Nier Replicant: Ver. 1.22474487139 (PS4) - ReviewPaul Broussard , posted on 09 May 2021 / 1,608 Views
In this age of remakes and remasterings, it seems that just about cult classic is getting a chance at escaping cult fandom status. Such is the case with Nier Replicant: Ver 1.22474487139, an update of 2010’s Nier. There’s some ambiguity about whether this qualifies as a remake, a remastering, or something else, especially after Yoko Taro insisted on calling it a “version upgrade,” rather than giving it a common sensical title, but given that there are some noteworthy gameplay changes, and that Nier Replicant Ver 1.22... (henceforth “Ver 1.22”) is selling itself for full price, I’m treating it as a remake for review purposes.
If you’re not familiar with the original Nier, it was a third person action game with a Zelda-esque world, featuring a handful of dungeons with some light puzzle solving and boss fights. You play as a teenage boy living in a post-apocalyptic world with his sister, who has contracted a terminal illness called the Black Scrawl. After a chance encounter with a talking magical amnesiac book provides hope for how the girl might be saved, the protagonist sets off on a quest to help restore the book’s memory and retrieve the necessary power.
If you happened to play the original Nier and find yourself thinking that the protagonist is much younger than you remember, don’t worry, you’re not going crazy. Ver 1.22 is a remake of the Japanese version of Nier (Replicant), which contains one notable difference from the Western version (Gestalt). Replicant features a much younger protagonist, whose relationship with the diseased girl is that of sibling rather than father. Outside of this, however, the story remains almost identical, and the plot unfurls in much the same way too, so you needn’t worry about having missed out on a substantially different experience.
The story of Nier, and Ver 1.22 by extension, is a classic Yoko Taro affair: simultaneously absolutely bizarre and weirdly compelling. The game’s cast of characters are a compelling bunch, and their various personalities play off each other well, from the aforementioned refined and well spoken book titled Grimoire Weiss, to the nervous boy Emile, to the protagonist himself; everyone is well written and fairly complex. Kaine, the foul mouthed outcast, is perhaps the most engaging character, with an incredibly sympathetic backstory that gets some solid pay-off later on.
To get to these moments, however, you’ll have to adjust to some rather unconventional storytelling practices. Later parts of the game also involve a lot of backtracking and repeating previous segments with slight variations for narrative purposes. For instance, to get the emotional payoff for the aforementioned Kaine, you'll have to essentially play the entire second half of the game twice. Whether the reward is worth some of the grind for you is likely a matter of personal taste.
I don’t necessarily say this as a critique, just to note that Nier is very much doing its own thing, like Automata, Drakengard, and the rest of Taro’s works. Perhaps that’s what makes it worth celebrating and bringing into the spotlight as a remake. Nier is an utterly unique experience with a group of well-written characters and a fresh perspective on storytelling that, even when a bit unwieldy, is never afraid to go out and upset conventions. The themes that Taro tackles as well, ones of existentialism, identity, and purpose, are also very much a breath of fresh air in the game industry. I'd personally argue that there's no one who grapples with dark story themes as well as he does.
Having said that, there is a limit to how far uniqueness can excuse a game’s annoyances, and the original Nier certainly overstepped that in the gameplay department. Outside of the repetition and reuse of areas, Nier had some extremely clunky combat, a largely pointless and ultimately boring series of weapon/spell upgrades, a bizarre insistence on making the player wall all the way back to the starting town area to try and guilt them into gardening or some other menial side quest, an absolutely pitiful difficulty curve, and much more. This was Ver 1.22’s chance to shine; to bring Nier’s story into the modern age while addressing some of the gameplay problems.
The combat has received the biggest change. Quite a few cues have been taken from Platinum’s work on Automata, and your protagonist now feels much faster and animates much more smoothly in battle. The improved framerate, now locked at 60 FPS, also plays a huge role in making combat feel better. There are also a few quality of life improvements, such as the inclusion of a lock-on and a more responsive dodge, so even if the combat is slightly above average at best, it’s still vastly better than the original game’s.
Regrettably, Ver 1.22 hasn’t been balanced to adjust for these improvements at all, especially since the block command still makes you impervious to basically any attack. This makes the standard projectile attack utterly broken. If you’re so inclined, you can just hold down R1 and R2 simultaneously and win just about any encounter with non magic immune enemies. This also renders the vast majority of spells rather pointless, since the standard shot can fire infinitely and deals much better damage per second.
At the very least, the combat has been improved overall. There have also been a few other alterations here and there. Perhaps most obviously the graphics have been updated, and the game certainly looks much better. The dialogue is now entirely fully voiced, with the exception of the Forest of Myths, which is a substantial boon thanks to the incredible cast of voice actors, particularly Liam O’Brien and Laura Bailey. There are also a few other additions, including expanded environments, a new ending, and a new story segment and boss fight which serve as nice surprises.
Unfortunately, Ver 1.22 doesn’t bother to change much else. If you’re not familiar with the original Nier, asking for more after what I've already listed might sound a bit demanding of a remake, but in this particular case I don’t think it is. Nier was a game chock full of frustrating design choices, like forcing you to spend an entire dungeon navigating box puzzles with various abilities restricted each time, having virtually every side quest be either gardening or a tedious fetch quest, and having virtually the entire second half of the game composed of backtracking to old locations. And, unfortunately, none of these have been addressed or mediated.
Even the most obvious candidate for change, the Forest of Myths, remains exactly the same. Players of the original Nier will likely recall that as the point where it became very obvious that the game was a little short on development resources, as the player is warned about venturing into a dangerous location and then the game just substitutes a choose-your-own-text adventure instead of an actual environment to explore and enemies to fight. This might have been easier to excuse in 2010, given the relatively niche status of Nier and potentially lower funding, but it becomes harder to swallow with Nier now a much bigger name.
And this is probably the biggest condemnation of Ver 1.22. The improvements that are present are appreciated, but most of these changes are largely window dressing, while the issues that were genuinely problematic for the original Nier have largely gone untouched. I would gladly toss out basically every improvement made in Ver 1.22 if it meant fixing the problems that have truly plagued Nier since its release in 2010.
All of this means that, for returning players, the value of a return trip is somewhat limited in my opinion. The story is undoubtedly the best part of Nier, but that hasn’t changed all that much minus the extra story bit and the new ending, and I’m not convinced they’re worth slogging through the myriad of questionable gameplay decisions once again, especially not for a full $60 price tag.
For new players, however, I think I find myself in the curious predicament where I would absolutely recommend Ver 1.22, especially if you’re in the sizable crowd of individuals who played and enjoyed Automata but never tried the original Nier. For all of its faults, Nier is still a refreshing and, at times, genuinely inspiring take on narrative crafting in games. It’s just a shame the development team missed an opportunity to make it more than that. Ver 1.22 had the chance to take a cult classic and make it one of the best games in recent memory, but instead I'm left wondering what could have been; just like eleven years ago.
This review is based on a copy of Nier Replicant: Ver 1.22474487139 for the PS4