I missed out on Nier when it first arrived in 2010, so my experience going into Nier Replicant Ver. 1.22474487139 was a fresh one. I find myself rather thankful for that because if there’s one thing you need to know going into this new version of creative director Yoko Taro’s bold, genre-bending action-RPG, it’s that you can expect to revisit the same places, fighting the same enemies, and pushing the same godforsaken boxes around a lot. It’s one of the bigger issues with Nier, but the important thing to note is that the ways in which Nier Replicant disappoints are mostly forgivable when you consider the ways in which it astounds: Surprises await around every corner, characters are unforgettable, and the emotional story will resonate in my mind for a long, long time.
Ver. 1.22 (for the sake of my own sanity, I’m just going to round down from here on out) is in a strange place of being more than just a remaster, but also less than a remake. It obviously looks much better when compared to the muddy original, with dramatically improved draw distances, cleaner textures, better character models, and a consistently smooth 60fps framerate. At the same time, though, it still gives off that PS3/360-era RPG vibe: environments lack detail, NPCs are stiff and just kind of stare lifelessly into the void, the world is broken up into small chunks with loading screens bridging the gaps, and there are no current-gen console enhancements for the PS5 or Xbox Series X. It certainly isn’t an ugly game anymore by any standard, but it also still feels a step behind 2017’s Nier Automata.
However, one big change, and one of the reasons why I think it’s impossible to label this just as a remaster, is the fact that every character is now voiced. This is a huge improvement that goes a long way in bringing Nier’s otherwise-sleepy world to life.
Beyond the visuals and voice acting, Nier’s combat also has seen some love, smoothing out its animations and making it feel extremely comparable to Nier Automata’s. One of the big things that was taken from Automata is the seamless integration of weapon combat with your skills. So where in the original you had to sit still while you charge a spell like Dark Lance, now you can pretty freely move around and charge any spell, as well as cast them while attacking. That all makes combat behave much more like a traditional action game and goes a long way in improving the actual feel of Nier’s combat.
That said, it is still pretty shallow and easy. You never gain new sword skills, rank and file enemies come in only a handful of types that all quickly succumb to your button-mashy attacks, and I was always swimming in health restoratives, which took almost all tension out of every fight. Eventually, the challenge became more about finding the right combination of magic and sword combat to see how quickly I could clear a room, instead of being a test of whether I could clear it at all. That’s fun in its own way, and the combat certainly is flashy and fun to look at, but it did get pretty stale before I finished my 35-hour playthrough. Yes, there is a hard mode, but it mostly just makes the enemies into frustrating sword sponges that still aren’t difficult but just take forever to kill, especially in the early parts when you don’t have access to stronger weapons.
On the plus side, there are three different weapon classes with pretty distinct fighting styles and move lists. There’s a caveat to enjoying all of them, though, in that upgrading the weapons within those classes is very expensive and requires a lot of grinding. Unless you want to spend even more hours in the Junk Heap farming robots, you’re encouraged to pick one and stick with it.
There’s also a small element of playstyle customization in the form of upgrades called words that you collect as you level up and defeat enemies. These words can be added to weapons, spells, and your defensive techniques to add special properties to them, such as added strength, guard break, magic power, and so on. While being able to tailor your character by swapping words in and out is a welcome feature, I never felt any sort of need to customize my weapons or abilities in any sort of way other than just equipping whatever words that gave me the most damage on whatever I had equipped, because the combat scenarios never challenged me in any ways that required me become more specialized.
What saves it from becoming outright dull are the ways in which Nier Replicant throws you into its combat encounters, which vary wildly. It masterfully plays with camera angles and perspective shifts in some truly inspired ways, and those do a great job of alleviating at least some of that feeling of repetition.
A Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
Nier’s story starts slow, but ultimately becomes the absolute best part. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world in which a teenager named Nier (or whatever you choose to name him) sets out to find a cure for his sister, Yonah, who’s afflicted with a terminal illness. It’s a deeply personal story; one about a brother’s love for his sister much more so than any sort of grander ambitions to save the world, which is one of the more intriguing aspects about it as an RPG. Nier and his companions are not “chosen heroes of light” or anything of the sort, and the actions that they take very often fall into a morally gray territory – and sometimes they push the needle somewhere even darker.
It’s a credit to the strength of Nier Replicant’s writing and the performances of its cast that, regardless of how dark or grim things get, its characters are always a joy to be around. The snooty sentient floating book Grimoire Weiss is endlessly entertaining with his condescending commentary on whatever’s happening; the scantily clad and foul-mouthed Kainé is just an absolute badass and is hilarious in her vulgarity; and Emil is just the purest and most kindhearted floating skeleton with a creepy head you’ll ever see.
I’d be remiss to leave out the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. Like Nier Automata’s, it’s composed by Keiichi Okabe and features the soothing vocals of Emi Evans, and it’s just an absolute joy to listen to. Whether it’s the catchy and relaxing overworld theme that plays as you’re running through the northern plains or the grand operatic music that hits when you face off against a boss, it’s all phenomenal. And as an added bonus for version 1.22, you can even switch the soundtrack to Nier Automata’s if you so desire.
But like most RPGs, Nier Replicant is made up of both main quests and side quests, and while the main quest is fantastic (well, at least eventually… again, it starts very slow), the side quests are terrible. They’re utterly mundane, with the vast majority of them turning you into an errand boy as you bounce back and forth between locations collecting ingredients, delivering items, or finding sparklies on the ground. It’s made even worse by the fact that there’s no way to set a side quest as your active quest, which means that there are no waypoints on the map or minimap to guide you to your next destination. This is an area that absolutely feels like it should have been addressed as a quality of life improvement for Ver. 1.22, but no dice. The fact that they are super unrewarding and not worth the effort actually ends up being a net positive because it means you can ignore them and go pretty much the entire game without ever letting them distract you from the main questline.
The End is Just the Beginning
One of the boldest decisions with regards to Nier Replicant is the fact that, as Yoko Taro games tend to, it demands to be played more than once. If you just did one playthrough from start to credits, you’d be missing out on literally half the story. This may sound like a drag, and to an extent it kind of is, but that’s necessary to tell a story in a way that could only be told through video games – and it’s a sacrifice that’s worth making. Besides, it’s not as bad as it sounds, because after you beat the campaign once, you’re able to load your save back up and replay from the beginning of the second act. So you’re not actually playing through the whole thing again, just the latter (and better) half of it.
The second playthrough of Nier Replicant is actually the best one, because even though you get all the same events as the first playthrough, albeit with a few new scenes and crucially important bits of additional dialogue, you’re going through those same events with the knowledge of what happens at the end. That which totally recontextualizes everything the entire second half and leads to some truly incredible story moments that hit me harder emotionally than a video game has in some time.
NieR Replicant Screenshots
The third playthrough, which you must do in order to see the final three endings, is where things get a little out of hand. It’s nearly identical to the second one, and you must also find all of the weapons before you challenge the final boss. Thankfully, the sidequests that are tied to the weapons are much better than the standard sidequests, but it’s still a frustratingly grindy requirement just to see the true conclusion of the story.
And yes, for the hardcore fans wondering if there’s a new ending added to Ver. 1.22, without going into spoilers let me just say that yes, there is one – and it is truly special.