Friday, December 31, 2010

Nier: An Adventure Game About Playing Adventure Games

Nier is a game tailor-made for gamers who grew up losing themselves in the worlds of the 3D Zeldas (Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twlight Princess) and 16-bit/32-bit action-adventure games (specifically Landstalker, Alundra and Brave Fencer Musashi). It is also a game made by fans of Team Ico for fans of Team Ico (Ico and Shadow of the Colossus), capturing the melancholic feel of those games through its adult fairy tale-style story, overblown lighting, sparse environments and overall art direction.

The Story

A father vows to save his daughter from a curse. The player controls the father. To say more would be to take away one of the greatest joys of experiencing Nier.

The Gameplay

Nier is an action-adventure RPG, with its gameplay most closely resembling Landstalker at its most simple and Brave Fencer Musashi/3D Zelda games at its most complex. This means lots of hacking at enemies, using powerful spells and solving simple puzzles.

There are a few towns to explore, fields to traverse, dungeons to conquer, bosses to fight -- everything one might expect from a classic Japanese adventure game.

The Legend Of Nier

Nier is loosely structured after Ocarina of Time, with a central hub, plains that act as a Hyrule field substitute (complete with drifting boar instead of Epona), and towns which give way to further dungeons. The puzzles never become anywhere near as complex, and the game world is not nearly as detailed, but it is clear the 3D Zeldas were an inspiration and influence on Nier. Those familiar with Navi will have their ears burn when a specific townsperson says 'Hey, listen!' once spoken to. And if that little reference isn't enough, there's a moment when a character retrieves an important item in a dungeon and holds it up to the camera -- all in a parody of the 'item found' pose from the 3D Zeldas, complete with unintelligible grunt and catchy jingle.

The Graphics

The graphics, which have often been referred to as 'generic' and 'mediocre' by both reviewers and players, are actually more appealing to me in their simplicity and general lack of detail than many of the big budget games currently available. I personally find that too many games of the current generation opt for incredibly busy graphics and overly-detailed textures, leaving almost no room for the imagination.

The look of Nier does far more for my imagination than most of the games I've played since the Dreamcast days, with notable exceptions being the aforementioned Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. There's also a certain thickness to the graphics that make it look like how I would imagine a Dreamcast 2 game to look like, in the very happy alternate dimension where that console exists. In other words, it looks how Dreamcast games tend to look in my fond memories of them.

The Music

The heavy use of vocal tracks can quickly become repetitive and grating, which is my biggest complaint, but I do find it interesting that one of the lowest points of the game for me tends to be one of the most loved aspects for Nier's defenders. The instrumental music, however, is almost always charming and beautiful, with a special oddness to the sounds and arrangements.

The Fetch Quests

The endless fetch quests in Nier are awful, focused almost exclusively on inane grinding and farming. They're entirely optional, of course, but really shouldn't have been in the game in the first place.

In The End

By combining its influences in clever ways, the whole of Nier becomes a game that is altogether unique. If only it had been marketed as such and not as a Devil May Cry-style clone. I highly recommend Nier to fans of atmosphere and originality, and of course to fans of Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Landstalker and Twilight Princess.

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