(http://www.niergame.com/) Rated M for Mature by ESRB. Hidden between piles of highly and possibly-overly hyped titles back in April 2010, Nier is quite the buried piece of art. Even though “extensive creative efforts” is part of the definition of “art,” most of today’s video games cannot be justified as such. With creative imagination and lots of perspectives, Nier qualifies in the “art” category despite its shortcomings. On the other hand, it perhaps did not do so well in the parts that make it a video game. Overall, it is a refreshing experience from the moment the player is greeted with screaming profanities through the tear-jerking endings.

(http://www.niergame.com/) Rated M for Mature by ESRB. Hidden between piles of highly and possibly-overly hyped titles back in April 2010, Nier is quite the buried piece of art. Even though “extensive creative efforts” is part of the definition of “art,” most of today’s video games cannot be justified as such. With creative imagination and lots of perspectives, Nier qualifies in the “art” category despite its shortcomings. On the other hand, it perhaps did not do so well in the parts that make it a video game. Overall, it is a refreshing experience from the moment the player is greeted with screaming profanities through the tear-jerking endings.

**WARNING** The following video may contain content inappropriate for children**

Presentation:
“Words are my greatest assets,” says floating book Grimoire Weiss, one of the main characters; the same holds true for this touching piece of hybrid art work – the narratives are exceptionally done. In fact, a few segments of the game are conveyed in only text and music. These sound novels can last up to a few minutes, but the vivid writing paired with the well-placed music is definitely a unique experience.

If the player chooses to push the storyline along, there is not a dull moment in its 20 hours worth of the first play through. Every locale is a treat to breathe in, especially when arriving for the first time. Post-apocalyptic remnants of modern society alienated in a medieval world visually drive the world setting.

In this broken and hopeless world, portrayed by the increasingly clouded sky akin to that of the Pacific Northwest, the player plays as a father who will stop at nothing to save his daughter from a fatal disease. In his quest, he comes across a few highly accentuated companions. One of them even greets the player with a barrage of profanity in the intro soon after the disc is put into the console. On the other hand, the aforementioned floating book Weiss always has a clever come back, but never using a single cuss word. It is these carefully crafted personalities shown in the precision of the script that make Nier stands out.

Also, one of the best aspects about this game is how everything ties together to enhance each other. While Nier may not excel in all of these categories, it is however accentuated by having these elements linked together so tightly.

Graphics:
Despite the heart-felt world design, there are quite a few things about Nier’s visual presentation that will unfortunately turn people away just from its screenshots. The single most eye-catching problem is perhaps the bland and repeated texture, which makes the game needlessly plain and outdated-looking. Also, even though the game is clearly M rated and made for a mature audience, the costume of one of the characters may still be over doing the amount of skin shown. Although she has reason for dressing as such, but wearing just undergarments and a nightgown that’s three sizes too short, barely covering the breasts or the buttocks, may not be exactly in line with the game’s overarching serial tragedies.

On the other hand, the quick and fluid animation helps keep the game interesting despite the limited places to explore and sightsee. The combat animation especially shines in its graphical representation of blood. It unrealistically spray and splash in bucket-loads out of the smallest of creatures, but the rule defying qualities of the splashes are particularly interesting. It also highlights the cruelty committed against these creatures, in later parts it may even grow upon the player’s conscience alongside with the world setting and make the simplest combat difficult on the mind.

       

Sounds:
This is hands down the best aspect of Nier. The game as a whole may not stand out very much, but the playing experience is infinitely stronger with the game’s music. After listening to Nier’s soundtrack, there are certainly high hopes for more works along this line coming from composer Keiichi Okabe – which is made more surprising when his other most recent work is Tekken 6. For the music aficionados, it is evident that the music comes from the work of perfectionists. According to lyricist and singer Emi Evans, the heavily vocal soundtrack is made up with many non-existing “futuristic” languages. The placements of each and every vowel and consonants are specified to bring out the best quality of the voice and pitch.

Through out the game, the individual tracks smoothly fade in and out of its respective piece based on different situations, creating the perfect yet occasionally contrasting mood. And the effects limit not only to the percussion like in other carefully scored titles, there are quite a few times where the vocal track fades in or out. Some of the changes are simply so powerful that it is not a bad idea to set down the controller and just breath in the atmosphere.

The music not only excels at technicalities and production value, the most important part is that it sounds good. For many, the emotion-packed story will fill their eyes with tears, and the music will provide that final push to get them flowing. The sublime and ethereal soundtrack provides excellent mood enhancement for the whole game, and it also carries the game through some of its less exciting parts such as the repetitive quests. The music also has this power to make the player completely forget that a game is being played. After spending some time with the music, the actions happening on the screen seem to cease to matter.

In this serial tragedy, voice acting plays an important part to convey the feelings. Among Nier’s many excellently voiced lines, one of them is probably the most heart-wrenching and maybe the highest-pitched screech in the history of video games and/or movies. Despite the power it puts on the ears, it still feels far worse inside due to that character’s unfortunate predicament. That is but one of the more memorable lines and the quality level of the rest of the voice work are equally as good except for some occasionally spotty lip-syncing.

       

Gameplay:
With an addictive story, game world, and music, it is almost like the gameplay took a step back and is not quite as important. Or perhaps its simplicity allows the player to focus on enjoying the overall atmosphere more. Branded as an Action RPG, Nier plays more like a hack n’ slash instead – complete with fragile enemies and a hit counter. Even the bosses start to become very easy once the weapons get a few upgrades. While all the NPC in the game seem to have a huge fear of these “monsters,” the lack of challenge they present has an adverse effect on the world setting.

Outside of combat, the game runs mostly on a quest system. Nier includes hundreds of side-quests, on one hand it can lengthen the game to several times its actual length, and on the other it is a huge punishment to have to put off the electrifying story for the side-quests. While some quests add to the narrative by having equally attractive mini-storylines of their own, most others are mindless and redundant fetch quests. If all the quests are of the former type, then Nier would’ve been even stronger in its presentation. It would have been well appreciated if the side-quests were used as a tool to dive into the wealth of background information of the game world or to add a touch of humanity to each and every of the NPCs.

Innovation:
There are a few unique visual effects in Nier. One is the magic used by both the protagonist as well as the enemies. Quite a few of the enemies use lots of these slow-moving crimson balls as projectiles, which forces the player to evade them by studying their moving pattern much like in the frantic retro shooting games. But the twist of having a full 3D environment adds more depth to the action.

In several other instances the developers paid homage to other well-known series by playing with the visual presentation. There is a black and white colored mansion where the camera is fixed in a corner of each room as supposed to the normal behind-the-back third person view; yet another area is played from a bird-eye view, reminiscent of a certain beat-em’-up or online RPG; among others. These blasts from the past are not only nostalgic, but they also fit well into their respective situations – the mansion particularly reeks of a creepy vibe even though it is not zombie-infested.

       

Longevity:
Although the story is somewhat slow-paced in the beginning, it becomes exponentially difficult to set down as the story develops. Aside the negligible fishing and planting mini-games as well as the plethora of side-quests mentioned earlier, Nier features multiple endings and extra content after the first play-through to offer deeper understand of the characters and the gameworld. These extra contents will keep the player wishing to know more as the game is played more. But in the end, there can never be enough to quench the thirst for this delicate world. And even though the final ending is conclusive, it is hard not to wish for another result.

Conclusion:
Strange as it may sound, it is easy to lose sight on the “playing” part when playing Nier. The beautiful music and simplistic gameplay come together for a trance-like effect. But for those who care about gameplay above all else, Nier’s battle system may come across a bit shallow even with the fun magic effects. The contrasting quality of the quests also leaves the player wanting more of the better quests that relate to the characters and the world. On the positive side, the despairing yet refreshing story is in another world of its own, both the main plot and side stories are masterfully told whether it is by the clever script and fitting voice work or the artistically crafted texts such as the sound novels. There is however one thing in Nier that 99% of other video games cannot achieve – to be able to touch human compassion. When it is all said and done, Nier’s emotionally charged tale alongside with its perfectly gorgeous music makes it hard to move on to another game.

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