At first, I rather enjoyed Nier Replicant. Lovely music, nice visual design (rather reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus), pleasant enough minute-to-minute gameplay, a pleasant enough mix of plot and quests. And, as it continued, I liked it more; KainĂ©’s outfit is ridiculous but I liked her character otherwise, and the quartet of your character, KainĂ©, Emil, and Weiss has a rather neat vibe of a sort that I’m not particularly used to seeing in games.

I was a little annoyed when my crops wilted because I wasn’t playing the game every day, but it turns out that the crop mechanic is basically completely optional; similarly, I wasn’t into grinding for weapons upgrades and for some of the quests, but the game was totally fine with me skipping that. (And I was happy to do the less-grindy quests.)

As I continued playing, I realized that those quests are a sign of how self-aware Nier Replicant is, and in dialogue with game history. You can see the latter in the ways in which it explicitly refers to other games: the mansion that’s clearly inspired by Resident Evil (the camera even changes), the nod to text adventures, the Zelda-ish dungeon, and it’s not so much that the game’s visual design in general is reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus but rather that the first overworld area that you get access to is specifically an homage to that game. (Down to even having lizards that you can capture there!)


The game’s world is surprisingly compact: three overworld areas that you can run across in a minute or so, avoiding fights if you want, a few cities of tractable sizes, and a few other areas of interest. And, despite the small size and gentle nature of the overworld areas, the game gives you two separate fast travel mechanisms that you can use to avoid them!

Which I was, to be honest, kind of taken aback by at first: would it hurt the game at all if those fast travel mechanisms were removed? But the flip side is: why make the player spend more time in the overworld areas than they want to? This is related to what I said earlier about the crop mechanics, the weapon upgrades, and the sidequests: Nier Replicant is very aware of the possibility of grinding, and is also aware that grinding both has its pleasure and that it’s conventional in games to an extent that’s far beyond the benefits that grinding provides for many players. Sometimes Nier pokes fun at that, sometimes Nier gives you optionality around that; either way, the awareness is appreciated.


So, on my first trip through Nier Replicant, my attitude was pretty positive: I like the way the game is aware of the context it’s working in, I like the visual and audio design, and the gameplay is pleasant enough. I don’t think it’s as stylish as a whole as Nier: Automata was, but that’s fine, it’s good for series to grow across iterations, and certainly there’s enough there that I was glad that the game got a remake.

Subsequent trips I didn’t enjoy so much, though. The second time through had its virtues: you get to see a bit of different context as to what’s going on with backstories? But it’s also the case that a lot of what you see is a version of “Are we the baddies?”, asking that question in a way that’s not particularly well done.

I mean, yes, video games shouldn’t be so willing to uncritically / triumphantly reach to mass slaughter as their solution to every problem. But, if you’re not going to reach for that, you need to support it: to give meaningful surrounding context for your actions, and to support that context mechanically. Nier Replicant doesn’t do that: instead, it just gives you the choice of a) mass slaughter or b) stopping playing. And that’s not helpful.

And, in general, it’s a gratuitously grim game. Even in the first playthrough, a lot of the main quests and side quests hinge on sacrificing people, with nothing deep going on that I could see, just a generic message of “everything is horrible!”. And, well, okay? If that’s what you want to say, up to you, a lot of people feel the same way. But that point of view doesn’t particularly impress me.


I made it through the second ending; and then on the third and fourth endings, I was just skipping cut scenes right and left. Fortunately, the game doesn’t make you put in too much extra time to see the extra endings. And at least ending E was doing something a different? (Endings C/D were pretty much a waste, though.)

Anyways, I’m not unhappy to have played Nier Replicant: there are definitely good things going on there. It’s been three and a half years since I’ve played Nier: Automata, but I’m fairly sure that Replicant is a worse game in multiple ways than Automata; though if my memory is correct, a lot of the flaws of the earlier game are present in the later game. (The endings not really pulling their weight; the excessive nihilism.)

But also both games are, in their own way, doing something special and distinctive; I’m certainly curious as to what Yoko Taro will be up to next…

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