The last time we saw Nier (or Nier Gestault as it is called in Japan on the Xbox 360), it was at the 2009 Tokyo Game Show where we played through an action-packed demo with no clear idea of what was actually happening. At the time, the game felt very much like an action adventure as we mashed buttons to take out armored creatures in a long enclosed corridor. We recently had the opportunity to check out Nier again, but this time, we started from the beginning to get an idea of what was going on in terms of the story. We were told that there are going to be a lot of twists, cliffhangers, and many subplots, but we weren't given too many details beyond the main storyline. The main story focuses on Nier, a father who is willing to do everything he can to save his daughter from an illness known as the black scrawl.
Our demo began with a rather animated and interesting monologue where we heard a young woman shout expletives at or about a book. After the long-winded rant, we saw a montage of different cutscenes and gameplay elements from various points in the game. The build we had was in alpha, so this sequence was just there to show us the variety of areas and styles of play because we haven't had a chance to really see what Nier has to offer. It was difficult to get any sense of the story from these scenes, but it was an early look at the diverse environments, action-oriented combat, and various camera angles.
The somber beginning sets the tone for the story as we see Nier's desperate struggle to try to help his daughter, who is stricken with the black scrawl. With a haunting children's choir singing in the background, the camera rested on Nier looking worn but still alert and clutching a large pipe in an abandoned building with large glass windows at the entrance. It's supposed to be the summer of 2049, but a layer of snow covered the quiet urban area and no other being was in sight. Nier's daughter, Yonah, was hidden on the other side of a wall that Nier guarded from creatures known as shades. We learned that these dark monsters were created by a group of scientists and doctors who tried to find a cure for a disease that was going to wipe out mankind. Instead, they inadvertently introduced shades into the world and the black scrawl, which we can assume is a disease even worse than the initial problem that threatened to kill everyone.
This initial level gave us an idea of the combat and the spells to which Nier would have access. A mysterious book was by his side, and after the first wave of attacks, he reluctantly called upon the book to draw more power. In addition to using his long pipe to beat the glittering shades--which come in all sorts of shapes and sizes--into submission, Nier can use the book to cause some serious damage. Depending on the spell, the book could summon a large red hand to bash enemies out of the way, shoot glowing red orbs, or have spears jut out from the ground--impaling anything within a certain radius. By charging your magic attack and sucking up a good portion of your magic bar, you can deal even more damage using these spells. The button configuration is entirely customizable, so you can map any button to do your standard attacks and choose which spells you want at your disposal. It's obvious that there's going to be a downside to using this incredible power and that the book is more than just a handy tool because as Nier heads out to defeat the remaining shades, he tells his daughter to never touch the book. Later on, we'll see that the book, called Grimoire Weiss, stores all your information and becomes almost like a friend who talks to you from time to time.
After this short intro, we jumped ahead to a point that was almost halfway through the game to a time that's 1,300 years into the future. We see Nier next to his daughter who is still sick in bed, and being the doting father that he is, he offers to go to seek out some medicine to make her feel better. Why Nier and Yonah were still around 1,300 years later, we don't know. We also don't know why they are suddenly in a quaint medieval-looking town that is surrounded by rolling hills and lush fields. What's interesting is that whenever you're inside a building, the view changes to 2D so you're entering and exiting doorways from the left or right. It suddenly looks like a platformer, but once you go outside, you have full control of the camera again and are free to wander in 3D again. We were told that at times, you'll even fight from a top-down perspective, so we're curious to see when that occurs and how that affects the gameplay.
If the game didn't feel like a traditional Japanese RPG before this point, it did now. As we wandered through the bustling streets, we were able to pick up side quests and gather information from the locals. Blacksmiths, merchants, and other useful non-player characters were strewn about to help us with our quest. Some quests are repeatable, so we did a quick mutton fetch quest where we had to go out into the open world and slaughter some sheep. Harvesting dead animals is a way to earn some cash to buy maps and upgrade weapons. We were told that there is fishing at some point in the game as well. There is also a customization system that enhances your weapons, spells, and martial art skills. As you level and kill shades throughout the world, they can drop words, which you can then attach up to two words per skill, spell, or weapon. These words didn't mean anything to us, but we were told that if you find the right four-word combination, there will be an added special effect to your attack.
We didn't spend too much time outside of town, but we did notice the gorgeous landscape and saw that we had a companion named Kaine, a hermaphrodite, who was tagging along. We weren't given a reason for why he (or she?) was there, but we were told that we will have a handful of companions throughout the game. From the menu, you can give him/her commands to help defend you or be more aggressive. After securing our mutton, we made our way back to town and decided to seek out Popola at the library, who was able to help Yonah feel better.
Before leaving town again, we came across Emil, who was apparently another one of our previous companions and passed out right before our feet. After bringing him back to the library, he muttered something about the shades coming, and before we knew it, the lovely town was under attack by a swarm of translucent shades. We helped the townsfolk clear out some of the smaller shades from the courtyard, but that didn't prepare us for the monstrous shade that was coming for us. This looming, gold, and glittering glob of shiny jelly was large enough to climb over the walls that were built around the city. It hovered over the courtyard with its tentacle-like limbs propped against the walls for support and would swipe at us as though we were an annoying gnat. The scale of the creature was incredible, but that also meant that this was a boss fight that wouldn't be so easily won by swinging our sword. But like most boss battles, it was only a matter of figuring out the pattern and then attacking when it left an opening. With boss fights as Nier, a clock appears when you've dealt enough damage to a particular target point, and if you can knock off all the symbols on the clock, you'll activate a short cutscene, which acts like a finishing move. However, this boss was much too large to be destroyed in the courtyard, so our battle took us to the top of the city's battlements, as well as to the open field where we could hack at its heels. The goal was to bring the shade down before it reached the library.
Our demo ended before we could take down the giant shade, but it gave us an idea of what to expect, and we were told we can expect multiple large-scale boss fights like this one. The game is still in its early stages, so there's still quite a bit of work to be done in terms of touching up the visuals before its spring release. We look forward to finding out more about Nier closer to release and will update you with more information as soon as it becomes available. Nier will be coming to North America in May for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For those who are curious, Nier Replicant for the PlayStation 3 is only available in Japan, and the story is set in the same world but with a younger version of Nier who is trying to save his little sister.