest, now with fish in hand, heading back home.  What do I find at the spot where I rescued the guard?  A freaking huge boss creature! Uhh, that wasn’t there before.  Wait, there’s a boss for a fishing quest?  So I ready up and get to slashing some badass shade.  After 20 minutes or so of circle strafing, slashing, magic bolt throwing and dodging this huge thing- it hits me once…  GAME OVER.  Okay, so let’s do it again…  GAME OVER.  So I figure that I’m not supposed to kill this thing (since it one hit kills me every time) I decide to go around.   The other way goes up a hill towards a mansion hiding in the mountains.   About the mansion are several giant spiders.  No problem I think, they gotta be easier than mister 1-hit over there…  nope.  GAME OVER again.  It turns out that I can simply run around these guys, sitting right outside the gates to my home town, where my sick daughter is.  How does this make sense?  Why am I leaving huge monsters right on my doorstep?  Why are there massive enemies that can’t be beaten at my level even here at my level?  The mind boggles.

Some odd design choices and strange quests aside Nier is a decent Action RPG in the vein of the Legend of Zelda with some elements thrown in from other genres.  The character models aren’t the nicest ever, but they do the job well.  I didn’t have the time I normally have to play this game and that’s a shame as it’s worth more than I’m giving it, really.  I’d love another crack at it, when I have more time and money, though I’ll probably pick it up from the bargain bin when it arrives there eventually.  Red Dead Redemption released while I still had this game and if you’ve played RDR then you know how hard it is to put down once you start.  Honestly only the GPU in my 360 failing made me stop, so…  Try Nier if you like action/adventure games.  It’s not a bad title, despite the issues I point out.

BUY RENT – PASS

18 hours play time, got through the weird language people, most side quests and explored a lot. Xbox360 version, standard controller.

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