It’s been a little over four years since I (and many others) first came in contact with the NieR franchise. Automata certainly can not be described as anything less than a masterpiece. Replicant ver. 1.22, although a remake of Automata’s prequel, follows in Automata’s footsteps, combining everything that made Western audiences love the NieR franchise with the charming Japanese storytelling. PlatinumGames may have set the bar very high with Automata, but Replicant ver. 1.22 sure makes for a worthy prequel.
If you haven’t played any NieR games so far, but you are looking for a way to get into the franchise, don’t worry. Replicant ver. 1.22 is essentially the first game in the series. It is the first title in the NieR timeline and acts as a prequel to Automata. You don’t need to have played Automata to follow the story, but if you have, you will appreciate the subtle references to it scattered throughout the game. If NieR Automata is the only game you have played in the NieR franchise, Replicant ver. 1.22 is exactly what you need to play in order to understand the larger NieR narrative.
|You’ll love it if:||Not for you if:|
|– You’ve played NieR (2010) and want to revisit||– You only care for cutting-edge graphics|
|– You like JRPGs, well-written characters and engaging adventures||– You are not patient and want a quick story to play through|
|– You’re looking for something that will keep you hooked for days|
|– You like impressive combat|
Some more context:
The original NieR game was released in two versions within Japan, as NieR Gestalt (Xbox 360) and NieR Replicant (PS3). The two versions followed the same plot but with a different protagonist. In the western markets, only Gestalt was released, under the name ‘NieR’. NieR Replicant ver. 1.22 is the first time the Replicant storyline has been released outside of Japan, and that is why I will refer to ver. 1.22 as ‘Replicant’ for the rest of the review.
The NieR Replicant may not look graphically impressive at first glance, but the overall visual presentation is by all means excellent. If you are looking for cutting-edge, next-gen graphics you will not find them here. Mainly because this game does not need them. The focus is on the design and diversity of the areas you visit, and those really stand out.
Each region of the world is unique, both in the general design and in the aftertaste they leave you with. Replicant wants to give you the feeling that you are going on a grand adventure, and it does that exceptionally well. No area you visit is the same as the previous one, and you can understand at a glance where you are. It may not be the most detailed world, but it is certainly one of the most memorable.
You revisit the same areas several times, so you gradually gain some familiarity with each place. The interiors of the buildings you visit are beautifully designed and have enough detail. Unfortunately I can not say the same about the interconnecting areas, which connect the cities with each other. They usually feel “empty”, like a transitional level between each city. And to a large extent, that’s exactly what they are.
Of course, there are some incredible locations you travel to. An abandoned factory full of hostile robots, a city in the desert full of stairs inhabited by masked warriors, a haunted mansion, and a seaside town with a mysterious shipwreck on the shore. Doesn’t get much cooler than that. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other cool locations that our favourite company of misfits visits.
The character designs
In true Square Enix fashion, the characters look like they jumped out of the frames of an anime show. And personally, I love how special NieR’s character design feels. It is not as all-out anime as Final Fantasy, but it definitely stands out from the super-realistic character design that almost every modern game goes after. The character design is about as realistic as the plot of this game. And that’s somewhere between “what the f – k is going on” and “this is so cool”.
Real talk though, the character design is truly amazing. The unique look is what makes the main characters stand out among all the NPCs in all the places you visit. They’re supposed to be a group of misfits travelling the world, and this is exactly what they look and feel like. A hero with silver hair and a huge sword on his back, a flying book that talks, a young girl in her underwear (because every day we stray further from the light), and a young wizard who has lost his body.
The supporting characters also have some interesting designs, and the red-haired twins Devola & Popola are prime examples of that. The design of the main enemies, the Shades, does seem a bit meh compared to other iconic enemy designs from the rest of the Square Enix catalogue (such as the Heartless & the Nobodies from Kingdom Hearts).
Sound & Music
The amazing score
The audio presentation is one of the strongest aces up NieR Replicant’s sleeve. The music, as with NieR Automata, is quite something. There is great variety in the melodies and all the tracks have a special emotional intensity about them, which fits the plot perfectly. There are several tracks, although they are not different for each region. The game has an unusually long runtime and that’s why you will hear the same songs playing several times over, even if you are in different areas.
NieR Replicant ver. 1.22’s soundtrack consists of re-recordings of the tracks that made up the NieR(2010) soundtrack. The digital soundtrack is included with every purchase of the game on all platforms.
Exceptional voice acting
A key difference between NieR (2010) and Replicant ver. 1.22, is that most of the game is now voiced. And the cast sure does a great job. The dialogues are transferred with the appropriate intensity, and I never thought that any particular line was off. Each character sounds exactly like you imagine they would. Liam O ‘Brien perfectly fits the role of Grimoire Weiss, as he nails the pompous yet comforting tone of the magical book. While Laura Bailey does a fantastic job conveying the uncertainty behind Kaine’s sassiness.
The game is fully voiced in both English and Japanese. However, listening to the dialogues in Japanese seemed very strange to me because the game already looks and feels an awful lot like an anime show. If you make it sound like one too… yeah, that’s a bit too much for me.
Decent sound effects
The sound effects are not as great as the voice acting or the music, but that does not mean that they’re not good. Footsteps sound different depending on where you are. Each weapon has different sound effects. Each enemy also makes different sounds. However, explosions and other sounds you’d expect to sound bombastic come off a bit muted. During battle, however, the sound of your sword slashing away on enemies does a good job on complementing the already satisfying combat.
I also encountered a bug in the audio mix. When Replicant tries to make dialogue sound louder than the combat sounds, dialogue tends to get a bit too loud and drown out everything else. But I’m confident this will be fixed in one of the upcoming bug fixes.
Like most JRPGs, NieR’s overarching storyline can be described as… a convoluted mess. I suggest you play NieR Replicant ver. 1.22 as a stand-alone game. After all, only at the end of the game will you need more context in order to fully understand what happened.
The base story
Our protagonist is a teenage boy who lives in a small village with his little sister. His sister, Yonah, suffers from the Black Scrawl, an incurable disease that has crippled her health. Suddenly, while trying to save his sister from some evil robots who had kidnapped her, he encounters a magic book. The book introduces itself as Grimoire Weiss, a legendary magical item with occult knowledge. Unravelling the secrets of Grimoire Weiss, they come to the conclusion that they need to collect some forgotten spells, the Sealed Verses. These will help them unravel the mystery of Yonah’s illness and restore Weiss’ lost power.
Exploring the world around the starting village, they will discover many new locations, neighbouring people, and make quite a few friends along the way. After rescuing Kaine, a foul-mouthed girl from a giant Shade, they will gain a valuable companion on their journey. Something similar happens with Emil, the offspring of a noble family, who they will help unravel the mystery behind his unique ability to transform anyone he makes eye-contact with to stone. Together they will become something like local heroes. That is, until an unexpected enemy attacks and everything starts falling apart.
The flow of the story
This is one of the most interesting aspects of this game. NieR already was a game for those who had patience and Replicant ver. 1.22 does not mess around with that. The game not only looks like, but also plays out like an anime show. The plot is divided into two major acts with a five-year time skip in between. The first arc lasts longer and not many significant events happen during that first part. It acts more like a catalyst for world-building and character development. In Act 1, you travel from region to region and collect the Sealed Verses to amplify Weiss’ powers. It essentially helps set up the whole story.
After the time skip, the story takes quite a grim turn. Everything goes much faster and there is a greater sense of necessity in the adventure. Again, you travel with the beloved company of misfits, trying to collect the five keys to Shadowlord’s castle. Shadowlord is portrayed as the main villain in this game. Replicant has five different endings, which will keep you hooked for a great many hours in front of your screen.
NieR Replicant does have quite a long runtime, and it’d be quite easy for someone to get bored. For this reason, now and then there is a side-story or some change in gameplay that helps lighten the mood. Some side-stories may seem a bit pointless at first, but until they reach their conclusion, just before the game finale, you start caring about the characters without even realizing it. Prime examples are the couple with the red bags, the people that live in the desert, and the inhabitants of the forbidden forest.
Honestly, the characters are probably the best part of the whole game. It’s the reason you keep playing, until the last alternate ending. You want to see what happens to the characters and where each one ends up. Since you spend many hours with them, you start caring for them, as if you are watching your favourite TV show, let’s say. The fact that the characters are quite charismatic and have witty interactions and casual conversations between them helps a lot. They do feel like a bunch of friends on an adventure, and they’re constantly joking and teasing each other.
Precisely because the game is long in duration, each character gets their own character arc. The further the story progresses, the more we get to know about everyone’s past. And they all have a tragic backstory that perfectly justifies their motivations and character traits. Alternate endings allow you to discover even more things about each character, seeing a part of the plot in their shoes. Ending E even allows you to play as Kaine. Even if you do not want to play through all the different endings (although I do recommend you invest the time, it really is worth it), you do learn a lot about each character, even in the first playthrough.
The combat system
The gameplay is the part in which Replicant ver. 1.22 differentiates itself from NieR (2010). The combat has been completely revamped and now uses the excellent combat system crafted by Platinum Games for NieR Automata. As in Automata, the impressive-looking combat is one of this game’s highlights.
Sword combat is relatively simple. You can use two different strikes (light + heavy) in combination with various movement manoeuvres. But when you throw in magic, things start to get a tad more interesting. The combat system in general is not particularly difficult to use effectively or even master. But it is incredibly satisfying to see what you can do to your enemies with a huge sword and a magic book. The flow of combat and the combos change depending on the weapon and the Sealed Verses you have equipped. You can customize your play style and pull off some stunning combos in the process.
Boss fights are spectacular. They’re a very satisfying culmination of the combat system and present a variation of the classic (and hated) quick time events, where you have to deal a certain amount of damage to the boss in a specific time window.
Great variety in gameplay
Despite the game’s large runtime, the gameplay does not become tiresome. On the contrary, there are several sections in which the gameplay changes direction, so that it remains engaging. Sometimes, NieR Replicant becomes a 3D platformer, then it’s a side-scroller, and other times it’s a dungeon crawler. There’s even a section with a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure type text quest. These are the touches of brilliant game design I really appreciate.
With a fairly long runtime of about 40 hours, if the gameplay remained the same throughout, Replicant would end up quite a chore to play. Now, you’re just waiting to see what other weird Yoko Taro and co. throws your way.
Repetition is not always a bad thing
I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the lack of fast travel. Indeed, in a 2021 game – even if it is a remake – this is a feature you’d expect to see. However, I believe it was not left out of Replicant by mistake, but by design. You see, just because you have to run from one area to another between each quest, you end up getting accustomed to the areas and appreciate the landscapes a little more. After all, the game presents itself as a grand adventure. By returning to the village after each quest, it really gives the feeling of said adventure. That’s why you need to check in occasionally at your home base.
You do have the option of fast travelling to certain locations after completing a specific part of the story, as soon as the sea canal is built. Simply, if this was given early on, it would turn most of the game into fetch quests, as we would omit all the witty character interactions for the sake of fast travel convenience.
NieR Replicant ver. 1.22 really gives you the feeling that you are setting off on an adventure. You visit enchanting locations, meet unique characters and unravel a story much larger than you initially imagined. All this in combination with satisfying combat, an amazing soundtrack and alternate endings that will keep you invested for many hours. That’s a lot of game for €60.
Whether you are a fan of the NieR franchise since its inception from Drakengard 3’s Ending E, or you loved Automata and want to see where it all started, you will find what you are looking for here. Even if you are just looking for an opportunity to start your journey in the world of NieR, Replicant ver. 1.22 is a great starting point, as it will give you enough backstory to understand what is going on in Automata. Definitely, a game that will satisfy fans of the Action-RPG genre, just as it satisfied me.
We would like to thank CDMedia Greece for providing the review copy we used for this review!