Review of the week

Nier (PlayStation 3)

Nier is not the kind of game that will immediately grab you and pull you in, but then neither was Final Fantasy XIII. Both games don’t even start to get going until the 15-hour mark.

In many other ways the games are polar opposites, however – Final Fantasy XIII was linear to a fault, visually breathtaking, and focused. Nier is an open world – as close to sandbox gaming as a Square Enix-published title has ever come – visually basic, and much more relaxed in progression.

For all its faults in many ways Nier is the superior game, and right on track to be the most criminally underrated game of the generation. It’s a pity the game hit the market with such a critical reception, because Square Enix took a big risk with the game – it is one of the few RPG releases to come from the publishing giant that doesn’t carry the Final Fantasy brand with it, and in a stark contrast to the publisher’s usual teen approach to fantasy, Nier is unashamedly grim and adult.

Taking on the role of a father with a daughter stricken with a horrific wasting disease, you’ll traverse the world looking for a cure. In the process, you’ll team up with a group that could come straight out of a horror carnival – a talking book, a half-demon (and half-naked) woman, and a strange doll skull headed… thing.

You’ll also be completing sub-quests through the journey that range from the boringly-mundane (collecting mutton for hungry villagers), to the truly depressing (delivering a message to a man’s beloved on the other side of the world, only to find out she had been slaughtered by monsters).

With such a downbeat story and characters, coupled with some lofty music complete with chanting voices, Nier is almost operatic at times. The game’s environment, initially barren and ugly, starts to make sense about 10 hours in as the atmosphere mounts and the overriding sadness starts to bleed through the screen through those bleak visuals.

The only release is on the numerous enemies that populate the world, and the monstrous bosses. Smacking them with a weapon is visceral – not just for the extreme gore that spurts from each strike – and acts as bright paint in colouring the otherwise cold landscape - but as vindication from the misery that otherwise inhabits the world. Rarely have games been successful in creating true post-apocalyptic worlds, but with Nier, developers, Cavia, have nailed it.

What is not as effective is some of the gameplay deviations that Nier throws at you. The combat is fine, and the farming and fishing mini-games are reasonable enough, but dungeon puzzles resort to the same kind of frustrating box-moving exercises we’ve seen a hundred times, and the occasional 2D-platformer or SHMUP sequences break the game’s momentum entirely, and are not well done at all. In trying to provide a bit of everything, Cavia ended up taking away from the overall experience.

And this is where ultimately Nier falls down when compared to more refined projects, like Final Fantasy XIII. Whilst a sandbox RPG is a great idea, the dungeons with multiple game styles per level, are less entertaining.

I don’t think there will be a Nier 2, and that’s a pity, because there’s plenty to love in this relatively experimental game. Just go into it with a box of antidepressants at the ready.


  1. I just recently grabbed this game from a friend and was planning to give it a play through shortly and review it on my site as well. I've seen a wide mix of reviews - usually middling 6/10 range, but some people scoring it much higher as well. Good review, thanks!

  2. Hi Chalgyr,

    Thank you for the kind comment. I must say, after reading some of the other negative reviews of Nier, I came away very disappointed. To give it a score, it is not a 6/10 - I feel, despite having a few faults, the game is such an atmospheric experience that it deserves am 8/10.

    That said, it is the kind of game that won't click with everyone.

    I look forward to reading your impressions of it when you've had a chance to give it a go.