Spinoffs are nothing new for Square-Enix, not to mention the companies that would ultimately merge to form the RPG powerhouse. Square spun off the Seiken Densetsu / Mana series from Final Fantasy, not to mention Kingdom Hearts during the PlayStation 2 era. Dragon Quest, too, had its share of side-games such as the Torneko roguelikes and the Dragon Quest Monsters subseries. The year 2010 saw the release of NieR for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, a spinoff of the Drakengard / Drag-on Dragoon series, which proves to be an experience on par with Square-Enix’s other mainline titles.
NieR pits its protagonist against enemies known as Shades, and allows him to wield different types of weapons with which to assault his foes, such as swords, axes, and spears. He can also charge and execute magic, with his magic gauge gradually replenishing afterward. Furthermore, the player regularly gains Words from enemies that they can attach, two each, to the protagonist’s spells, weapons, and even dodge-rolling and defending. Finally, the hero can use consumable items, able to carry ten of each type, to recover life and perform other tasks if needed. This system works well for the most part, though a targeting system would definitely be welcome, since the hit direction of certain weapons like the spear is a tad iffy.
The spinoff would have also benefitted from a liberalized save system, since saving is only accomplished sometimes after cutscenes and at red mailboxes that further recover the main character’s life and magic, and there are a few points of no return and long stretches without save opportunities. Easier direction for sidequests would have been welcome, as well, although the game does a decent job pointing players in the right direction (not so for sidequests), and the menus aren’t intrusive, and overall, while interaction isn’t terrible, there are aspects that could have definitely been better.
NieR tells the story of a protagonist seeking a cure for his daughter’s disease and enlistment of help from a talking book, with the hero and the tome having great chemistry throughout the game, which has an excellent translation with a mature script containing occasional F-bombs, although a few aspects are cryptic, the dialogue does contain rare errors, and seeing alternate endings requires multiple playthroughs.
The soundtrack is stellar, with most tracks having a vocal backing of some sort, and the voicework is top-notch, although there are occasional music-less moments.
The visuals also look decent, although there are occasional graphical blemishes, with regards to things such as blurry and pixilated texturing when environs are viewed up close.
Finally, the main game is fairly short, taking less than a day to beat, with great replay value in the form of a New Game+ and alternate endings with subsequent playthroughs.
Overall, Nier for the most part is a solid experience, given its enjoyable hack-and-slash gameplay, its good narrative with a solid localization, superb soundtrack and voicework, nice graphics, and plentiful reason to go through the game again. Granted, it does have its shortcomings such as the need for a targeting system akin to three-dimensional action RPGs such as the Kingdom Hearts games, the stingy save system, a few points of no return, and a few visual blemishes, but the experience is a solid one, and warrants a playthrough from even those that haven’t experienced the franchise from which it spun off.
+Fun hack-and-slash gameplay.
+Good story with strong localization.
+Excellent soundtrack and voicework.
+Plenty replay value.
-Needs targeting system.
-More save opportunities, too.
-A few points of no return.
-Getting most out of the plot requires multiple playthroughs.
-Some visual blemishes.
The Bottom Line:
A great spinoff of the Drakengard series.
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: Less than a day