When NieR launched back in 2010 in the West, the state of the Japanese RPG was going through an awkward transition phase. Sadly, the game was caught in a crossfire of JRPGs trying to reinvent the wheel during its time. NieR Replicant didn’t see the light of day in the West until now, but what we remember of it back in the day was actually NieR Gestalt.
Three years later after the release of Automata, NieR Replicant finally comes to the West as a remaster and a curious re-title featuring the “ver 1.22474487139…” subtitle, which is a relevant thematic point that I’ll let you find out for yourself.
Weeks before the launch of the game, I got to experience this upcoming release and in this Nier Replicant preview, I’m allowed to only talk about a limited number of things, so here’s a quick account of our early playthrough.
Traces of Automata
If your first foray into the NieR series has been Automata, you’re in for quite the change of pace, so prepare to experience a lot of fetch quests in the first few hours of NieR Replicant. It could be a dealbreaker for those expecting the same fast bullet hell type action that Automata introduces players to, but stick with it. The game finally comes alive when you visit the Junk Heap area on, ironically, a fetch quest to retrieve parts to improve your weapon.
Funny enough, when you actually reach Junk Heap, you’re sent on another fetch quest. While I expected the run of the mill “get some parts and bring it back” sidequest, I didn’t expect to find the foreshadowing of the game that will be NieR Automata.
What will transpire is reminiscent of the prologue of Automata, where you fight rogue automations and the trademark bullet hell pink projectiles lobbed by your robot overlords. By this time, you probably have access to different spells from Dark Lance to Dark Blast that may remind you of 2B’s projectile attacks. If you combine it with your melee, which you probably already have been acclimatized to at this point, the entire level is basically a preview looking forward years into the future.
NieR Replicant is obsessed with larger than life bosses. While we’ve grown quite desensitized over the grandiose enemies faced in different RPGs, there’s something about NieR Replicant‘s bosses that present them as viable threats, and their grand scale just evokes a sense of awe and wonder. In Junk Heap, the level Boss reminds me of the first miniboss in NieR Automata, but more like a prototype.
You begin to dodge lasers and rockets, and for some reason, I’m suddenly questioning the skill of the protagonist who, besides some simple boss fights prior, was endlessly doing fetch quests, fishing, farming, and fighting small scrubs of Shades in the exterior of towns. For the first time, NieR Replicant revealed what it could be.
Subverting the Post Apocalyptic Genre
Right away, the narrative of the story does not hide the fact that it’s a post apocalyptic game, but if you’re wondering at this point if it’s science fiction or fantasy– just know the fact that this game is subverting the genre in the best way possible. While the prologue was cryptic and the fetch quest foray may not strike your fancy too much, I feel that if you give the game some time to reveal its true self to you, it will surely be charming.
One of the first towns you visit, the Aerie, is a visual treat, as the hanging village in a perilous mountain peak reveals itself in a creative display of a village so distinct from the first towns that you’re exposed to. During one of the more iconic boss battles featuring this town, the town itself becomes a dungeon where you fight off a gigantic lizard-like monstrosity.
As you traverse through Aerie, fighting off creeps and making your way for the epic battle, the town becomes a platforming labyrinth different from the expected conventions of a classic RPG. You will dodge enemy attacks, while taking care to careful that you don’t fall off the wayside.
What transpires is an epic boss battle that fully explores the area around the town, creating a fantasy RPG that walks away from typical convention. Back in 2010, this subversion would be jarring to a traditionalist JRPG player, who mainly sees a dungeon as a static setting until you face enemies. Some titles throw in some traps, but in NieR Replicant, if you’re not careful with your platforming, you can find yourself looking at a game over screen if you jump into a pit, body of water, and quicksand even if you’re in a town.
At first, I tried to brush it off as a gimmick, but I went along for the ride that the level design is taking me. Because over time I feel that we as gamers have become complacent in towns. This expects us to be active and not disregard towns as a passive setting that we as players have taken for granted.
The vastness of the setting, from the towns to the overworld, really portray a strong sense of place. After a while of passing by these familiar territories and even without fast travel (a cheeky party conversation also pokes fun at the absurdity of fast travel), it pays to take note of the little details included in these towns that you might overlook due to the endless fetch quests you will have to take part in.
Guided by soothing music, the world definitely becomes alive, and you appreciate your place in this world. You are part of this ecosystem of a dwindling civilization that tries its hardest to stay alive amidst in a global crisis that makes the world unfit for humans. It’s beautiful and harrowing if you think about it, and the only other game that invoked this conflicting thought was Death Stranding.
The freedom to fight the way you want to
If you’re used to Nier Automata‘s fast paced combat and many of its bullet hell elements, we do get a taste of it the more you progress, but starting out, many of your moves may seem basic. Many enemies will start you off quite slow, but you’ll run into random powerhouses that are way above your level. Yet once you push further in the game, most of the protagonist’s move set will be available.
The one aspect that I appreciate with NieR Replicant‘s combat is that any enemy is fair game. You’re actually able to defeat them depending on your actual skill and you don’t need to grind it out to defeat high level enemies at the very beginning. You’re also given the option to skirt around them and take them on later. Either way, any play style is encouraged and that freedom is very much welcome.
The idea of combat freedom is embedded into every aspect of combat in a way that you can customize your entire move set. Magic recharges within the battle, enabling you more ways where you can integrate magic use into your combos. If you prefer a more physical style of combat, you can completely forego magic altogether and you can find success with parry, dodging, and blocking. You could even do a full magic set utilizing all four of your trigger buttons with magic and foregoing dodge and block.
At first the system felt jarring, where I was looking for a way to reset the camera. However, once you get used to the lock-on system, it then becomes second nature to focus on an enemy, lob magic at them, dodge, and parry their attacks. The action element of this RPG does not become passive at all and every encounter becomes a dynamic combat system that keeps you interested.
Once you’ve grown into the battle system and have customized your character to the actual play style that is comfortable for you, you have a selection of a variety of moves to go with. Whether I wanted a more defensive approach or something more balanced gameplay with offensive and defensive tactics, I switched up my arsenal to fit my mood. It keeps the play through fresh and the combat dynamic.
There’s still a long road ahead…
I’m enjoying my revisit of this game that’s been exhumed from an almost ten year backlog. A part of me still wonders why I’ve waited too long to revisit this title again, even if I’ve already experienced NieR Automata. I look forward to exploring what the rest of the game has to offer even if certain contemporary quality of life options aren’t there to make the game easier.
The journey behind this has been designed so that I will experience the game in the way it was meant to be. It’s not too jarring, and with enough icebreakers and dusting off the old school RPG shoes, it has enough new features to keep me glued without taking me out of the game because of bad game design.
Everything so far is well calculated and has the right amount of polish for an enjoyable experience. I don’t have to forgive a certain gameplay choice such as a grindy loot farming progression system in order to appreciate a good story nor do I have to put up with a garbage story because the gameplay is so good. This game is definitely one to look out for this April.
NieR Replicant ver. 122474487139… launches on April 22 on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
*NieR Replicant ver. 122474487139… was previewed on a PlayStation 5.