On the 29th of March 2020, in the middle of the pandemonium and despair that’s currently infusing itself into every last corner of the world, we received an incredible announcement from Square Enix. This small announcement was a surprising one, but was one that built immense excitement and hype around a title many of us thought had long since had its day.
To celebrate its 10 year anniversary, it was announced that NieR will be receiving a brand new release on modern generation consoles. To make this fact all the sweeter, it was revealed that this remaster will, in fact, be the version that for 10 long years remained trapped in Japan – NieR Replicant!
Now, for the uninitiated, or those who’ve experienced the masterpiece that is NieR Automata but have no idea where the series began, buckle up, because this week we’ll be diving into the masterpiece of modern gaming that is NieR and letting you know why you should 100% be hyped for its upcoming remaster. Without further ado, let’s jump right into it!
The Land Before NieR – The Genius Of Yoko Taro And The Madness Of Drakengard!
Before we start on NieR and all the reasons why this game is an absolute must-play, there’s a lot to unpack with the history of the series.
Despite its name, NieR is, in fact, part of a wider narrative known collectively by fans as DrakenNieR. Drakengard and its spin-off story NieR are the brainchildren of the mad genius that is Yoko Taro, a scenario writer whose sheer ability was first unveiled when he began work on his first major project, Drakengard.
The first Drakengard was a relatively small title developed by Square Enix for the PlayStation 2 all the way back in 2003. Despite its somewhat clunky gameplay, the game garnered a cult following thanks to its combination of ground and aerial combat sections, in addition to its immensely dark yet bewitching story, which came packaged with a set of damaged and deranged characters, the likes of which were rare in a game of this time.
Drakengard was dark. Drakengard was mature and kind of disturbing.
Drakengard was brilliant!
Without diving too deeply into spoiler territory, and in doing so I’m oversimplifying the plot to an almost criminal extent, the game focused on protagonist Caim, a young prince who, after forging a pact with the red Dragon Angelus for the low, low price of his voice, sets out to rescue his sister and save his kingdom.
The game is an absolute treat from start to finish with some incredible moments scattered throughout, but for spoiler reasons, we won’t be diving into those. Let me just say that I highly recommend you check this game out for yourself, and the Drakengard series as a whole for that matter!
One of the truly unique features of Drakengard, however, that later became a series staple, was the fact that Drakengard had a number of alternative endings. Five to be exact.
While some were darker than others, none could be described as your traditional Happy Ending, further emphasising just how dark and depressing Drakengard‘s world of Midgar could be. There is very little happiness to be found here, only depressing, soul-sucking darkness. And it is utterly addictive!
Now, it’s here where the story of Drakengard starts to get interesting. Due to the five possible endings available in this game, there are two possible paths that the story can follow. If following on from the first ending, then the story will progress on to the events of Drakengard 2, or at least that was the case prior to a major series retcon.
However, NieR takes place approximately 1,000 years after the events of Drakengard‘s Ending E, the ending where the events prior result in ash reigning down upon to the earth – an event that would change the world as we know it forever!
Goodbye, Replicant. Gestalt, You’re Going Global!
For those of you confused by the name of the upcoming remaster, NieR‘s original Japanese release came in two slightly different flavours: NieR Gestalt and NieR Replicant.
While the story told in each version was near identical, there were a few slight differences. For the PS3 release, NieR Replicant featured a younger protagonist, whereas the Xbox 360’s NieR Gestalt featured a much older protagonist than its PS3 counterpart.
This resulted in the stories of both versions differing in some small yet important ways. In both versions, the main protagonist is driven by his love for a young female companion by the name of Yonah, who has been stricken ill by an incurable sickness. The relation of this girl to the protagonist varied by version, with Replicant featuring a brother-sister bond, while Gestalt featured an intimately tender father-daughter relationship.
Now, this slight variation raised an important question when it came time for NieR‘s global release: which version should be released overseas and, as a result, become the version to define the NieR brand?
While the younger, brother-NieR was the original design created for the game due to the fact that younger protagonists are generally viewed as more appealing to a Japanese audience, father-NieR was designed as it was believed an older protagonist would resonate better with Western audiences.
As such, when it came time to unleash their creation into the wider world, NieR Replicant‘s fresh-faced protagonist was shelved in favour of papa NieR’s more mature and rugged exterior.
This meant that both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of NieR in the West featured the older protagonist, and NieR Replicant remained trapped overseas.
NieR – A Gameplay Experience Like No Other
Upon is release in Western territories, the newly branded NieR (no suffix) didn’t exactly hit the ground running or set the world ablaze with what it brought to the table.
Combat, like many other entries in the DrakenNieR series, was clunky, lacking important genre staples like the lock-on option, and visually, the game was far from Square Enix’s best work.
The game received relatively mediocre reviews by critics, and many people quickly forgot the game had ever existed.
Except for those who played her.
NieR is a strange beast when you look at it realistically. It’s not the most beautiful, it’s doesn’t have the best combat and it has some frustrating moments here and there. BUT. Where NieR really shines is in the more fundamental areas. When NieR is at its best, the argument could easily be made that it truly changes how games are approached, helping to bridge the divide between games and art.
NieR‘s story is absolutely phenomenal, with a plot that will punch you in the gut and then tear your heart out through your eyeballs. The cast is small, making for an intimate story where you’re allowed to watch these flawed characters grow and evolve during the course of the game. You care for the cast and want then to succeed, making the emotional moments hit all the harder as a result.
While hard-hitting emotional stories are far from innovative, NieR sets itself apart by asking its players to undertake a number of additional playthroughs to get the most out of the game. In each subsequent playthrough, NieR evolves and, in doing so, delivers a very different experience as a result. I won’t dive into spoilers or how the game does this, but please know that NieR‘s gameplay starts out fun and grows into something utterly unforgettable as you play more and more.
Not only that, but the game toys with different styles of gameplay with top-down, isometric sections and even on-rail shooter sections that help punctuate the otherwise traditional combat. One section even adopts a text-based adventure style that, while it probably outstays its welcome, still helps showcase NieR‘s willingness to change things up and subvert our expectations at every turn, all while further defining the game’s unique sense of identity.
The Spine-Chilling Majesty of Emi Evans’ Chaos Language
My favourite element of NieR, apart from its story, has always been, and will always be, its music. As far as videogame soundtracks go, there are few that reach the lofty heights of NieR‘s original soundtrack, and that is in no small part thanks to the musical stylings of Emi Evans.
Emi Evans was recruited in order to create a language specifically for use in NieR‘s soundtrack. Combining sounds and phonetic features from a myriad of languages, Evans was able to create something unique and bewitching. This language came to be known as chaos language as, despite drawing inspiration from the many languages of the world, it was unique to NieR‘s post-apocalyptic one.
While much of this language lacks traditional meaning, the inclusion of these lyrics helps craft an emotional punch in the OST. I challenge anyone to listen to the tracks “Grandma” or “Song of the Ancients” and not feel a sense of innate melancholy oozing from every softly sung syllable.
Great soundtracks can be found in many places, and the phenomenal works of Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu stand as a testament to the lasting impact a great videogame soundtrack can have on the gamer. However, the use of instrumental tracks alone can only go so far in immersing gamers in the world on screen.
Through the addition of Evans’ chaos language, NieR‘s already excellent soundtrack was able to reach even greater heights, and the results are plain for all to see (or would that be hear?).
This chaos language was later incorporated into both games to release after NieR, and both Drakenard 3 and NieR: Automata benefit tremendously from this musical influence.
The Future of NieR – NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139…
At last, we’re finally back to the present day, and our history/ music lesson and introduction to NieR has finally reached its end.
NieR is a game that touched a small selection of gamers on its first journey west and left a lasting legacy leading to the creation of what is arguably one of this console generation’s finest games, NieR: Automata.
NieR Gestalt is a very special game to me personally and is a gaming experience I’ll never forget. The stunning musical score coupled with a heart-wrenching story that develops more and more as you play makes this game one I’ll never forget.
The upcoming NieR Replicant is a game many gamers wanted but very few expected would ever come. However, we can at last look forward to a remaster of this little gem on modern consoles.
While we have no idea at present whether the game will receive any major overhauls to its combat or gameplay, in truth, it doesn’t really matter. NieR, regardless of its protagonist’s age is a story of love, friendship and overcoming unimaginable darkness together.
It is a deeply intimate story filled with complicated and broken characters – characters you can’t help but love.
I can go on and on about this game, but when all is said and done, ultimately, NieR Replicant acts as the series’ second chance.
NieR: Automata was many people’s first glimpse into Yoko Taro’s insane world – a world that ultimately captured the hearts and minds of millions.
This upcoming release is but another chance for the original NieR to capitalise on what its first release and its sequel managed to achieve, that being in creating a world far removed from our own filled with heart and soul.
Whether you’re a long-time fan of the series or someone who’s just interested in checking it out for the first time, Nier Replicant should definitely find itself on your radar.
If NieR Replicant can polish out its kinks while still delivering on what made it so special the first time around, then I can’t wait for gamers new and old to pick up this title and experience the magical tale of NieR once again – and here’s hoping it spells a long and successful future for our much beloved NieR!
With all that being said, thanks again for joining us on this week’s trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole, and we hope you’ve enjoyed your time here. If you did, that’s amazing, and please consider sharing. If you didn’t, then please get in touch and let us know why. We would love to hear your thoughts! Thank you all once again and, until next time, keep it weeby everyone!