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Nier: Initial Impressions

The other game I indulged in over the ANCAC Day long weekend was Nier. I doubt it's going to be a widely popular game, but I like it.

The game begins in a decaying city in the year 2049. Our protagonist is desperately trying to defend his sick daughter. It felt rather poignant to me, and I found myself caring about their plight. Wielding a length of pipe and fighting wave after wave of monsters in the snow, I felt a bit like I was experiencing a cross between Silent Hill and God of War.

Nier is a bit of an odd fish, and seems unwilling to let me get too comfortable. So, naturally the next thing that happened was jumping 1,300 years into the future, where the game-proper begins. I guessed this was a case of reincarnation and history repeating itself, though it could be time travel for all I currently know. I expect things will be revealed in time. I have to say, I was a little bit disappointed at this point. I found the earlier setting significantly more compelling than the village we were transported to. But I was prepared to run with it.

We are soon introduced to Grimoire Wiess, a magical floating book who should hold the key to curing Nier's sick daughter of the mysterious and fatal "black scrawl". The book practically drips sarcasm, and is wonderfully voiced. The banter between Neir and Weiss is one of the game's highlights. The soundtrack is also excellent, and adds a great deal of atmosphere.

Nier is a sort of post-modern game mash-up. Though the core is formed from RPG and action-adventure, it includes sections of (or homages to) many other genres, including 2D platforming, survival horror, rail shooter, and even text adventure. This tends to get it accused of being a jack of all trades, and master of none. I have to admit though, I hadn't really noticed those shortcomings. Perhaps because I've been more focused on the overall vibe, and themes.

Occasionally, a story will touch upon something very relevant to me, and that increases its impact. One of the minor themes that has come up a few times involves the choice between promoting an unpleasant truth and a happy lie. That hits very close to home for me, for reasons too personal to go into here. Suffice to say seeing people kept in the dark for their own good really bothers me, and I'll always give people the right to their own pain.

There are other themes I've found interesting, but I'm not delving too far into spoiler territory for a newly released game.

I find this a difficult game to comment on, because it already seems to comment on itself so thoroughly. I'm a side-quest completist, and I have been prompted to question my behaviour because the game seems to be openly mocking me for it. Errands which may have seemed reasonable when playing a 14-year-old in other games suddenly seem demeaning as a man in his 40s. And Weiss is quick to point out how pathetic it is.

It's true that side-quests are where the grind is found, and this may be a more exciting game by ignoring those in favour of the main story. Also, there is fishing. Fishing mini-games really are one of my pet hates in gaming. I probably deserve to feel mocked for doing the fishing quests even though I know it isn't something I enjoy.

Really, there is a large element of choice here about how you prefer to play these kinds of experiences -- quick and action-heavy, or broken up with some fishing, gardening and fetch quests? The difficulty seems forgiving enough that grinding is not really required.