For players who first discovered Nier through PlatinumGames’ 2017 outing, its 2010 predecessor may seem like it comes from a different time and place.
The post-apocalyptic future depicted in Nier Replicant (or to give the remaster its full title, Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139 …) seems less sci-fi-based, but a world of ruins where humans are still trying to survive, while your powers come from dark magic instead of high tech gadgets.
But even for those who played the original Nier of the now defunct Cavia (the remaster is handled by ToyLogic), this is still technically a new experience, since it is actually a remaster of the Japanese version of the game where the main character was a teenager. boy instead of a middle-aged man, which changes the context of the story significantly.
Our hands-on is not focused on history, instead Square Enix seems set to remind us of the parallels Replicant shares with Automata, at least based on our trip to the garbage dump in the early hours of the game. This dungeon with narrow corridors has us fighting enemies, not unlike the machines in Automata, and in the same way not everything that is inspiring in design.
Combat may not have the brilliance of a PlatinumGames production, but manages in the same way with fast melee combinations and an escape that when you timed correctly makes you glide around your enemy. A welcome addition is to be able to block attacks, which can also be a parry that allows you to follow up with a highly harmful counter.
However, it is difficult to measure the attack windows accurately, not helped by the fact that you are often attacked by several enemies, which also makes the lock camera frustrating, as we often thought it was aimed at another enemy than we expected. As with Automata, the game also regularly changes the third-person action perspective behind the player, going from side-scrolling to top-down, sometimes for no reason or reason.
That said, in Junk Heap we mostly keep our distance since these machines often shoot volts in front. This is where our dark magic comes in handy, thanks to an unlikely alliance with a fluent, talking book called Grimoire Weiss. His presence can be compared to the Belgians who accompanied the player around the Automata, and a magic Dark Blast mainly shoots projectiles like a tower.
But there are even more magic formulas at your disposal, from one dark fist that attaches close to the middle, to another that shoots a dark lance at long range, with most of the magic that can become more powerful when charged. In theory, you can map up to four rods to the shoulder buttons, although we personally chose to keep our ability to defend and evade the triggers.
As a knowledgeable tome, Weiss also acts as an encyclopedia and organizer in the menu screen, whether you need to dig up tutorials or track assignments. Aside from magic, some defeated enemies also strike ‘words’. Like how your spells come from sealed verses, Weiss can also use these words as modifiers to improve your weapons and spells. If the words sound like mumbo-jumbo to you, the good news is that you also have an option to equip only the best combination automatically.
“That replica is really a ‘new’ Nier experience, or at least a version we never got in the West before, should be reason enough for dedicated Nier fans to seek it out.”
Weiss’ dialogue is also undoubtedly one of the replica’s highlights, with the air of a cheeky and tired butler, and although the remaster offers dual sound options, there is as good a reason as any to stick to the English sound – not to mention that you Save yourself from trying to keep reading subtitles in the middle of a fight.
In fact, sound remains Nier’s greatest strength, and those interested in Automata’s ethereal score will be delighted that composer Keiichi Okabe will return with a new point and expanded soundtrack, from the Northern Plains theme with Emi Evans’ beautiful, other world-worthy vocals to the epic choirs during big boss fights.
These soundscapes do absolutely a lot of the aesthetic and emotional heavy lifting compared to the visuals, while obviously being a huge improvement over the PS3 / 360 versions, nonetheless feels a bit overwhelming. The frame rate, which doubles to 60 frames per second, is naturally large, but it’s a shame that there is no resolution upgrade beyond 1080p for those with a PS4 Pro, Xbox One X or a new generation console.
Nevertheless, an increased resolution will probably not do any good for the ultimately boring environments, seen in both the rubbish heap and the northern plains, the latter an open but empty field for you to slaughter sheep or the game’s main enemies, nuances.
The dated character design is clearer when we in another boss fight join forces with Kainé, a pot-mouthed woman who fights in her underwear, a fact that the game almost never manages to remind us of.
For those who preferred the older protagonist in the Gestalt version released in the West, it still makes a little more sense to play with a younger protagonist. When the story jumps to the center five years later, there is clearly a more pronounced difference in seeing a boy become a man.
The melee battle also opens up, where we used to feel little difference between the one-handed weapons we used. But as an adult able to use two-handed and spear weapons, there is a greater sense of weight and speed to distinguish the types of weapons to influence your playing style.
That replica is really a ‘new’ Nier experience, or at least a version we never got in the West before, should be reason enough for dedicated Nier fans to seek it out. At the moment it’s a bit of a bumpy remaster compared to more polished re-releases, but for new converts who are a masterpiece in the rough edges and quirks of Automata, it probably won’t matter when there’s still a game that is filled with Yoko Taro’s unique personality, warts and everything.