[Review] Nier

6/8

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At certain points reaches 8, but an unfortunately large amount is 2, so this will look more like a negative review than a positive one.

I played NieR because Automata[1] was amazing, and I wanted to see what else its original writer had made. It’s said that the game got a cult following, and at least one of the reasons why a sequel was made was because one of the bigwigs at Square Enix threatened to quit unless it happened. Automata was truly an experience not recreatable just by watching a video, and I had a PS3, so I saw no excuse not to get the original. I generally don’t mind things like graphics too much, so as long as the story was good I thought everything would turn out just dandy. I played the international version with Papa Nier.

But by the end of my time with it I couldn’t ignore its issues. I played through ending A and ending B, but I decided to watch C and D on YouTube. The distance between A and B was about an hour plus, and the other endings were probably equally as far away given my progress, but what faced me was so bad I decided to save two hours of gameplay to deliver story in favor of just watching the changed cutscenes in the form of a video. The story really carries that game, and I think it might’ve been a 7 or 8 if I hadn’t played Automata first.

But it only just carries it; at every other moment it was clear it wasn’t an easy carry.

My recommendation is to play Nier at least through ending B, as there’s a fair enough amount of things added that have enough importance they can’t just be watched in a video. C and D aren’t too hard, but I think the combat actively detracts enough from the experience that it’s harder to connect with the cutscenes as a player than as a video watcher. As for side quests, do them until you get the feeling they’re a bother, they don’t change too terribly many things. If it seems like you need to spend money to do them, do it, you’re not about to need money for anything else. Above all else don’t use spears. Do NOT use spears, they will break the game so much you actually are better off just watching a video. A couple of other weapons are too strong too, so the best thing is to not use any weapons except the starter one- and two-handed swords and whatever upgrades you happen to be able to afford – gathering for upgrades is grinding and grinding the obscure things necessary will detract from enjoyment.


COMBAT, ECONOMY, AND WORLD DESIGN

NieR has better combat than Witcher 3 and that’s about it. Perhaps it’s just me getting older and more experienced with videogames and I actually do need graphics and animations to start helping me pretend I’m not mashing the same button, but the combat in NieR wasn’t very interesting.

It was neat that attacking was, with exception of spears, always AOE, attacks didn’t necessarily stagger, and the number of iframes was decently low. Generally enemies came in groups so I had to keep track of a handful of animations to know when to stop attacking to roll/block, something that was a little difficult due to the visual design of enemies, but not too big of a problem.

The big problem was the enemies stopped mattering.

There were a few huge difficulty spikes in the game which were a welcome change of pace: the hog in the northern plains, the large shade in the southern plains, and the wolves in the desert. If you’ve played the game then you know: none of these have to do with the story. The hog is part of a sidequest, the wolves endlessly spawn from the environment, and the shade can be avoided completely with no consequences. In the beginning fighting shades was somewhat hard due to the large amount of damage they did, and to be sure not taking damage remained relevant for a large majority of the game, but I started killing things so fast it was irrelevant. All by pressing one button with almost no regard to the enemy.

I’m not clear on how the level scaling works, so I’ll just say that doing all sidequests as soon as possible, which is what I did, actively hurts the experience. The other things which affect combat are: new weapons, weapon upgrading, words, and magic.

Magic comes pretty early in the game, and in my opinion during standard combat for most of the game served the purpose of being cheap damage with cool animations and sounds. There’s two primary types: one type only has one magic available and it’s poofy magic bullets, you use this in real time. The other type, which has all the rest, is either instant cast if pressed or slow-motion when held. Magic of the second type when held is the main damage dealer. Use up all your MP to get the initial damage off, securing kills with physical attacks helps recharge MP, repeat. This was pretty good, until new weapons came along.

Words are passive modifiers to combat abilities, e.g. +8% physical damage, adjusted through a menu, dropped seemingly at random by enemies. As far as I can tell they don’t affect balance too much.

Weapon upgrading is largely irrelevant both because of the amount of obscure material costs it required and because it only gave marginal improvements – compared to new weapons.

New weapons are occasionally found in destructible boxes throughout the world, but primarily come from buying things from blacksmith NPCs for money. They’re pretty expensive compared to the consumables and things, and at first there doesn’t really seem to be a way to get that kind of money. The main quests don’t give money, the side quests didn’t give that much money, which left fishing as the primary source of income, and even then it wasn’t exactly free money, considering how much time is spent fishing and levelling up fishing via a series of side quests, which also cost you fish, meaning little net profit. The few weapons that were available were better than the upgraded starting weapon, and since upgrading costed obscure materials whose spawns were unclear and procurement unreliable, I stuck with one of those for the first half of the game. The game started dropping more money on me near the end of the first half, but since I couldn’t buy any more power or do anything else substantial with the money, I just let it sit.

Then the second half of the game came and two new weapon types were unlocked: from one-handed swords, to two-handed swords and spears. The blacksmiths had new weapons for sale, at more exorbitant prices.

But the side quests dropped more money.

A lot more money.

So if I already have nothing to do with my money, and I find a buyable weapon completely within my seemingly infinite budget that does FOUR TIMES the amount of damage of my weapon to date, a weapon with more range and thus hits more enemies, a weapon that also pulls me along in its charge out of range of any enemies who might’ve been winding up to attack me… why wouldn’t I use that weapon?

I’m trying to save the world right? These are bad guys I want to get rid of as fast as possible right? So when I see a weapon four times as powerful, I’m going to pick it up. And I’m going to use it. And it’ll be all I’ll use.

The Phoenix Spear breaks the game. I think I might’ve encountered some trouble when the game ramped up after its second half gameplay/cutscene sequence, but if it did I completely forgot about it because whatever spear I had at the time let me ignore enemies, and Phoenix Spear made them worthless.

The danger with one-handed swords was that enemies had to be paid attention to in order to not take damage. The danger with two-handed swords is that they take a while to start and attack as well as cool off, so the first and last couple of seconds are critical. Spears are supposed to have the downside of being single-target as their attack animation has no sweep of any kind, but its special attack is a charge with negligible downtime. It’s there to be sure, but not as fast as the enemies can move or react, so it’s basically meaningless. By the time you finish charging through and turn around to charge back, it’ll be ready. Since the most powerful magic is called “Dark Lance” I have to assume this mechanic was intentional. But to have the starter spear be double the power as the starting weapon, and a buyable unupgraded spear quadruple? In the second half of the game most enemies start wearing armor, but their defense and health clearly didn’t anywhere near double.

The bosses suffered this problem even worse. Bosses in the first half of the game were either effectively or actively stationary; at no time was I juggling attacking versus dodging/defending, it was either one or the other. Bosses in the second half of the game were more interesting, but get completely screwed by spears except when some of them aren’t on the ground, in which case it was a game of waiting for when they did come to the ground, or using magic, which slows time down, and tension is lost when time slows down. It was so bad I had to switch out back to my starter sword versus bosses just so I could get some excitement out of it; it’d otherwise be over faster than encounters with nameless world-wandering enemies.

The game lost all tension, at least from this angle – the angle which the player spends the most time with. I once had to pay attention to my health, the position of enemies relative to myself, and try to keep track of all our animation states. This changed to only paying attention to positions, except not really, because I wasn’t really punished for any mistakes.

The world also loses all interest because you keep revisiting the same places over and over again. One sidequest even brings you back to the boss rooms of combat zones, which ruins the story because there are explanations, dialogues, and cutscenes about what’s been occurring in locations you can instantly identify since you last visited. The gap between player and character experience can become ludicrous.

There’s also bosses which turn the game into “bullet hell”s and zones where the camera fixes into 2D or 2.5D mode. In Automata I thought they were amazing[2] but in Nier I really couldn’t bring myself to care. All non-boss enemy projectiles can be blocked or attacked through so they didn’t matter. Even in bosses only a few of them used projectiles which couldn’t be facerolled through, and even then only sparingly; they generally just fired more of them in somewhat interesting patterns but ultimately meaningless to the player.

I suppose consumables also belong in this part. Healing items which are all manual use via a paused menu, and you get a bunch of them constantly basically for free. There’s also temporary buffs, which I never bothered with because they were never necessary. Outside of those three things mentioned earlier, things just never got that difficult. And they only got easier.


MUSIC

The music ranges from decent to amazing, but is implemented pretty poorly.

A number of tracks are pretty short, so their loops are noticeable, and given the time you spend in some areas it gets really grating. If you haven’t played the game, Hills of Radiant Winds sounds like a pretty fun, adventurous, upbeat track. If you have played the game, I don’t need to spell out your reaction to hearing it again. It’s not just the combat track, it’s the track for most of the game in terms of area. It’ll be there when you’re running doing nothing, when you’re stooped over gathering, when you’re in combat, when you’re close to death. That’s the worst track, but probably only because it’s the main track. Basically every zone track sounds decent for the first thirty or so minutes. But the music is strong, too strong, both for the amount of time they’re looped and in relation to the amount of tension produced by the combat. The combat supported the idea that I was playing a game while listening to music, rather than the music supporting the idea that I’m fighting evil in a fantasy world.

There’s also a related technical issue with the music: it starts slowing down. I’m told it has something to do with a long continuous session on the PS3, but whatever the case, in most zones music after a while started to be played at slower speeds. Not “sopranos started to sound like altos”, but “the tempo slowed down”. Which, since it’s a track on a computer and not a live orchestra, starts sounding like a corrupted file. The problem disappears when going into a menu, and exacerbates the more enemies there are on the map, and even further in combat – so not only was the most annoying track still around as always, it objectively sounded terrible the more it played.

In the story sections there’s no problem with the fight music, but the post-fight music suffers because the combat sucks most of the punch out of it. Here I am, effortlessly mowing down bosses easier than random infinite-spawned enemies, and then this sorrowful music plays.

“This” particularly being Emil/Sacrifice, it’s like every single time something sad happened that played, isn’t it so sad because you tried so hard but in the end you weren’t able to save this or that person? But I didn’t try. At all. So the song gained the opposite effect; the moment it started playing after any event I immediately wrote off everything I’d see because my base feeling was “oh great this again” rather than “oh my god no not that”.

Dispossession, Yonah, Kaine, and Ashes of Dreams on the other hand were all fantastic. Partly because they were reserved for specific points in the story, partly because I think they’re actually just better pieces of music, but probably mostly because either the gameplay before they played actually required more attention and finesse than usual, or they felt separated from the gameplay, either because it was a longer cutscene and another piece had played before it or otherwise.

The songs for the three towns are fine, no complaints.


FISHING AND DROPS

Fishing is a thing you can do when you’re near water, and it’s a fine distracting minigame. Its made available to you through a story quest but its mechanics aren’t really explained. Fortunately they can be figured out pretty quickly and without much cost.

I had a lot more fun fishing than fighting because I actually had to pay attention and fiddle around a bit. Fishing actually gives generally reliable results without ridiculous effort or obscure knowledge: Fish at this body of water, doesn’t matter what angle, with this bait, and if you’re successful with your attempt you will basically get this fish. No numbers, but I want to say greater than 2/3 chance. It takes 5~10 seconds from casting for a bite, and then it’s fighting against the fish. If it’s below your skill level it takes maybe 2 seconds tops, if it’s at or above, then up to about a minute. For about half the game’s playtime or so fishing is pretty decent money, up until the part where sidequest NPCs start handing you their family fortunes.

Obtaining some Memory Alloy on the other hand requires about 15 minutes.

They drop in an underground level of a factory from minibosses at a fairly reliable rate, but to get to them you need to slog through a lot of enemies – which is just standard combat, maybe a little bit of a twist with the flying enemy types. The hard part is the waiting. You see, most enemies aren’t just standing around waiting for you – they have to spawn. Circular plates rise from their place in the ground, revealing a robot, which you can’t deal damage to until it’s finished its animation rolling out from its gate – somewhere in the region of about 5 seconds. And depending on the room, multiple robots will load in through the same gate. Additionally, going in some rooms will freeze your movement, have text tell you ‘it seems we’ve been locked in’ which you need to press a button to dismiss, this happens every time you go into those rooms, and only then will gates start loading. And there’s a section where you have to stand in a cart spamming the magic bullets for about 2 minutes while the cart crawls on its rails to the next location. All this in a combat zone.

I don’t need to talk about obtaining Giant Eggs or Gold Ores.

All these things are made unnecessary due to economy balance but fishing is the only one that doesn’t punish you for actually trying to do with it. The only downside to fishing is it screws with the music; when fighting a fish the music changes to a unique battle song, and reverts back to the standard zone when finished. This is fine when it’s actually a big 1~2 minute fish, but doing fish below your level is so quick the music doesn’t have time to ramp up, so instead it sounds like the standard zone music is continually restarting from the beginning.

There’s also a farming thing which mostly involves waiting, and runs on real world timer rather than gameplay timer. Basically only for money. What a terrible idea.


SIDEQUESTS

Non-story quests take up a fairly decent chunk of the game, apparently between 1/3 and 1/2 of average playtime. Later in the game the fetching part of them gets ridiculous and obscure so that’s where I stopped doing them. My quest completion at the end of my time with the game was 81%.

There’s a few which are well-developed and/or lead to some changes in the world, most of them are fetch quests with just a few words at the beginning, a few in the middle, and a few at the end. They all unite under the theme “This is what peoples lives look like in times of a dying world”, something which the main character narrates in a cutscene near the beginning of the game. Fixing broken things which should’ve been fixed a long time ago but no one could do due to lack of materials, people running away or going missing, lies to keep up truths. The impetus for the player character to do all these fetch quests is because he’s the odd jobs guy who takes up whatever pays to make a living.

This works until you start rolling in money, and you start rolling about halfway through the game. Then it’s because you’re a nice guy, a companion character even makes the comment “this is why you’re a mark”.


STORY, CHARACTERS, AND THEIR PRESENTATION

Ending D was a work of art. Popola was great, and so were Emil and Kaine in their scenes in the Lost Shrine and in the Library. Kaine overall is waifu, and Emil is a light in a world where the sun is setting.

But we’ll get to that in a bit, because the rest is not so good.

I can see the theme Yoko Taro attempted to paint: “You may think you are doing the right thing, and perhaps considering all available information to you you are doing the right thing, but this has little relation to actual effects and consequences on the world”. As far as Nier, Kaine, and Emil are concerned I think they all did fine. (Grimoire Weiss didn’t really have any motivations either way so nothing to comment.)

On the other hand we have, for starters, Devola and Popola.

Everything in the first half works just fine. Five years pass between the first and second half, and Nier admits absolutely no progress has been made. Then suddenly, Popola reveals the location of the Shadowlord’s castle! Why would she do that? What exactly happened that would make her do such a thing? If Nier is just wandering the world killing shades, and DevPop can both send Nier places and tell the Shadowlord where he’s going, and the Shadowlord is capable of high-speed flight, why not just do that? There’s some line said by Tyrann about how the Lost Shrine is a training ground or something for shades. I can’t tell if it was lost in translation, perhaps the intention was to portray it as a fortress rather than as a boot camp, but rather than say “it’s the Shadowlord’s castle!” Popola could’ve just said “I need something from the Lost Shrine, it’s coincidentally right next to an interesting seal that you wouldn’t be able to resist investigating, could you get it for me? By the way there’s some powerful shades there.” and off Nier would’ve went with his murderboner. If he dies there at any time then mission accomplished, if he finds and notices the seal to the castle then we’ll think about that when it happens.

There are two Devola and Popola fights, for reasons which I can only surmise were related to the budget. Everything would have been better if it was just one. In these fights they call Grimoire Weiss a traitor and reveal his and their true purpose all along in the main plot twist of the game, which also unfortunately reveals how stupid Grimoire Noire is too, so we have to go back a bit.

In the first conversation with Devola after picking up Weiss her reaction is ‘oh you’re the legendary Grimoire Weiss? that’s SOOOO cool‘. Which I suppose is fine considering the situation and apparent motivations, but she actually did just leeave it at that. The song she always sang, in a language she doesn’t fully understand, about how the world would be saved by books, and now one of those books is in front of you and you don’t think of asking to flip through it? Popola being the village leader and a huge library basically only she could read could’ve come up with any number of reasons to have a private conversation or lookthrough of Weiss while sending Nier on another errand, and used that opportunity to confirm things with Weiss and bring him up to speed. Nier had only met Weiss at that point while he’d known DevPop for who knows how many years, even if their attempts failed and Weiss started blabbing it’s not as if Nier would believe him over DevPop. Weiss becomes wary of DevPop, but they’d stop thinking about it because it wouldn’t make any sense, and everything moves on as per usual.

Suppose there was some need for Weiss to go out and get the sealed verses with Nier, instead of simply being given those things by DevPop, and suppose there was some prearranged agreement where that one big guy and the Shadowlord come in stomping all over town before Weiss and Noire merge. We’re now at the point where Noire and Weiss have their little conversation.

Weiss was clearly not having any riddle-talk, so why didn’t Noire give it to him straight?

Is it a personal requirement to talk in riddles?

Noire is probably the single most stupid character in the game. His dialogue only makes sense the first time it’s delivered, before you know much about anybody’s background. In any other story this might not be so bad, but Nier’s plot twist, theme, writing style, and most critical selling point thanks to the completely lacking and uninteresting gmeplay revolves around doing what you think is right based on what you know, showing you later that you’re not actually as right as you think, that other people had really compelling reasons to say and do the things they did, so much so that the player reconsiders himself without any explicit prompt from the author that he might not have been doing the right thing after all.

The characters most important to the plot are Nier, Shadowlord, Grimoire Weiss, Grimoire Noire, and DevPop. Nier’s and Shadowlord’s motivations are obvious. Weiss has none because of memory loss. DevPop we’ll continue on with in a bit. What’s Grimoire Noire’s motivation? He clearly knows at least a little bit about what he’s doing, and since DevPop are colluding with the Shadowlord they must’ve all been on the same page to an extent which satisfied all characters involved. Why didn’t Noire just tell Weiss what was going on? It wouldn’t have to make sense to the player, and the game is clearly fine with presenting that kind of thing. Even if he didn’t say anything new because of a design intent to keep the main plot twist sealed as tightly as possible for later in the game, the lines used were used so unimaginably poorly.

It’s been a long time, Grimoire Weiss. [Weiss is confused] Do you not remember, Grimoire Weiss? We two serve a higher purpose. [Weiss backs off] Why do you try to suppress the memory? Do you fear hurting someone close to you? [Weiss says “Preposterous!”] You are preposterous! We are mere books, created to serve the Shadowlord. You have no right to forsake Him! Do you remember your ultimate goal? White and black shall fuse to one and set free shades to the world! Your chance encounter with this man, your collection of the Sealed Verses, it was all set in motion by the Shadowlord himself! The time has come for us to create a new and perfect world. We shall become as one, you and I.

Now, imagine instead, he said:

It’s been a long time, Grimoire Weiss. The time has come for us to create a new and perfect world. [Weiss is confused] Do you not remember, Grimoire Weiss? We are mere books, created to serve a higher purpose, an ultimate goal. We shall become as one, you and I. [Weiss mouths off, tilting Noire, as this is the moment that’s been planned for over a thousand years] You are preposterous! Why do you try to suppress the memory? Do you fear hurting someone close to you? Your chance encounter with this man, your collection of the Sealed Verses, it was all set in motion by the Shadowlord himself! You serve the Shadowlord. You have no right to forsake him!

This would still not make Noire the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree and show an inherent lack of empathy and communication skills, but it’s exactly the same lines, and switching their order around a bit makes him a much more relatable character. This way it could appear that Noire was actually having a conversation, but lost his cool and started making mistakes, all the while saying things in a way to emphasize to the player that there’s more to what’s going on than we know: “Weiss serves the Shadowlord”. As it appeared in the story, Noire was a mysterious haughty know-it-all character who only existed to give a monologue: “Yeah whatever now let’s fuse”. Goes from unrelatably haughty to unrelatably stupid, whereas the rearranged version would go from relatably mysterious yet impulsive to relatably unfortunate.

But the story happens like it does, unfortunately Noire wasn’t able to defeat Nier/Weiss and the Shadowlord is busy holding Yonah so he can’t fight at that moment. Shadowlord/Noire fly off, Emil petrifies Kaine then holes up in his house, Nier wanders the world fighting random shades for five years.

Why didn’t DevPop send Nier to the Shadowlord’s castle in that time when it was only him and Weiss? There’s no stipulations about needing Kaine and Emil, they weren’t part of the plan. The big guy locked up in the basement clearly didn’t affect anything particular either way. And if we’re to believe the fights in the cutscenes, Kaine and Emil are actually really strong, which means that having them around significantly decreases the likelihood of retrieving a Nier body from a fight! And DevPop WAITED until the merry band of adventurers were all together again until giving Nier this critical information! What is going on here? What’s with all these terrible bad decisions?

Did they not have a single clear thought in 5 years?

Supposing that we got what we got because of budget a few things could’ve been rearranged to make everything a much more cohesive whole: send the player off to the Shadowlord’s castle before meeting up with Emil and thus Kaine. That it took DevPop 5 years to come up with this idea wouldn’t matter because from their point of view because they’re immortal and it wasn’t like Nier was getting anywhere soon anyways. Could even say that the timing was because they get all the mail for the village and they peek inside Nier’s stuff, and they saw that Emil might’ve been close to a solution, so they needed to hurry it up on their own end.

This too is entirely doable within the assets of the shipped game. The only changes are 1) removal of a single bit of character banter and 2) the player already has a few pieces of the seal puzzle when starting the game after the first playthrough. The first should be sacrificed for the sake of a more coherent story, the second is strictly beneficial to the player because it removes a need for retrudging through the most reused zone in the game.

Rearranging would’ve also massively helped the utter ridiculousness that was the timeskip’s severe lack of emotional impact. Kaine is petrified by Emil to keep a seemingly undefeatable shade, she might be gone forever because we don’t have a cure, we get extended presentation that she really did have to be there to keep the door shut, but oh no it just has to be this way, rest in peace Kaine. And then we free her in about an hour. Emil apparently shut himself away for five years, but we see him again in about five minutes. It’s not as bad as Mass Effect 2, but it’s pretty bad. I saw petrified Kaine a total of once in the second half’s library intro cutscene; the next time I saw her was to free her from being stone. Rearranging the quest to get the seal and adding a filler quest from Popola would’ve required running by Kaine two more times, and maybe an hour or two depending on what the quests were. This game doesn’t lack in quests which take a long time to obtain materials, and a couple of the village’s sidequests were about maintaining some crucial things like water pumps and water filters. Just switch one or two of them over to Popola instead and make them main quests, everything’s good again.

All of the zones revisited for the seal puzzle pieces, both the first time and the subsequent times, are pretty light in their own presentation. This I don’t actually a problem with, since getting all endings requires playing through all of this four times, and the writing is designed so that most of the impact comes from your contemplating the motivations said in the light and sparse words that are presented. The reason for contemplation is presented at the main twist of the game, right before the first ending.

Since all endings go through exactly the same gameplay in a single “you cannot return beyond this point, continue?” area, and exactly the same story aside from minor additions, this somewhat works. I wasn’t contemplative enough to do it four times, partly because of Automata and partly because the gameplay sucked, but I can see the idea they were going for. If I hadn’t been spoiled and the gameplay wasn’t so terrible, I wouldn’t really mind so much that I was seeing the same few words and doing exactly the same things over and over again. Pick up the game expecting a standard RPG hero hacking and slashing his way to become the big man saving the world, find out you were wrong, then contemplate your actions as you repeat them over and over again knowing exactly what’s going to happen next. It’s pretty good writing. It doesn’t make for the best game, Yoko Taro has said that a primary reason for revisiting is longer playtime without needing to create more assets, but in limited doses and strong enough gameplay it works fine, e.g. Automata.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

As much as I criticized Devola and Popola’s actions, in the end they were truly fantastic antagonists.

All the conclusions I made require some effort to arrive to, and as is with most plot/lore points, with enough effort can be written off just as reasonably in a completely different direction. The most important thing is not what was done but what was presented, and DevPop were presented marvelously.

The sidequests, over long periods of time in interactions with a lot of different people about how people live their lives in a dying world, give subtle hints and direction about how people think and what kinds of things they believe. All of this comes to a head after fighting with Devola The fight with Popola, Noire, and the Shadowlord are just formalities after that point, as are all the subsequent replays of the game. The Shadowlord is the reason why everything happens for Nier, but Devola and Popola are the reason why everything happens for the player. I know this was the intention because both of the best lines in the game were delivered by them.

POPOLA: Devola? Devola! Don’t you go! No! No, I can’t be alone! Devolaaaaaaaa!

NIER: Popola, let’s stop this now.

POPOLA: Stop? “Stop”? You want me to stop? You think I have the luxury to stop? You cut my sister down like an animal, and you tell me to stop?

EMIL: Popola, Wait, It doesn’t have to-

POPOLA: No one stops! It’s way too late to stop! NO ONE STOOOPS!!!

Before fighting Devola, Nier is dumped with a bunch of new information. He doesn’t want to fight people he’s known for so long, he wants to figure out what’s going on. Devola and Popola fight because that’s what they need to do, it’s their raison d’etre. All the shades didn’t manage to do it, so now that it came to them they had to do it. Devola dies because that happened to be the outcome of the fight. Popola can’t live without Devola, so she fights. There’s no negotiation left to be had. There’s nothing left to be said.

The fight with both of them has them both singing an action version of the song that’s been associated with them the whole time. The fight with just Popola has exactly the relaxing song Devola always sang playing her lute in the village.

There are two outstanding lines. This is the other one.

POPOLA: You have your own motives, your own desires…
DEVOLA: And we have ours. I fear it really is just that simple.
WEISS: Don’t speak such foolishn-n-n-n-ness!
DEVOLA: …Sorry.

Ending A concludes the story of Yonah, B the Shadowlord and all the bosses of the game, C and D are alternate endings for Kaine. The emotional tone for every one is the same, and each have their own variation on an ending song. A is the weaker version of B and C the weaker version of D.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

In terms of presentation Kaine is the actual main character of the game. Other than the prologue, we are rarely presented anything to do with Nier’s backgrounds and motivations other than “muh Yonah”, “odd jobs to get by”, and “I’m going to kill every shade in the whole world”. We meet Weiss before Kaine and the number of lines he has is much higher, but he’s negligible as a character. Emil largely acts as if he’s just around to help, which unfortunately just like in real life isn’t all that compelling on its own. He has body image and self esteem issues, which the story deals with wonderfully, and is also bar none the most optimistic character in the story. I feel like he rounds things out well, but the overall package is that of a supporting character, just like Yonah’s is that of a plot device.

Kaine on the other hand gets a lot of screentime. We get a pan up of her body and clothing choice in her intro, she’s unreservedly brash about everything the first few times we meet her, she voices her preference to stay outside and away from people in an unexpectedly introverted way when we first go back to town, we get a twist on that again when we come out of a particular other town later, and, I want to say, every single emotionally weighty point in the story where she is present, we are guaranteed attention to detail in cutscenes which do almost nothing except show off Kaine’s reactions.

And it’s beautiful. Even 7 years later it holds up, because few if any other videogames find this sort of thing important. Kaine has basic good looks, but what really sells her recognizably aged computer model are her facial expressions, body language, the composition of the scene, and the player noticing the discrepancies between these things and their knowledge of her character overall.[3] Kaine also has the most motivations out of anyone: she has a relationship and motivation regarding a particular town, with people in general, with a boss character, with a grandmother, with a shade, with her body, and eventually with Nier.

The last two are only hinted at in a matter of a handful of seconds each, but hinted at in such a way to be completely memorable. We’re told there’s something socially unacceptable with Kaine’s body in the text backstory, but we never get a chance to know what it is until near the end, where she backs up against a wall and slides down, revealing that her panties – which we are never shown and have extreme difficulty taking a look at even just wandering the world due to how she walks around – have a bulge we don’t expect. A few seconds after recovering, she looks over at Nier, who is stooped over crying, we get a shot of her face, apparently considering what to feel, then she walks over to Nier and beats him up before pushing him against a wall. Kaine looks at Nier, Nier looks away. The camera pans around. Zoom up, a few more seconds pass, then Kaine’s eyes and eyebrows tells us she’s reconsidered her actions for some reason, and backs off, letting Nier slide to the ground before saying “…Let’s go”, resuming her normal character and marching off without waiting or looking back.

Ending D is the conclusion of all the themes presented, presented with the best possible quality of anything seen in the game, paired with the best musical piece, and a small blooming of hope as a result of all the efforts, mistakes, and suffering throughout our characters’ adventures and their stories.

I can definitely see why this game got a cult following.


CONCLUSIONS AND REVIEW

Nier is definitely a game. It requires player investment to reach its heights, and it requires a world to distribute various bits of information and themes to the audience at different levels of complexity and intensity. Something learned in a short side quest has a different meaning than one learned in a long side quest, something learned from character commentary that only shows up as audio and text at the top left of the screen while the game still gives you full control over your player character is different from something learned when your controls are limited in some way, or when you have no control at all and it’s a cutscene. It doesn’t utilize all of these all the time in the most effective ways, but attention was paid to it, which is still, 7 years later, something that is still barely utilized anywhere near as well as Nier did in 2010.

That being said I also definitely don’t regret watching C and D on YouTube. I would’ve despised it even more and taken a lot longer to see what the story intended to be, assuming I’d still come to the same conclusion at all. I made the decision that after ~30 hours of investment and 10+ hours of completely worthless gameplay that in terms of emotional impact and finishing the story, I’d get the most out of not dealing having to press any more buttons. I think it was the correct decision.

It was clear the problems with Nier were almost purely in its combat, its technicals, and its budget, which explains why people at top-tier studio Platinum, renowned for their expertise in creating a fluid user experience, were interesting on making a successor to it, and why Square Enix finally relented to fund the endeavor of Automata.

If you intend to play both Nier and Automata, you absolutely need to play Nier first. Not because you won’t understand Automata, Automata stands perfectly amazing alone, but because a big chunk of the wind would be taken out of Nier. There’s also a few callback moments you’d only get impact from if you played Nier first. There are no benefits and a lot of costs playing in reverse order.

If you’ve already played Automata, whether you should play Nier depends on how much you can 1) pretend you haven’t played Automata and 2) deal with bad gameplay.

If you’re just interested in Nier, I think it’s worth it. Yoko Taro is an amazing director.

Nier will probably grow fonder with time as the memory of the gameplay passes away.


[3] These details are also paid attention to with Weiss and Emil to be sure; it’s amazing how emotive they showed a book could be. But Weiss has no notable motivations and thus barely a character, and Emil’s eyes only show in one scene before being turned into a skeleton. It’s just harder to relate. Nier I can only remember twice in the game where his expressions meant anything significant, and they were both “oh my god!” reactions.

[2] Bayonetta 1 just released on PC. I’m probably going to play it before replaying Automata just for more distance inbetween replays. Bayonetta probably won’t get a long review if I do one at all since I hear it’s more about action than story. Hopefully.

[1] I ended up deciding to play Nier instead of write my Automata review first, which in turn eventually meant I needed to write my Nier review, before maybe needing to replay Automata. Mistakes were made.

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