NieR is a Japanese action-RPG game featuring a father, the titular character, who embarks on a quest to save his daughter from a deadly disease while defeating dark, mysterious Shades throughout the world. In this predecessor to the 2017 hit NieR: Automata, though the journey at first seems straightforward, not all is as it appears.
Pro Incredible soundtrack
Featuring a soundtrack filled with emotional scores such as thoughtful piano pieces with beautiful vocals from singer Emi Evans, and bigger tracks that add more weight to the game's gigantic boss fights, NieR's soundtrack is among the best in gaming. Composer Keiichi Okabe and his team at MONACA Studio crafted a memorable score that elevates NieR beyond the limitations of its lackluster graphics and gameplay. The music tells a story all its own, taking the place of the sense of ambiance or environment that the graphics on their own can't quite achieve. Listening to a hauntingly epic orchestral piece filled with mystical lyrics in NieR's made-up Chaos language while merely wandering through a hermit-like town is but one example of the lengths the soundtrack goes in order to captivate the player.
Pro Unexpected and diverse cast of characters
NieR takes the Japanese RPG trope of a band of unlikely characters going on a quest together and turns it on its head, featuring a cast of a snippy talking book with dormant powers, a profanity-loving young woman with a dark past, and a young boy who possesses abilities well beyond his years. Their character arcs feel believable and real, with their entertaining overworld banter reflecting these changes as certain characters grow closer to one another as the game goes on. The stakes in the story are weighty and meaningful because of how well-written the characters are and the impressive ways their goals intertwine by the end.
Pro Innovative system of multiple playthroughs
Clearing the game once is nowhere near enough to experience all that NieR has to offer. New Game Plus is instead a way to view the story through different lenses, expanding the scope of the player character's decisions near the end of the story. Although it can be a bit of a grind to pass the requirements for some endings, the reward is more than worth it by the end, changing the player's entire perspective on the plot in ways that are only possible in a video game.
Pro Weapon and magic variety
There are plenty of opportunities for customization, from choosing heavy greatswords over lighter weapons to mastering magic that enables the player to defeat enemies without the need for melee combat. Powering up spells and upgrading weapons are great ways to pick specialties for fighting enemies, with tangible payoffs for dedicated upgrades in the form of more brute strength and satisfying charges of black and red beams that can decimate targets with ease.
Pro Clever and thoughtful story
In a game filled with talking books, empathetic enemies and a destruction of tropes, this predecessor to NieR: Automata shows us more of Director Yoko Taro's craft where he sets up the expectations that the story will go one way, only for things to take a drastic, but satisfying turn as the plot progresses. Underneath what seems to be a damsel in distress cliche is a thoughtful commentary on humanity and what it truly means to sacrifice for the ones we love.
Con Weak controls and gameplay
Walking or running around as the main character and fighting against enemies feels flimsy and float-like, as if these systems were an afterthought for the developers. They clearly prioritized the story and the music above the gameplay. Combat feels empty, with little feedback from the controller while swinging weapons or casting magic. Although the visuals for magic spells are interesting, and some bosses are gargantuan in scope, not much else stands out in a positive way about NieR's combat.
Con Poor graphics
Even for a game for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the graphics are bland and boring. The environments are too simple, the open world is lackluster and the visuals lack impact, all because of the graphics that were already dated in 2010. Characters look nice during cutscenes because of clever use of lighting, but for the majority of the game, NieR isn't much to look at. Players looking to get into this game almost a decade later will need to adjust their expectations accordingly.