BitSnark

A place of scribblings located in the darkest corner of the internet. Yup.

In The Drive: Nier (360) – Four Hours In

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I can’t say I really expected much from Nier – it flew so far under the radar when it was released, that at some point or another i’m sure I had to wipe it off the bottom of my boot. Still though, the game receieved batches of isolated praise from a number of folks on various forums, due in no small part to the strength of the narrative and the size of the adventure on offer. Upon sticking the disc inside of my 360, begrudgingly accepted it seems as the drive didn’t want to close the first two times I told it to, the game boots up and we’re greeted by the usual white Square-Enix logo against a black background.

So far, so expected. What follows however, is not expected, not at all. What you then get is what most presumably be a line of dialogue from later in the game which involves the most liberal use of profanity that I have ever seen in Square-Enix (although Cavia developed) title. Indeed, you get to hear more profanity before you even get into the game, then you would have heard in Final Fantasy X, XII and XIII combined.

It’s this which sets the scene of what to expect from Nier. Nier is not a pretty game, in fact in a number of ways and on a number of levels, it’s downright fucking ugly. Take the characters for example; given the JRPG genre that Nier nestles itself into, you would expect the game to be filled to the sparkly brim with effeminate, long-haired boys and dainty, unassuming female waifs.

Not here. Not here at all. Instead, the main charcater is an old, grouchy, scar-laden bastard who even if you did catch him in his younger years would *still* be one ugly piece of work. Outside of the archetypal JRPG cardboard cutout characters (thankfully relegated to one-line giving NPC’s or side-quest providers on ocassion), the characters whilst ugly in both appearance and attitude, do come across in far more striking fashion than their contemporary peers – even more so when they are juxtaposed so vividly against the JRPG cutout-regulars that often surround them. A particular standout is the talking spellbook – who constantly unleashes an unending torrent of sarcasm and dry-wit in the direction of the player at every opportunity. In short, these guys are interesting and represent a collection of far more compelling personalities than what we’ve seen come out of the JRPG genre as of late.

A special mention have to go to the bosses too – ranging from massive, towering clockwork twin-knights to gargantuan cliff climbing mutant beasts which have seemingly snot covered skin and multiple swinging ‘appendages’.

The ugliness that permeates the game also extends to the visuals too. Drab, garish and with PS2-levels of detail at times, the game sometimes makes you forget what console you’re playing the damn thing on. Admittedly though, the game does have moments of beauty, or at least times when your eyes don’t want to hate you for subjecting them to it, but they are few and far between.

One thing which most assuredly isn’t ugly however, is the music. A mixture of soft vocals and gentle strings, it too is a departure from the usual J-Rock/Pop garbage that is such a distressing staple of JRPG presentation these days. Seriously good stuff.

Well, i’ve waffled at some length but how the game looks but how in the blue fark does it play? Well, Nier is a confused little game. A confused little game that like it’s visuals, has it’s roots in the generation of consoles that came before it.

The game plays very much like an action RPG in that it’s a free-roaming hack and slasher which allows you to augment your combat abilities with rangy spells and various JRPG stock items which heal, buff you and generally improve your character. Naturally, these items are found in crates and boxes in which, yep, you guessed it, you have to smash to retrieve the contents that have been so cleverly concealed therein.

Where the game does throw you a curveball however, is in the way it uses it’s camera to often strange effect; altering the dynamic of the game. For instance, given that the game is a JRPG, the last thing you would expect to be doing is platforming right? Well, I have had numerous occassions thus far where the game makes you do just that; locking the camera to a side on view – forcing you to jump across chasms and clamber over ledges to get to your objective. While this might seem fresh and inspired, the actual execution of it is poor since the character was never really designed to ‘platform’ and jumping (a basic and often unused action in the ‘meat’ of the game) makes these sections clunky and clumsy, making any watching passers-by wonder if you are playing some sort of low-budget indie-developed platform game.

Fighting, ah yes, the fighting. Annoyingly when you fight enemies there is no camera lock that you can use to stay focused on a foe and circle around it effectively. Instead, you have to manipulate the eye-scratchingly silly manual camera system that the game employs in order to avoid your opponents attacks and somehow end up in a decent position where you can strike back in a timely fashion. Indeed, the best solution I found to this was to simply roll around like a moron so that you pretty much 95% of time end up out of trouble and on the vulnerable side of your foes. Again though, camera issues rear their ugly sodding head, since you are always required to keep the camera manually focused on your enemies yourself.

These sorts of finger gymnastics shouldn’t be part of the JRPG experience, but, as you have surely noted by now, developers Cavia probably couldn’t give two-shits about signing from the JRPG hymn sheet. Still though, the admission of this most basic of gameplay mechanics is downright silly and annoying in equal measure regardless.

In terms of the actual gameplay structure – fewer surprises remain in store. You know the drill right? You show up in a town, you do a few side-quests to get some sort of reward (although side-quest rewards only come in the form of items and money and not the receiving of XP as is the norm) and then you toddle off and do a number of quests which tie into the overarching plot and serve to push it forward.

While the side-quests themselves are largely forgettable (and in a couple of cases, completely hair yankingly frustrating) the main quests are fairly involving and serve to move the game’s narrative forward (which while soild so far no doubt has many surprises in store). They too follow a familar path; you reach an area, you plunder the fuck out of it, kill some regular mobs and then fight a boss at the end.

At the end of the day there is just something about Nier; I don’t know if it’s the promise of the story flourishing into a more compelling narrative with such intriguing or just that as a whole it is off-kelter just enough to keep my interest.

So far, Nier seems like it is somehow greater than the sum of it’s decidedly undercooked parts and as a result, it’s an odyssey I think i’ll perservere with. Oh and for the record, in case you play the game, the side-quests for the package delivery to the Aerie and the Boar Hunt are the most frustrating thing I have come across in quite some time.

Nier is available for PS3 and Xbox 360 and can be found as cheaply as £8 online.

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Written by bitsnark

May 19, 2011 at 11:17 am

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