If Nier: Automata was about discovering your humanity in a world devoid of life, Nier Replicant is about a world desperately fighting to preserve what humanity it has left, and often failing to do so. Those you fight for, fight with, and fight against--and you, the protagonist--all have a stake and responsibility in the plight. There's an ever-present melancholy that hangs over the violent world of Nier, and the more you fight on, the more you understand just how tragic human life can be. It's tempting to wallow in sorrow, but once you've seen Nier Replicant's conclusions in their entirety, you'll come to cherish its moments of warmth as well.
For better or worse, Nier Replicant preserves much of the original experience from its 2010 release (based on the Japanese version with the brother protagonist as opposed to the Western release's father lead). The story, characters, scenarios, and structure remain intact, and this remaster includes some significant gameplay and visual improvements in addition to an essential piece of new story content that expands the original narrative. This is an action-RPG with slick combat, reminiscent of Automata, but suffers from the antiquated design philosophies it adheres to. However, Nier Replicant is here to make you feel something, and it does so in a fashion very few games can pull off.
Series creator Yoko Taro has a penchant for toying with player expectations, saying just enough to lead you on before hitting you with wild revelations that leave you sinking in your seat. It was Nier's strongest suit back in the day, and still is with this remaster. The game starts off in a modern-day Tokyo that's been destroyed and invaded by ethereal creatures called Shades, then thrusts you over 1,000 years into a future medieval civilization that's barely scraping by. Both the protagonist and his sister Yonah are almost exactly as they were in that mysterious intro, seemingly unchanged by the passage of time. So right from the jump, questions start to fill your head, and the desire for answers grows increasingly urgent as you press on.
Yonah is gravely ill and the initial motivation that pushes you through Nier Replicant revolves around saving her. But Yonah's only one part of a more complicated world. You meet characters like Kainé, the foul-mouthed badass who wins your heart over with her unapologetic attitude and growth as a person. She's also part Shade and carries burdens you'll come to understand in time. Emil is the wholesome boy who remains full of glee, optimism, and unconditional love for his friends despite the pain and trauma he harbors. And the floating talking book Grimoire Weiss is a sassy wisecrack who wields the magic and knowledge needed to save the day--while also giving the team grief at every step. The way Weiss comes around is nothing short of endearing.
In a broken and desolate world, Nier Replicant finds a sense of life, energy, and friendship by leveraging a strong dynamic between each of these characters and you as the protagonist. From the silly banter to the hype of intense cutscenes to the major emotional story events, their companionship and distinct purposes are at the heart of Nier, and what compels you to push through the grim, overbearing realities. As the player, you often peer into their struggles with identity, too. And this is backed by strong writing and stellar vocal performances from the original cast who reprise their roles,
However, the act of playing the game isn't always the most exciting thing. While the combat has been revamped by developer ToyLogic--bringing it closer to the style of Platinum Games' effort in Nier: Automata--the overall structure of Nier Replicant's open world is left untouched. It's a slow start that involves running errands here and there. As you venture out into the world, you're frequently backtracking and returning to a handful of locations while fending off pesky Shades, and repetition starts to settle in. You get to know the various locations, and the people that inhabit them, more intimately because of these back-and-forth quests, and it does make sense in the story's context. But constant backtracking can wear down your enthusiasm.
Nier Replicant retains some very basic level designs that aren't exactly fitting for a modern action-RPG. As a result, exploring and fighting through the game's handful of unimaginative areas isn't all that thrilling. The Junk Heap's linear corridors, the Lost Shrines series of rooms and box-sliding puzzles, and the arbitrary challenges of the Barren Temple don't really hold up all that well, even if some exciting and intense fights lie within.
You'll encounter some huge, imposing enemies in major boss fights, and it's an awesome spectacle, especially with seamless transitions in perspective that spark a bit of variety in the gameplay experience. There is a turning point halfway through where the action kicks up and the stakes are more dire. While you're still trudging through familiar locations, the combat starts to shine at this point, pushing the gameplay to match the thrill and intensity of Nier Replicant's story.
Your ability to finesse enemies using various blades, parrying, and dodging mechanics in between combos will keep you engaged. With Weiss by your side, you have a slew of magic spells to supplement your prowess in battle. You're a bit limited in how many spells you can equip at a time, but finding the few that are useful for your style and executing them in tandem with your melee skills is satisfying. When it all comes together, this revamped combat system is silky smooth.
For as sweet as the overhauled combat might be, the enemy encounters haven't evolved that much along with it. As you grow familiar with the different enemy types and recognize simple boss patterns, combat can become a rather simple affair.
It's great that this game, which is a bit hard to get a hold of nowadays, has been faithfully recreated, faults and all. But you can't overlook how its dated aspects--even by 2010 standards--make for an antiquated experience. This means that, as a whole, gameplay is more of a vehicle for Nier Replicant's story, and the act of playing it puts some of its key narrative themes into important context.
This game tests your patience but the payoff is immense. It's worth jumping through the necessary hoops in order to see every aspect of Nier Replicant's various conclusions. You just wouldn't get the full picture otherwise, and the full picture is wholly satisfying.
"Endings" is a bit of a misnomer with regards to Nier. Subsequent playthroughs help recontextualize what you've seen before, offering additional crucial perspectives. This approach is valuable for the narrative style and messaging of Nier, as it utilizes repetition to communicate some affecting themes. Re-experiencing chunks of the game means the series of events are familiar, so the additional context captures your undivided attention, often leaving you questioning yourself or experiencing a revelation about a particular story beat you initially didn't think much of at first.
Nier Replicant doesn't make you play the entire game over again, but with a few obtuse requirements, it can wear you down, especially by the time you make it to the third route. However, the reward is unforgettable, and the unique narrative devices truly stand out to hit you where it hurts. This reissue of Nier Replicant also contains a new ending. I won't get into details for obvious spoiler reasons, but you'll experience shock and triumph in this heartwarming epilogue. And after its emotional, jaw-dropping moments, it also somehow makes the world of Nier feel more full.
For all its impactful moments, Nier isn't what it is without the tremendous soundtrack by lead composer Keiichi Okabe and his team at MONACA. The music of Nier Replicant carries this inexplicable sorrow, sometimes with a hint of triumph, even more so with the fresh arrangements in this version of the game. The catchy melody you hear in multiple variations through the Northern Plains, Seafront, and Desert carries some of the game's narrative weight. The character themes for Emil and Kainé are repeated throughout and remixed in powerful fashion--in a way, it becomes part of how you understand who they are. And when I made certain connections about the Song of the Ancients that Devola and Popola sing, I felt a new sentimentality about the Nier universe wash over me. Automata is often (and rightfully) revered for its soundtrack, and you can trace those beautiful sounds back to the original--it's one of loveliest aspects of this game, to experience and hear how this franchise ties together.
I'm not going to lie, Nier Replicant made me ugly-cry on several occasions. Kainé, Emil, and Weiss will win your heart with their earnest and endearing personalities, making their tragic journey with you and tremendous story moments hit hard. Despite some significant gameplay enhancements, the lengths you have to go to see the story all the way through will be a test of your willpower. But for all its antiquated designs retained from the original version, it's worth the effort in the end. Thus, Nier Replicant is essential for anyone who has love for Automata, and it's a special experience on its own.