Our recent preview of NieR Replicant was an eye-opener, because I realized that I didn’t really give the game a chance when it first released over 10 years ago. It was never meant to be a conventional title, but rather a trailblazer that subverted the genre in so many ways and was waiting for the right time to finally shine. Now is that time.
My experience with the original NIER was quite the strange affair. Being largely an Xbox 360 user back in the 7th generation, the version of the game I’m familiar with is what many others would come to know as NieR Gestalt. NieR Replicant was actually the Japan-exclusive PS3 game that had one massive cosmetic difference – the protagonist was a teenage boy who had a sister named Yonah, while the version that I’ve played featured a 40-something father figure.
I remember very little about the game besides being one of the better Square Enix properties that came out at the time. It would be safe to say that I’m playing this remaster with fresh eyes, and with the success of NieR Automata, it’s a good idea to revisit its roots.
That being said, NieR Replicant ver 1.22474487139… or NieR Replicant moving forward, tells a story of the titular character first from 2056 in the prologue and then fast forward to 1,412 years in the future where everything has become a post apocalyptic fantasy. The narrative is quite cryptic, but the first hour of the game follows the story of your protagonist (who you can name NieR) who is caring for his sick sister Yonah while trying to survive in a world where a dwindling human population is fighting against a horde of monsters called Shades.
A remaster that’s more than a remaster
First thing to note is that NieR Replicant currently does not have a native PS5 version. This is a PS4 version that we’re playing on a PS5 via backwards compatibility. Loading time is within the 10-15 second range, but the visuals have largely improved over its PS3 counterpart. If English dubbing is not your thing, don’t forget to change it in the options screen because you’ll have to put up with it for a while before your first save. The mouth movements are definitely better timed with the Japanese language, so take that as you will.
It’s worth noting that yes, the prologue is a bit lengthy. Surely veterans of Automata had to wait double or triple that to get to their first save point, so this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. What transpires during this period is a chance for a quick tutorial session while getting you into the action right away. You’ll start with your basic attack and block and as you progress through an endless wave of enemies, after which you’ll eventually learn how to cast projectiles, area-of-effect magic, and so on.
Control-wise, it was somewhat awkward adjusting to an “older” style combat system. These days, much of the action, especially basic attacks, are located with the triggers and bumper buttons of your controller, so some of you may take some time getting used to this new (old) scheme. Other than that, controls are very responsive, and there’s very little to complain about here in terms of movement, but since it is a PS4 title, the DualSense features are almost non-existent.
NieR Replicant offers various improvements that make it more than just a simple remaster. This latest offering introduces gameplay tweaks, bringing back the original VA’s to reprise their roles while recording new performances, and an overall polish to the game that makes it feel like a proper 2021 release while still keeping the charm of the original intact. It succeeds very well in a way that fans of the original will surely appreciate.
In the future, old things are new
Early on in NieR Replicant, you’ll be introduced to the ever-present fetch quests. If you’re a fetch quest addict like me, take care not too lose yourself in the heat of jumping at every available task on screen. There will be a lot of them and at times they can be overwhelming.
At this point, I realized why I quit the original game. There’s a fetch quest that tasks you to deliver a fragile parcel to the nearest town. I remember failing that quest enough times to make me rage quit.
Because of this, it definitely feels very close to the original version, along with all the quirks that make it a game that’s definitively from the 2010’s. Playing this game makes me appreciate all the quality of life benefits we’re receiving from many of the recent games that respects your time, however limited it may be. Remember that time when saving only at save points was a thing? That’s here too.
NieR Replicant doesn’t have map markers to let you know where a quest is located, and you’ll also have to buy or find a map to be able to access the map or a certain area. This is where those quality of life upgrades would have made a difference, since there’s no way to track your objectives unless you go back into the menu. You’ll have to figure out everything else, so that’s really something to consider for gamers who have been spoiled by all of these new spoonfeeding mechanics throughout the years.
The exploration junkie in me started to come alive at this realization, but the responsible me groans at how I’m going to have to invest some serious time to get the most out of this game. The good news is that even if you actually try to complete all of the available quests, the main story and extras will take you around 30-35 hours to complete, with the main quest being only 18-20 hours. It’s not a long game, but the game makes the time you spend on it worth the while.
Working for it
In a way, I shouldn’t be scoffing at side quests. Quests are the fastest way to earn funds in the game, which you can use to purchase weapons and miscellaneous items with. There is also a robust gameplay mechanic for item collection, where many of these materials are used to power up your weapons and also a way to help you with quests.
Aside from shade hunting and picking up loot that randomly generate in the fields and towns, you could also farm and fish for materials. Both activities are straightforward and does not require an additional learning curve to master. If you want better yield for either activity, you may want to learn more about watering and fertilizer for farming and equipping appropriate lures for fishing. These side activities can prove to be fun if you let it.
My colleague played NieR Replicant with as little side quests as possible, and never bought nor upgraded any weapon until the last chapter. He also only used the same two skills from start to finish. That sounds like a very straightforward and boring playthrough, but it is worth pointing out that the game respects you enough to let you play the way you want to and still let you finish the game even if you don’t participate in anything else other than the main story.
You will be walking (or running) a lot in this game. There will be a lot of back and forth in between locations, and several dungeons really stretch out in terms of area of exploration. I actually appreciate the vast openness of the setting and the many empty areas devoid of population whether by human, animal, or Shade. In a way, it reminds me of Death Stranding where the world is laid out in its vast emptiness. It really brings the thematic core home.
The combat system in NieR Replicant is definitely dynamic and one of its triumphs, giving you enough flexibility to customize your battle system to suit your play style. Magic recharges, so you could have an exclusive magic build. If you’re more of a combo junkie, you can customize your set up to rack up that combo meter. If it all gets tedious, you can always switch on your Auto Battle settings. It’s quite intuitive and it’s great to take along on those long grinding/farming sessions.
In terms of equipment, you can collect a sizeable amount of weapons in the game. While you start off with a one-handed sword in the first half of the game, the second half of the story unlocks more weapon types to add to your arsenal. Each weapons has its perks and drawbacks, but all capable of dishing out the pain.
And then there are Power Words, which are similar to mods, and attaching these to individual weapons and skills to further push customization to crazy detail. As an example, you can attach a paralysis effect to Skill A, a poison effect to Skill B, attack up to your weapon, defense up to your evade, etc. You’re only limited by your imagination, so go crazy and be creative.
This is 2010 calling, they want their game back
While I could appreciate the sentiment of keeping the game intact from what was designed before, I feel that certain quality of life benefits could’ve been implemented with this remaster of NieR Replicant. One particular request is the ability to autosave in the middle of long cutscenes or a string of boss battles. You can skip cutscenes, but I feel they’ve miscalculated certain stretches of the game that could end up to be frustrating.
The lack of an autosave mechanic is exacerbated in some dungeons, which annoyingly have areas where you could die unexpectedly because of a stupid move or a quirky level gimmick.
Another convention popular with JRPGs are the inclusion of vehicles and fast travel options later in the game. NieR Replicant have their own methods of fast travel and “vehicles” that cut down on the running time. While I appreciate maintaining the allure of past RPG nostaglia, but after the novelty dies down, you’ll want to cut down the running to and fro. There will be a story-based fast travel that unlocks automatically, but there a couple of fast travel points that you’ll have to unlock through fetch quests and chance conversation with a NPC.
Finally, the biggest trope that I absolutely hate is the lengthy prologue the newbie protagonist endures at the start of the game. As JRPGs have tried to find its relevance in the world gaming community, modern titles have reduced this trope to a minimum. Persona 5 and Final Fantasy VII Remake have almost removed these antiquated tropes that prevent players who want to get into the game in the shortest possible time. While the overall narrative and lore of NieR Replicant improves with more playability, you’ll need to trudge along the first 3-5 hours of the game before things get interesting.
In the end, you won’t forget it…
Overall, while there’s a part of me that appreciates the 2000s visual aesthetic that was popularized with Metal Gear Solid 2, I can also understand that it has aged. I appreciate how NieR Replicant has streamlined its visual aesthetic to match NieR Automata, even looking “washed” and lacking in vibrant colors in some cases. It may not appeal to everybody’s tastes, but it creates a style guide unique to the franchise, giving it a recognizable visual stamp.
I didn’t remember much of the music back in the day, but the ethereal and haunting score of NieR Replicant reminds me of the epic music from Xenogears. Though I have to say, hearing “Song of the Ancients” in so many forms in the game creates a unified theme that you don’t get sick of. The music drives the emotional heart of the game home and at times, it’s what you will remember when it’s all said and done. One of the fetch quests actually treats you to a rare arrangement of “Song of the Ancients”, so remember to say hello to some mice and lizards for an fantastic aural reward.
Yoko Taro’s storytelling also stands out with much of the presentation, and while it is easy to dismiss the narrative as the typical anime-game sentiment, what makes his plotting stand out is how he starts with a simplistic idea and extrapolates it in a way that matches the bullet hell enemy swarm he throws at you. The story gets bigger and better as you go along, so strap yourselves in for a ride.
The emotional core of the game really lies on the deep symbiotic relationship between the protagonist and Yonah. The protagonist will do anything for his sister and that single minded quest is how he corresponds to the many different characters he encounters in the game, whether it be as important as Grimoire Weiss or down to the nameless NPC who asks for a favor. There is much benevolence in the protagonist, and it’s great to watch him grow from his naive younger self to a more grizzled older version hardened by experience. Much like this game that has so much to give, only fully realized with this release a decade after.
What we liked:
- A well deserved graphical update that matches NieR Automata‘s aesthetic.
- Appropriate music that matches the emotional core of the situation, it should be a shoo-in for music and soundtrack nomination for the Game Awards.
- Dynamic combat system that gives the player the freedom to customize their play style.
- A beautiful but melancholic narrative that slowly reveals the mystery of their cryptic world.
- Love them or hate them, but the fetch quests actually opens the lore surrounding the world.
What we didn’t like:
- Could’ve used a story unlocked fast travel to cut the walking time early in the game.
- Autosaves would’ve mitigated the frustration with unnecessary backtracking due to lack of checkpoints.
- It takes about three hours before the game gets interesting.
Verdict: Buy It!
NieR Replicant represents a turning point where the game has evolved from what it was before into a more creative product that implements a different sentiment with storytelling, gameplay, and lore. It is the definitive edition with which the game is meant to be played, with the full vision of Yoko Taro finally realized.
One thing that I truly appreciate with this version is how many quality of life elements have been implemented to ease contemporary gamers into the antiquated game mechanics from back in the day. While there are still some aspects of it that exists, in a way they are forgiven as a product of its time.
Once you get past a lot of its quirks, you will be treated to a bittersweet tale of a kindhearted brother driven to do the impossible during an extraordinary time where different forces are in play that are beyond human understanding. The bleach bypassed world filled with wonder and danger, the haunting harmonics of its eclectic score, and a dynamic battle system that promotes freedom of play style really makes the game come alive.
Before you know it, this game is done and you may want to find out what other endings the story has in store, or you may want to finish your fetch quests to unlock more of the world’s lore. NieR Replicant gives you a lot of freedom to enjoy the game at your own pace without being sidelined by tropes that have hampered JRPGs, making the transition to a brave new world of genre standard.
*NieR Replicant ver 1.22474487139… was reviewed on a PlayStation 5 via a review code provided by the publisher.