A look into 'NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…'

If there is anything you should understand, it’s this -- NieR Replicant ver.12247… is the best game I’ve played this year.

Get it when it comes out.

In 2017, NieR: Automata came out and was met with glowing reception. Set on a distant future, with androids fighting for the sake of humanity against hostile machine lifeforms, it combined stylish and fluid combat with a compelling story about humanity and purpose.

One of the more interesting details about the game is that it was a sequel to the original NieR, which came out in 2010. NieR itself is a spinoff of one of director Yoko Taro’s previous games, Drakengard. There were two versions of NieR that came out -- Nier Gestalt, which was localized and distributed simply as Nier in regions outside of Japan, and Nier Replicant, which remained a Japan exclusive. The main story of both games were largely unchanged, except Gestalt featured an older male protagonist due to pressure from the American branch of Square Enix, while Replicant starred a younger male. This is the first time that Replicant is coming out in English.

Set in a fantasy world where a mysterious disease called the Black Scrawl plagues humanity, and mysterious, hostile Shades roam the countryside, you play as the titular Nier (or whatever you name your save file), a young man on a quest to save his sick sister, Yonah. Accompanied by the Grimoire Weiss, a floating, sardonic talking book, a foul-mouthed and hotheaded young woman named Kaine, and a powerful magic user named Emil, you hack, slash, and blast your way through legions of shades in order to complete your quest no matter what. 

Replicant’s combat is crisp and satisfying, closer to Automata than the original - a welcome change, because the original’s combat was one of its lowest points. Attacks can be strung together along with magic spells to create devastating, satisfying combos, with each of Nier’s attacks really selling the impact of his strikes.

Two-handed swords swing in wide, heavy, brutal arcs, while one-handed swords are fast and agile. I was personally a fan of spears and their rapid, long-ranged strikes, but they proved difficult to use against armored foes. That’s where magic comes in - channeling power from Grimoire Weiss, Nier can cast a variety of spells like powerful long-range projectiles or giant fists adept at flattening a group of foes.

These too change depending on whether you use them by themselves or in a combo, augmenting them with additional properties like the aforementioned punch performing an uppercut to send foes upwards instead of away. Your allies provide some nice support, but they’re never in the way of combat and allow you to take center stage in every engagement. For people with disabilities, or folk who just want to experience the story, Easy mode even comes with a very useful and customizable auto-battle system that lets you decide what the game does for you.

Replicant delights in changing things up for the player in unexpected ways. You could be traveling through a factory overrun with machines before suddenly transitioning into a top-down bullet hell shooter, or the perspective could shift to a sideways, 2D platformer. Replicant isn’t afraid to pull the rug from under you, toying with your perspective multiple times, sometimes within the same boss battle. While the camera shifts can be jarring at times, I found them interesting enough that I didn’t really mind when it happened.

The sound design really shines through in the remake, with the entire voice cast reprising their roles from the original and even contributing voiceovers to lines that were previously just text boxes. The music is an extremely high point too, with many tracks featuring a haunting, otherworldly language that carries the mood without distracting the dialogue with understandable lyrics. I found myself standing around in some areas for minutes at a time just to listen to the beautiful vocals. 

As someone who hasn’t played the original Nier, I can’t completely appreciate the extent to which the remake has improved the combat, visuals, or voice acting. But as someone who has played Automata, I can confidently say that Replicant is my favorite between the two. Automata might have had the collective might of action game powerhouse Platinum Games on its side, but Replicant hits so many satisfying notes outside of combat. The only thing keeping me from calling Replicant a perfect game is that some of the original’s flaws are still present here. Still, that does little to take from the overall experience of playing it and experiencing the story. If you enjoyed Automata, get this game. If you own a PS4 and like action RPGs, get this game. I heartily recommend this game.

The game will be released on April 23.