One of my greatest gaming shames is that I never finished NieR: Automata, which is often lauded as one of the best games of the past generation. I enjoyed what I played, but for one reason or another, I just fell away from it and never found the time to go back. I’d always planned on returning some day, but once Replicant was announced I decided to start there and make my way forward if I ended up enjoying the one that started it all. Well, I guess I’m playing Automata next because NieR Replicant is an incredibly special game with a fantastic story, memorable characters, and fun gameplay that’s only slightly let down by some repetition and simplistic mechanics.
NieR Replicant is an “upgraded version” of the original NieR from 2007, although this time it’s based on the “Replicant” version of the game—originally only released in Japan and stars a much younger protagonist. Overseas we got the “Gestalt” version of the game, which featured a protagonist that was a father to Yonah and not a brother. Functionally the two versions are the same, and simply change the relationship between a few characters, but this release marks the first time we’re able to play as the younger Nier.
When people discuss NieR, one of the first things to be brought up is its story, and that’s for good reason because there’s really not a lot else like it. Replicant has you playing as a young hero that you get to name yourself, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to them as The Protagonist. After a brief prologue, you’re introduced to The Protagonist’s life in a small village in a world set thousands of years after our own. Your sister, who is mysteriously ill, winds up in an ancient temple to try and find a cure to her condition and upon following her you find a magical book named Grimoire Weiss, who is your companion throughout the game. You and Weiss then set off to find a cure for Yonah, although the adventure gets much much grander and more mysterious the further in you go. As you might expect from NieR, there are a ton of twists and turns as the game goes on, and it eventually becomes something much grander and more mysterious in the second half.
NieR Replicant Review- Brother’s Quest
I feel like a lot of people don’t need to hear this anymore considering what happened with NieR: Automata, but as a reminder: the first ending is only scratching the surface of the game’s plot. You absolutely should keep playing all the way through its several endings to get the full picture, and although part of me doesn’t like the repetition involved, the things that come to light through playing even just one more time makes it absolutely worth doing again. By doing so it went from a really good story to something much more memorable.
Just summarizing the plot doesn’t do Replicant any justice because it’s really all about the themes and characters. By far the best relationship in the game is the one between The Protagonist and Grimoire Weiss, as they form a friendship of sorts and work their way through the world. As someone who hasn’t played the original version of the game, I can’t explicitly say whether having a younger Protagonist is better than an older one, but I do think the themes of the game fit a lot better for a character that goes from a young teen to a young man over the course of the story. There’s one scene in particular that is meant to show how much the protagonist has grown, and I feel like it just wouldn’t work as well if the character was a father and not a brother.
The bonds that The Protagonist has with Emile and Kaine’ also play a huge role in the game, and you really do come to love the main trio over the course of several playthroughs. Each of them has considerable depth, a detailed backstory and their own moments that set them apart as the story goes on. The only character who feels a little underdeveloped is Yonah, and that’s more because she’s not around like the other characters are. Even side characters get a lot of focus, such as the King of Facade, who is one of the best recurring characters throughout the game and delivers some emotional scenes alongside Fyra.
One of the most impressive elements of NieR’s story is its ability to control tone. The game swings wildly from heartfelt moments between friends, embodying a fairytale-esque story, all the way to being just incredibly depressing, and yet none of it feels out of place for the universe. This is a game that will make you think, smile, laugh, and cry in pretty equal measure, and it’s something I really wasn’t expecting going in. A lot of the internet is aware of how much of an emotional rollercoaster NieR can be, but it took me by surprise and hit me hard.
As a remaster of the original release, one of the focuses here is improving the presentation and bringing it up to modern standards, and it’s mostly a big success. Looking back on the old NieR, it looks incredibly clunky, muddy, and outdated, which were actually some of the main criticisms leveraged against it back when it originally launched. Replicant looks a lot better in pretty much every regard, with some genuinely great looking locations like Seafront and The Aerie. There are still some last-generation looking textures and lip-syncing issues, but overall Replicant looks great and is arguably the biggest improvement from the original. One of the best elements of the presentation is the environments, which are all incredibly memorable, and when coupled with the game’s music, actually sent chills down my spine.
Replicant is far from just a good looking game though, it’s an excellent sounding one as well. The way the soundtrack manages to convey the mood and tone of pretty much every scene and location is unmatched, and some tracks are just hauntingly beautiful. I felt similarly in Automata, but for whatever reason, it hit me a lot harder here. Similarly to the plot, the game’s soundtrack manages to effortlessly convey tone and emotion. A lot of the OST feels like it has been seared into my brain after several playthroughs. All of the characters are voiced fantastically as well, with particular mention going once again to the voice actors for the main trio of characters.
By this point in the review, I realize that I’ve talked a lot about the presentation and story elements of NieR, and that’s because they’re arguably the game’s strongest element. Don’t get me wrong, Replicant is no slouch in the gameplay department either, but when you compare the peaks of the grim tone and beautiful music to the relative middle-ground of the combat, it’s clear where the game’s strength lies.
At its core, NieR is an action-RPG, with a pretty heavy focus on combat. The combat itself is pretty simplistic, with Nier initially only having a one-handed sword, but eventually getting spears and two-handed blades. You get a few attack options with each weapon, but combos aren’t really a thing, and instead, you’re mostly just attacking, parrying, and dodging. Thankfully it all feels pretty great to do, which is a hard thing to describe in a game, but the weight of attacks feels great and the movement itself is arguably my favorite part of gameplay, as it feels incredibly similar to Automata in weight and speed.
NieR Replicant Review- Shedding A Lunar Tear
The big twist to gameplay comes from Grimoire Weiss, whose magic abilities let you customize your moveset and offer you a range of different attacks, such as throwing dark lances or growing a massive fist to attack enemies. Weiss also lets you shoot orbs of magic, which come in handy against the enemies who shoot an almost bullet-hell level of projectiles at the player. You can also upgrade your weapons and assign words collected from killing enemies to all of the moves in your arsenal, giving them bonuses like greater damage or less MP use. Weiss’ magic really does change the combat from being pretty simplistic to feeling a lot more unique, especially as you dive in and experiment with more of the abilities. I spent most of my first playthrough just using the magic fist but soon found the massive dark lances to be a lot more fun.
One thing I appreciate about Replicant is the fact that it tries to mix up the gameplay in several ways to keep things interesting, such as changing the viewpoint or trying to mimic other game styles like horror. They aren’t always successful, but when they are they become really memorable moments. One of my favorite scenes in the game has you travelling to a forest and having to go through a text adventure to escape, which really caught me off-guard and reminded me of how unique NieR is regarded as being.
Although the gameplay has been touched up in several areas, it still feels like more could have been done in certain places, such as adding a proper guard breaking move or allowing the player to change the way the map points. My biggest gripe comes from the lack of an auto-save function, which is a bit ridiculous in 2021. The game does warn the player to save at post-boxes across the land, but there were a few occasions where I either forgot or legitimately had to leave my console and ended up losing up to two hours of progress. If your game crashes whilst playing Replicant, there’s nothing you can really do about it. It’s one of a few times where the game feels its age.
I’d also warn anyone who’s expecting this to be similar to Automata to keep their expectations in check, as it’s still a lot more simplistic than that game and doesn’t have things like Platinum’s witch-time dodges. The movement feels much more in line with that game, but it would probably take a whole lot of work to get the combat even close to Automata. It’s still a lot of fun though, it just lacks depth in some regards and can drag a little towards the end.
When you’re not in combat, you’ll spend most of your time in Replicant running from area to area talking to other people and taking on quests. The main quest has a fair amount of travelling between the same areas which can be a drag in the first half of the game, but the introduction of a fast-travel system in the second half makes things a lot more palatable. It’s definitely excusable for the more gripping main quest, but unfortunately, the side-quests all suffer from being massive fetch quests. They can occasionally offer more insight into characters and develop the world, but more often than not a character just tells you to kill something or find materials for them. In a game that already feels like it’s doing the same things over again, it really doesn’t help the repetition.
As effective as the multiple endings may be, I’m honestly a little bit mixed on the idea of having to do a final section of a game over and over to get more story information, even if it’s made a lot better by the fact that you only have to replay the second part of the game. NieR isn’t a massive game by any means, but the repetition sets in a lot faster when you’re doing the same gameplay things over and over with little evolution. That problem might be more down to the game’s fairly simplistic systems, but by the time I was redoing the last section for the third time, I was a little bit weary.
To give credit where credit is due, there’s a lot of additional content that’s been added into Replicant that makes it feel like more of a complete package. I won’t go into the specifics for fear of spoilers, but for a first-time player it rounded out the post-game content, and for fans of the series I’m sure it’s going to be a really cool little surprise. I’m not versed in all things NieR, but even I was grinning at the screen seeing what they’d added.
NieR Replicant is a game I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Its story is fantastically dark, incredibly unique and told in such a fascinating way, while its mix of combat and exploration has just the right hints of Zelda that make it a hell of a lot of fun to play through. It has some repetition issues and shows its true age in some areas, but it’s a game I’d recommend to the first-time NieR players like myself as well as the Automata die-hards. I guess it’s time for me to finish that game after all.
NieR Replicant review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.