Review: Nier (PS3, 2010)

I know it’s cliche to say, “Never judge a book by its cover,” but in the case of Cavia and Square Enix’s action RPG Nier, that phrase has rarely been so applicable. Originally released in April of 2010, Nier was met with lukewarm review scores in the 60-70% range, and for the most part, flew under the radar of most gamers. After I’d come off a rather bitter first encounter with Square Enix’s own Final Fantasy XIII the month prior (that game has yet to win me over), Nier simply didn’t register any interest from me. One look at the game case and I thought, “Here’s another generic action game with bad-looking art.”

Fast-forward to July of 2012, and by that point, I had been seeing a lot of people online referring to Nier as their favorite game of the PS3 generation, and I had friends at work who suggested I play it. That certainly piqued my interest, as these were a the same folks who had championed titles like Advent Rising, God Hand, and Psychonauts, and although I still wasn’t all that interested in it, I decided to pick it up. It was only about $17 at the time, so the risk was low. However, as is the case with many of my purchases, it sat on my shelf in the shrinkwrap, and it wouldn’t be until two years later in July of 2014 that I would finally crack it open and give it a shot.

20150106_nier_2Initially, I didn’t really get it. I thought the graphics were dull, with washed-out colors and too much bloom. World geometry seemed simplistic, in-game animation was rough, and the story, at least at first, seemed like every other “father trying to save their daughter” plot. The controls and combat, while serviceable, weren’t anything special either, and certainly weren’t at the refined level I was used to with other action games like God of War, The Legend of Zelda, or Bayonetta.

Quests were of the basic fetch and collect-a-thon varieties, complete with annoying, time-consuming rare drops and a repetitive — but easy to master — fishing minigame. About the only thing I did love right out the gate was Nier‘s soundtrack, which is arguably one of the best ever created. Anyway, I played it for several hours, reached the ocean town of Seafront, and once again shelved it.


After receiving a steady stream of encouragement from one of my friends to keep on playing it, I finally returned to it 4 months later in November. It took me some time to get back into it, and although I found myself enjoying the game’s characters, story, and music, the game itself just wasn’t doing much for me. It’s good, but far from great. Nier is a game that’s difficult to define, but I’d say at its core, it’s a single-player MMO with action RPG gameplay. There are many other genre and series influences throughout, most notably those from bullet hell shoot-’em-ups, which plays a big part of Nier‘s combat and excellent boss encounters. I found myself smiling on many an occasion as I was reminded of games like Resident Evil and the classic text adventure games from Infocom.

The action is pretty stiff, and Nier himself has one of the most bizarrely awkward jumping animation cycles I’ve ever seen. He puts his all into it, that’s for sure! Combat feels simplistic and not all the fluid, but experimentation over time yields a system that is adequately diverse, with a good mix of melee and magical attacks, combos, different weapons that can be upgraded and augmented with a unique stat-boosting word system, cancels, deflections, and evasion techniques. While I was getting destroyed early on by enemy mobs, by the end of the game, I was getting through most encounters without taking a single hit. Taking down larger enemies is also quite satisfying. Nier‘s combat won’t win any awards, but for the most part, it feels good, and you’ll likely seek out combat more often than avoiding it.

20150106_nier_3The world of Nier is a rather hazy place. Most locations employ a foggy, dream-like overexposure effect that is meant to make areas feel more atmospheric, but this instead comes across as a technique meant to obscure the game’s mediocre graphics. While the world art and detail are decent, Cavia did a particularly nice job on the characters and the menacingly intimidating bosses you fight throughout the game. These designs are unique, beautifully animated, intuitive to engage, and very memorable.

As mentioned earlier, Nier‘s soundtrack is amazing. Although I haven’t played a lot of RPGs over the past decade, I’d say this is easily one of the best I’ve heard since Yasunori Mitsuda’s stirring compositions in Chrono Cross. The tracks are melancholy, haunting, ethereal, easy to listen to outside of the game, and are as close to perfect as can be. Music is truly one of Nier‘s standout features, elevating the overall experience, and should not be missed if you’re a fan of high quality music.


Voice acting in Nier is also surprisingly good. While there are some characters that do a better job than others, I think that for the most part, lines are delivered with the right amount of emotion and realism. Although the story and world tend to be pretty bleak — as most post-apocalyptic environments tend to be — the dialogue is peppered with excellent humor, fantastic banter while exploring and going on quests, and most importantly, lots of heart. Characters treat others like real people, their actions are consistent, and you quickly fall in love with the entire cast, which is a commendable feat in a sea of games where most characters are expendable or boring shells designed to push forward superficial, contrived narratives. As a result of Cavia’s careful writing and scenario planning, the inhabitants of Nier feel completely three-dimensional, giving their actions and fates true weight and consequence.

As a result, Nier‘s overarching story truly separates it from most other games, and in my opinion, is what makes this an absolute must-play. Employing a uniquely abbreviated New Game+ system, multiple playthroughs are not just there to allow the player to complete unfinished quests and collect Trophies, but they expand upon the core story in ways that will change the way you view all of Nier‘s events, both past and present. Giving the player these new, different perspectives blur the lines between good and bad, right and wrong, and even accepted gameplay and genre conventions that we take for granted. The first playthrough is a solid and memorable one, but subsequent playthroughs make Nier lasting and unforgettable.


In closing, Nier is definitely a game that is greater than the sum of its parts. While its visuals and gameplay are rough around the edges, it is all tied together by a story and soundtrack that are without a doubt among the best I have ever encountered in my 35 years of gaming. Highly recommended.

  • Visuals: B-
    A competently realized world with lots of unique landmarks, nice character art, and smooth cutscene animation. World geometry is pretty simple, and in-game animation is stiff. Framerate frequently drops below its 30fps cap.
  • Sound: A+
    One of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard, with very good voice acting. The audio side of Nier is one of its highlights and isn’t to be missed.
  • Story: A+
    What starts off as a seemingly straightforward plot turns into one of the most memorable and original stories to grace a video game. Getting all of Nier‘s endings is worth it, no matter what the cost.
  • Gameplay: B-
    Decent combat and typical MMO-style quests abound. Lots of running back and forth going through the same areas to collect materials, deliver messages, get items, and complete different quests. A good variety of game genres are represented, but if you don’t like oldschool shoot-’em-up style dodging, some areas and encounters could prove frustrating. Lots of distractions for those who seek them, including weapon collecting, forging, crop harvesting, fishing, and time attack challenges.
  • Controls: B
    The controls are responsive and can be customized, but there are some quirks with hit detection, slow ladder climbing, awkward jumping, and some frustrating camera angles.
  • Value: A
    It takes about 25-30 hours to complete a first playthrough, with subsequent New Game+ sessions taking a few additional hours a piece. Platinum chasers will have their hands full with some extremely time-consuming requirements, which can boost total playtime to over 70 hours.

Overall: A-



Progress Report: Nier (PS3)

It’s been pretty slow-going with Nier. I’ve been on a platforming and oldschool tear lately with Shovel Knight, Electronic Super Joy, DuckTales, and the NES Remix games all occupying most of my time. Despite all that, I find myself thinking about this game a lot, and have become quite addicted to it as I’ve gotten back into it this week.


It’s not a looker, though. Full of weird visual glitches like the one above, the overall image quality looks like an up-resolutioned PlayStation 2 game.

The world of Nier is designed well, however, with large, sprawling towns that feel alive. NPCs have interesting things to say more often than not. I like that quest givers are clearly highlighted throughout each area, which makes them easy to find when you’re focusing on that aspect of the game. What I don’t like is that once you’ve taken on a quest, finding that NPC again can be more difficult than it needs to be since they’re no longer marked. You have to refer back to your quest log for hints on who assigned them. For me, at least, they’re easy to forget.


I really like the loading screens. They’re simplistic, but are full of character, and I look forward to seeing all the different ones that Cavia put in the game, including the journal entries from Yonah.


While I haven’t discovered any methods of fast travel yet — I’m still early, heading to the Junk Heap — I like that I can roll around Nier‘s overworld like Link in the Zelda games, making the long back-and-forth journeys less boring.

These outdoor areas between towns can be huge, and the draw distance is impressive. Again, they might not be the most detailed, but they are still pretty good and support the somber tone of the narrative. They also give you lots of space to plan out and execute attacks on individuals and mobs.

I don’t like that digging up items and harvesting materials from fallen creatures require a slow animation cycle to play every time, though. Maybe this is a given in titles like this, and I know it’s more realistic, but it gets a little old when there are so many things in the world to gather. Ladders and pushing/pulling blocks also have an overly slow feel to them.


You can (and have to at least once) fish in Nier, and while the mechanics are almost insultingly simple, it’s not implemented very well. It’s annoyingly easy to lose bait and fish even when you think you’re doing everything correctly. Most recently, I enjoyed the fishing mini-game in Persona 4 Golden. It had a good visual feedback system, but Nier‘s is vague. As a result, I’ve lost a good number of lures on what should have been simple catches, and above all else, it comes across as wasted time.

One area of Nier that I can’t fault at all is its audio. It contains some very good voice acting, and the soundtrack in particular is of the highest quality. One listen to “Song of the Ancients (Devola)” is enough to seal the deal. Nier‘s compositions get mentioned quite often when Favorite Soundtrack lists are discussed, and for good reason. It’s one of the most beautifully consistent, stirring, and memorable ones I’ve heard in quite some time.


I’m also digging the gameplay. At first I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. Combat felt repetitive and not very clear, but I’ve gotten comfortable with it, and I’m also gaining a sixth sense on what to avoid this early on in my adventure. Those one-hit deaths will make you a fast learner!

I haven’t really gone too deep with some of the customization systems, like the word-related one. I just do the auto-equip for now, but I’m sure later as I amass a good collection of them, I’ll be scouring the internet to find the best and most effective combos. The metagame was one of my favorite aspects of 2010’s Dragon Quest IX on the Nintendo DS, and I get the feeling I’ll be enjoying those same qualities in Nier as well.

So despite the various nags and quibbles I have with this game, it’s one where I feel the whole is going to be greater than the sum of its parts. I’m very much enjoying Nier so far, and I’m glad my friend encouraged me to start playing it.


Happy Fourth of July!

GHG will be back on Monday, but I just wanted to wish everyone a fun and safe holiday weekend. We’ll be checking out the fireworks show here during the Fort Dalles Fourth, the first in over 25 years!

I plan on getting caught up on a few games over the weekend as well, including Pokemon X (3DS), Nier (PS3), and Shovel Knight (PC).



I’m about 15 hours into Game Freak’s Pokemon X — this being one of the first games in the series I’ve ever put any time into — and I’m enjoying it.

There’s something irresistible about these cute and unique monsters, figuring out what skills to keep or replace, seeing what each monster evolves into, and understanding the various characteristics of all the Pokemon in this world. As a relative newbie, I’m still rather overwhelmed by the complexity and variety on display here. Just keeping tabs on what Pokemon I’ve caught and organizing them feels like a game in and of itself. The satisfaction of whittling down a Pokemon’s health and capturing it in a Poke Ball is also pretty great.

I’m particularly impressed with Pokemon X‘s soundtrack. I was expecting a standard and light set of tunes, but there have been many times where I’ve just sat there and listened to the catchy music found all over Kalos, like the “Gate Theme”, which is just so good.

Some things about the game annoy me, like how it can be a bit difficult to position your character to speak to NPCs, or the slow pace of battles even with the animations turned off. On the flipside, the game is very pretty, and small touches — like how you physically bend down to talk to children — show great attention to detail that give the game its unique charm.

Even though I’ve put a decent amount of time into Pokemon X, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. This is the kind of game I could easily see myself sinking many, many hours into, like I did with one of my favorite Nintendo DS RPGs several years ago, Dragon Quest IX.



I just started Cavia’s Nier a few days ago, and only have a couple hours logged. It’s a game I’ve had in my backlog since 2012, and after being urged by a friend to play it for at least the past year, I decided to finally give it a shot.

From the beginning, I didn’t think I’d make it past the intro. The game suffers from sub-par visuals and a combat system that — at least initially — feels simplistic and repetitive. The first battle in Nier seems to take forever, and for a moment, I thought I was doing something wrong.

I wasn’t feeling much better a little later, as the game’s inhabitants were perfectly happy to send me on countless, mindless fetch quests. However, after I played through and finished the first dungeon — including the first boss — I started feeling differently.

There’s a lot going on in Nier, with many ideas borrowed from genres you wouldn’t think have any place in an action RPG like this, but nevertheless, they’re in here and they work quite well. The story is interesting, which is elevated by some pretty good voice acting. It was certainly better than I was expecting, with the title character Nier and your early sidekick Grimoire Weiss having solid performances.

So far, Nier is proving to be better than I was expecting, and even though it has numerous flaws that can’t be ignored, I find myself compelled to play it, and that’s what’s most important: that a game be fun.



Finally, there’s Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight, which I just wrote about yesterday. Having put around 4 hours into it so far, I’m about halfway through. It’s just a fantastic platforming adventure with so much to do.

Challenge and difficulty feel just right, although if you are not used to playing side-scrolling games like this that have limited continue points and other consequences for dying, it might initially feel punishing. It’s not Mega Man or Ninja Gaiden levels of punishing, but players just wanting to quickly fly through the game to see its ending will be met with a quick demise. In fact, many rooms are designed in such a way that you’ll take a hit and usually fall to your death — or at least get knocked back to the previous screen — if you just run in blind.

I can’t say enough about how good the game looks and sounds. Art and animation are of the highest quality, backgrounds have a ton of detail, and the music gets in your head and stays there. Jake Kaufman, with some contributions by original Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae, outdoes himself here. “La Danse Macabre”, a song that will bring to mind a very popular vampire-slaying series on the NES, is one of many standout musical pieces in what is already an amazing soundtrack.

Shovel Knight would have to seriously pull the rug out from under me at this point to fail. What a game!