May 23, 2010
The quality of the work coming out of Square Enix seems to have taken a dip significantly in recent years, with even the mighty Final Fantasy succeeding in polarising opinions, not to mention a number of other recent misfires. It is hardly the end of an empire, but it does leave you wondering what the future holds for classic JRPG games. None of that really matters when it comes to NIER though, as it is hard to see it as a classic Square Enix game at all, so can this genre hopping roller coaster put them back on track?
Things in NIER do not really get off to the best of starts, as we are introduced to generic hero 101; replete with epic hair, bulging muscles and improbably large swords. Of course he has a reason for dismembering everything in sight (otherwise he would just be some kind of psychopath right?) and that reason is his daughter, Yonah, who needs a cure for her illness. The story does pick up a bit from that seemingly mundane premise, and the characters you run across are fascinating at times. In fact, the deep plot, solid back story and intriguing dialogue are the main reason you will continue playing this game long after others may well have given up.
The main issues with the game are present from the get go, as the combat is far too simplistic to offer any real satisfaction in the long term. You can use a variety of combos for each weapon and assign attacks to different buttons. As you beat up on foes you will also unlock numerous magic abilities which you can work into your attacks too as well as nabbing "Words" from fallen foes to add certain effects to your attacks too. All well and good, but it does tend to devolve into a hack and slash affair at times with no real skill needed, although at least you have the joy of seeing gallons of blood being spilt in the process. The graphics are also a bit of a let down, especially when you compare them to other offerings from the same publisher. It may well be that the budget was not big enough for the developer, Cavia, to splash out but it will probably put off a number of players. The main characters are fine but some of the backdrops are drab and repetitive, not to mention the fact that some of the enemy models and NPC characters are laughably poor.
Where the game does come into its own is with the sheer variety of gameplay and ideas on offer. While the combat may be the same old thing, the rest of the game is a grab bag of ideas. At times the game is reminiscent of Zelda with dungeons full of odd puzzles leading up to a massive boss fight – some of which are truly spectacular. The puzzles are superbly inventive at times and mind numbingly dull at others - how many times have we seen the horror of moving blocks? - but the balance is enough to keep you interested. Other gameplay elements are well crafted too, including some superb set-piece moments and one-off sections. That being said, there are a few downers too; like the poorly handled platforming sections and random side-scrolling areas. It feels like so many ideas were thrown into the pot, that some of them could not be properly implemented.
The main quest does a good job of pacing itself, as you explore new areas, meet new people and delve deeper into the storyline all at seemingly well-placed interludes. What the game struggles to do though is provide much in the way of separate side-quests. To be more accurate, it fails to provide entertaining side-quests. The main problem being that most of them just revolve around getting a quest and finding a certain item to complete it, there is little in the way of variety here and they can quickly get repetitive. You can also take part in some fishing should you so desire, or maybe a spot of gardening too – both of which seem a touch out of place considering the bleak setting, but can offer a fun diversion from all of that graphic violence if only for a second.
Probably the most well thought out area of the game is actually the soundtrack, which is full of haunting melodies and understated background music. It fits the atmosphere of the setting perfectly and feels like it has had a lot of work done on it. The voice work is pretty good too, mainly thanks to some great banter between the main characters and the floating grimoire Weiss. Considering the low budget feel to some of the other aspects of the game it is pretty impressive stuff all around and really gives you a feel for the characters as well as providing for some great one liners.
The achievement list actually offers quite a bit of variety in terms of how your points will be earned, with only a minimum on offer for actual story progression. Instead, you are rewarded for fishing, gardening, upgrading weapons and collecting a large number of Words – to name but a few things. You will also have to power up quite a bit in order to defeat all of the bosses quickly enough to earn their respective achievements which offers a good challenge. Not to mention replaying part of the game a few times to get to see all of the endings – though it is odd that the last of these forces you to delete your entire save game, so make sure you have done everything you possibly can by this point. On the whole though, a nice varied list to keep you interested.
It is hard to classify this game, because it tries its hand at so many different things and that is both its greatest asset and its biggest liability as gamers may well get tired of the seemingly random nature of proceedings. A jack of all trades, a master of none if you will. Stick with it though and you will be rewarded with some truly standout moments and a moving story. You can also go back and delve into some alternate endings too which only adds to the fun. However, certain ideas have been poorly implemented and the side-quests can soon become tiresome, but if you let this game suck you in then you will not be disappointed.
Possibly one of the strongest aspects of the game, mainly thanks to the fantastic voice work and understated score. A real treat for your ears.
Sloppy in places and you get the impression that the whole thing was rushed out before that last level of polish was applied. Some of the characters look amazing, but the drab backdrops and comical back up cast undermines every bit of good work.
At times the game borders on the genius, before a mundane quest or a poor bit of platforming comes along to ruin the fun. On the whole though, the combat and puzzle sections marry together well enough to keep you hooked.
A strange mix of various genres but one that manages to work quite well. Some elements still seem out of place though, as if they tried to cram a few too many ideas into an already full game. Hardcore RPG gamers might be put off by the often random nature of proceedings.
A decent list that covers all aspects of the game and means you will have to dip your toe into all of the different side-quests and activities to get everything done. However, getting the last ending deletes your save file which is annoying to say the least.
A mixed bag of a game, but one that is worth persevering with, as some of the set pieces are truly worth the price of admission alone. There are certainly niggles along the way, and they threaten to derail the game entirely at times, but it somehow manages to cling on and offer a surprisingly entertaining experience.