The first game in the NieR series makes a comeback on modern consoles thanks to a remaster that’s had more care taken with it than usual.
When the incredibly clever and decidedly bonkers NieR: Automata arrived in 2017, it was a brand-new game world and experience for the vast majority of those who played it. With its genre-jumping design and the flashy combat that developer PlatinumGames was famous for, it crept into many year-end lists. But outside of a dedicated fan base, few in western markets were aware they were actually playing the latest game in a larger franchise that dates back to 2003.
The Drakengard games, spanning the PS2 and PS3 generations, were modest successes (largely in Japan) but it was spinoff game NieR that got the attention of a loyal fanbase. The history of NieR is a strange one, though, as while it was designed to appeal to a global market with its real-time action combat, it was a very different game in Japan, depending on which console you owned. The game’s original design features a middle-aged man as the player character, with the goal of appealing to a more adult audience. That’s the version players outside Japan got, titled NieR: Gestalt. However, on PS3 in Japan, the main character was switched to be a teenage boy, with the game getting renamed NieR: Replicant. And here we are, a decade later, with that version finally making its way to our shores on the PS4 and Xbox One, complete with a cheeky update to the title which is very much in keeping with the series’ wonderful world of weird.
“What sets Replicant apart from many remasters is the care and attention that’s gone into the things that matter.”
It’s important to mention what Replicant is not. Fans eagerly heading in hoping for a complete rework along the lines of last year’s brilliant Final Fantasy VII Remake are going to be disappointed, because this is a mostly faithful “remastering” of a PS3/360 era game, making its way to current consoles with most of its compromises intact. Graphics have been given a massive boost in quality, though, with better lighting, hugely improved textures and what looks to be a rock-solid 60fps frame rate.
What sets Replicant apart from many remasters is the care and attention that’s gone into the things that matter. Combat is the biggest change from the original game, with one of the Automata team from PlatinumGames brought in to redesign and enhance it. The result is fast, fluid, exciting combat that’s a bit less involved than some – with less visual fireworks – but provides a satisfying counterpoint to the game’s less action-filled moments, of which there are plenty (more on that in a moment). The characters have all been redrawn by hand, there are new story chapters, an expanded soundtrack, and a truckload of new voice acting. Considerable effort has been made to enhance and expand the game, while staying true to its overall look and feel, which was the right call for a game that looked pretty great in its day, within the limitations of the consoles of the time.
The story’s the big drawcard here, along with the series-usual expectation of multiple playthroughs to fully finish the story and see all available endings. That’s going to be a big ask for some (though hey, people wanted value for money in their single-player games, and this delivers!) – and that’s mainly because of the quests. Or more specifically, the side quests. Anyone who’s played an MMO will know what’s in store here – a seemingly endless rollcall of the absolute worst fetch quests in the genre. Bring me 10 of these, five of those, and three of these, and when you get back we’ll be needing seven of these, 14 of those and a herb that somehow only seems to exist inside small animals. Yes, it’s tedious as all hell – and though the good news is that you can more or less avoid doing all of the side quests if you want, those of us with a completionist mindset are going to spend a lot of time bringing stuff back to town for people who can’t seem to shop for themselves.
“NieR Replicant is going to be a welcome sight for those who loved the newer game and want to experience the first.”
As you progress through the story, the game frequently gets creative with both the gameplay mechanics and the actual design – you can find yourself in a 2D side-view world at times, in a Diablo-like isometric view, or looking at your characters from a camera directly above. Automata crammed a lot of that into its tutorial intro, but Replicant saves its best surprises for later. The tutorial here, by the way, is suitably flamboyant (you’ll be level 30 in no time!) and if you were one of those who made the mistake of dying to the final tutorial boss of Automata, 45 minutes in, only to be sent back to the very start to do it all again… well, don’t worry this time, because Replicant isn’t quite as mean. It’s arguably an easier game overall (and has a very forgiving easy mode) but since most people will be here for the story, rather than the ludicrous amount of giant red balls they’ll be dodging throughout, that’s okay with us.
Overall, while it’s not on the graphical or gameplay level of Automata, NieR Replicant is going to be a welcome sight for those who loved the newer game and want to experience the first. While it won’t be winning any awards for graphical goodness, the remaster has mostly brought the game up to modern standards while retaining its personality and endearing weirdness (and you can even download free Automata costumes for the characters to make yourself feel more at home!) Just remember not to let those pesky townspeople strongarm you into too many errands and you’re sure to have a good time.
NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is available now on PS4 and Xbox One.