Understanding Nier Replicant’s Lasting Influence — A Nier:Automata Fan’s Experience with Nier… (2024)

The Nier Replicant remake (Ver. 1.22) is the perfect example of a game that nearly did not exist.

Understanding Nier Replicant’s Lasting Influence — A Nier:Automata Fan’s Experience with Nier… (3)

The original game, released in 2010, had some legitimately unique qualities like multiple endings, a stellar soundtrack, and a blend of different gameplay styles. However, these strengths could not mask the game’s clunky combat and poor graphics, which were panned by critics and likely drove many players away from trying the game. Nier only managed to rack up a meagre number of sales and win over a cult following of fans shortly after its release.

It seemed realistic at the time that the first Nier game would also be the last, relegated to nothing more than a “hidden gem” largely forgotten by most of the gaming world.

Seven years later, Nier:Automata was released.

Nier:Automata, in contrast to its predecessor, was one of the most critically acclaimed titles released in the last decade and many gamers and critics alike would call it a generation-defining title. Rehashing my review of the game (the first review I published on this blog), I certainly share these same feelings and I believe that Nier:Automata is a title that truly captures the magic of video games and what the medium is capable of delivering.

The staggering success of Nier:Automata rejuvenated the Nier series with newfound attention and relevance, and the series today could not be further from coming to an uneventful end. The game generated tremendous interest in Yoko Taro’s previous works and built a large new audience of fans eager to experience the next chapter in the Nier universe. This positive twist of fate is surely what sparked the development of Nier Replicant Ver. 1.22, introducing Nier’s humble roots to fans who overlooked the game back in 2010.

I myself am in the new wave of Nier fans who were introduced to the series through Nier:Automata, and the remastered Nier was easily one of my most anticipated releases this year knowing that I could experience the original story with updated graphics and gameplay more in line with Automata.

Now that I have finished Ver. 1.22 and completed all five endings, I feel I can bring a unique perspective when reviewing this game as someone who has never played the original Nier and only has Nier:Automata as a frame of reference. My commentary on Ver. 1.22 will actively compare the game against Nier:Automata, exploring the key differences and examining how Automata built upon ideas introduced in the original Nier. Although the original Nier and Nier:Automata can stand firmly by themselves as noteworthy games, I feel it would be a disservice to not discuss how narrative and gameplay elements introduced in the original Nier were expanded further in Automata.

Narrative

Overall, I enjoyed Nier Replicant’s story, which chronicles the player’s quest to cure their sister of a life-threatening disease. Over the course of the game, the player is joined by numerous characters and slowly learns more about the nature of their world — which seemingly survived the brink of collapse thousands of years ago, but is terrorized today by vicious shadow-creatures called Shades.

Despite having a somewhat slow start, the game gets going quickly with some intense action sequences punctuated with emotional (perhaps even heartbreaking) moments where you really feel for the characters and everything that they are going through. In my opinion, adversity, sacrifice, and loss are some of the game’s more prominent themes and the game does an excellent job of illustrating how characters are shaped by and respond to unfortunate events from their past and present.

Understanding Nier Replicant’s Lasting Influence — A Nier:Automata Fan’s Experience with Nier… (4)

Nier Replicant’s story is more straightforward and much less sophisticated thematically compared to Automata. I got the sense that Yoko Taro took more risks with Automata’s story, which was centered around complex philosophical themes that are consistently reflected in the game’s plot and tone. There is so much more to unravel with Automata’s plot, and an abundant amount of commentary, lore and meaning underlying it. This has some consequences like making things confusing to follow and keep track of at times, but Automata’s narrative overall kicks it up a notch compared to Replicant. The story just has more substance and depth, and is communicated in a more profound and thought-provoking manner.

One of the most unique aspects of the Nier franchise are each game’s multiple endings, which can only be achieved by playing through each game multiple times. For Ver. 1.22, achieving all five endings requires the player to replay Act II of the game a minimum of three times in full, followed by the first two-ish hours of Act I.

With regards to the three separate playthroughs of Act II, I found the second playthrough to be extremely rewarding. Apart from having a different ending, the second playthrough adds over 30 minutes of new text-based scenes along with 10–15 minutes of additional cut scenes. The new text-based scenes provided interesting backstory on two of the game’s supporting characters, offering rich character development that provides the player with the background needed to sympathize with them and truly understand why these characters have the outlook they have. The other additional cut scenes add much needed context to the events in Act II. The implications of these new cut scenes (purposefully omitted in the first playthrough) on the story actively changes the player’s perspective on their actions and challenges the player to question the moral consequences of them. I feel that this additional content — although somewhat sparse — truly captures the genius of Nier’s original narrative and how it takes advantage of multiple playthroughs to manipulate how the player emotionally connects with the game.

Understanding Nier Replicant’s Lasting Influence — A Nier:Automata Fan’s Experience with Nier… (5)

Unfortunately, by the third playthrough, I was starting to get tired of replaying the same events. The third playthrough of Nier Replicant is essentially the same as the second, with maybe four new short cut scenes outside of the different endings. Although I enjoyed experiencing the game’s third and fourth endings and found them to be powerful, I felt that achieving these endings was an insufficient payoff for playing through the game a third time given the lack of new content in this playthrough.

Ver. 1.22 did add a brand new fifth ending (Ending E) that plays out differently from the other four endings, and neatly wraps up some of the game’s final plot threads in a satisfying way. The fifth ending was certainly the most comprehensive (~1.5 hours of new content) and unique one, boldly setting itself apart from the rest of the game with how it was presented. Ending E constantly pushes and breaks through the familiar boundaries of Nier Replicant’s universe, which the game firmly establishes through its main storyline. Ending E’s commitment to doing something different made it a treat to experience, since I had no idea on what to expect as I progressed through it. To be honest though, the timing of Ending E — following three playthroughs of the game — played a big part in increasing my enjoyment of it because of how refreshing it was to experience an extended period of new content after completing the same scenes over and over.

In response to the repetitiveness of Nier’s original approach to multiple endings, Nier:Automata dramatically overhauled the narrative structure with more prominent deviations to the story and gameplay as the game was restarted each time. In fact, the third playthrough of Nier:Automata is essentially like playing an entirely new game as it features a radically different plot. This was certainly a welcome change in my opinion, as the extra content expands Automata’s narrative to a true 30 to 40-hour epic while making the process of acquiring the endings more engaging and less of a chore for the average gamer.

Although these changes helped Nier:Automata tell a grander and more elaborate story, I would argue that Nier Replicant did a better job at getting players to change their point of view on events in the game through the content added in subsequent playthroughs. Each new scene in the second playthrough of Replicant was carefully chosen and added to directly recontextualize the events of the base story. Because there were only a small handful of changes, these changes easily grab the player’s attention and stick out as important and meaningful revelations. Introducing more widespread differences across playthroughs reduces the individual significance of each change implemented, and I would argue that this was the case in Automata. In Automata, scenes adding background to events from first playthrough left a somewhat weaker lasting impression as they coincided with the introduction of new, more important plot points that directly moved the main story forward. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that both games executed multiple playthroughs and endings magnificently and each game’s journey to unlock every ending is rewarding in its own unique way.

Understanding Nier Replicant’s Lasting Influence — A Nier:Automata Fan’s Experience with Nier… (6)

Nier Replicant’s side quests are… not so good. Many of the side quests in Replicant are uncompelling fetch quests where you mindlessly gather and grind materials for random NPCs. Some of the more stupid ones involve visiting a merchant to purchase random items like fertilizer and watermelon –players literally spend gold to cross off these side quests which I find hilarious. Also, working through the fishing side quests in this game seems like one of the most unpleasant experiences in gaming and I would not wish these quests upon my worst enemy. Even though I have a disdain for many of the game’s side quests, there are definitely a few interesting ones in the mix (maybe a quarter of them were interesting enough?) and several of them are mandatory to unlock Ending C/D. Players will probably need to work through a few side quests to accumulate gold, but they can afford to skip a decent chunk of side quests afterwards once enough gold has been earned.

Nier:Automata features a vastly improved slate of side quests. The side quests have much greater variety with regards to the activities undertaken, and many of them add value to the gameplay experience (as opposed to doing random errands) because they provide meaningful insight on the game’s world and further reinforce the game’s unique themes.

Characters

The characters in Nier Replicant are simply outstanding.

The amount of character development extended to the game’s characters is noteworthy. Characters like Emil and Kainé stand out as some of the most memorable video game characters for me in recent memory, and I attribute this to Nier Replicant going above and beyond to when it comes to helping players get to know these characters intimately. There is thorough backstory provided for numerous characters and important events and dialogue in the story effectively spotlight specific characters, allowing players to better connect with each character’s inner struggles, perspective, and growth as the story progresses.

After playing through Nier Replicant, I have to say that my favorite characters in the Nier franchise are both from Replicant — Kainé and Grimoire Weiss. With such strong personalities and amazing voice acting performances from Laura Bailey and Liam O’Brien, Kainé and Grimoire Weiss never fail to grab your attention every time they are on the screen. Getting a front row view of both characters and their distinct quirks — such as Kainé’s affinity for crude language and no-nonsense attitude and Grimoire Weiss’ wit and eccentric vocabulary — is easily one of the most memorable aspects of the game. Although the game has players repeat multiple sections, the creativity and charm that epitomizes Kainé and Grimoire Weiss’ characterization and dialogue makes replaying one of their scenes never feel like a waste of time.

Understanding Nier Replicant’s Lasting Influence — A Nier:Automata Fan’s Experience with Nier… (7)

Unfortunately, the game’s unnamed playable protagonist (generally referred to as Nier) is probably the least compelling main character in the game. Most of Nier’s appeal as a character is derived from the endearing relationships he builds with other characters, and his chemistry with the game’s cast as a whole. Outside of this, I cannot really point out anything else particularly redeeming or memorable about him. Ultimately, Nier’s importance as a character comes from his ability to uplift the performances of supporting characters through the interactions that he has with them.

Nier:Automata definitely meets the same standard of excellence when it comes to characterization and overall character development. Unlike Nier Replicant, the most well-executed characters in Automata are the game’s playable characters — 2B, 9S and A2. I feel this was a welcome improvement, as compelling playable characters makes it so much easier to buy into and stay invested in the game’s central conflict because you care about these characters and what they are fighting for. I found that I became more indifferent about Nier’s quest to cure his sister as the story went on because I slowly started resonating less and less with his character over time.

Setting and Artistic Direction

Nier Replicant and Nier:Automata both have similar world maps with landmarks surrounded by large open outdoor areas. Despite both games taking place in a world thousands of years following an apocalyptic event, the settings of both games each have a unique identity differentiating them from each other.

Nier Replicant shows how society was able to recover from collapse, as the various locations in-game are home to different civilizations and communities that have adapted in their own distinct ways. Automata’s setting in contrast does not exude the same feeling of renewal and life as Replicant, instead evoking a greater sense of decay and mystery. Locations are in a more rundown and overgrown state, the game features a less vibrant color palette and the overwhelming presence of machines and technology strewn throughout the world ends up eroding away any feeling of humanity that remains.

The setting the players will end up enjoying more ultimately comes down to personal preference. Although I think that Nier:Automata’s setting fit perfectly with the underlying themes explored in the game, I preferred Nier Replicant’s setting because I absolutely loved the imaginative design of the game’s different areas. Each location in Replicant meaningfully distinguished itself from all the others in terms of atmosphere, color, and architecture as well as through the behaviors and customs embraced by the people residing within them. For example, the bright coastal city of Seafront (inspired by coastal European cities in Italy or Greece) stands in stark contrast to the isolated and gloomy cliffside village known as the Aerie, where citizens live in metal homes connected with overlapping pathways of bridges and ladders. One of the most rewarding parts of my playthrough was fully immersing myself within each area, exploring every nook and cranny and talking to all the NPCs, to take in all the small details that goes into making each location creative and special.

From a level design perspective, there were several sections throughout Nier Replicant like the Barren Temple and Underground Lab where different gameplay styles and approaches were implemented to offer a change of pace from the game’s third person hack-and-slash combat. Although these sections were generally very fun and interesting to play, they sadly only appear a few times and I do not consider these shifts in gameplay to be a defining part of the overall gameplay experience. Nier Replicant’s experimentation with different gameplay styles did end up setting a foundation for Automata, as this design philosophy is much more openly embraced in Automata where non-third person gameplay (particularly bullet hell shooting sections) accounts for a significant portion of the total game.

Understanding Nier Replicant’s Lasting Influence — A Nier:Automata Fan’s Experience with Nier… (8)

Finally, let’s talk about music. The music in both games are f*cking breathtaking, and Nier Replicant’s OST sounds even better in Ver. 1.22 with all tracks remastered and re-recorded for the game. The Nier franchise embodies what makes video game music so inspiring and special, and I know that many players would agree that the music in both games are the most memorable aspects of them. There is not much more to say beyond that.

Gameplay

Combat in the original 2010 release of Nier was average at best and not exactly known for being the most refined and polished third-person action experience out there. Understanding that combat and movement was a huge deficiency in the first game, Square Enix enlisted Platinum Games — a studio with a distinguished reputation for their achievements in action gameplay — to overhaul the combat for Nier:Automata.

If you read my original Nier:Automata review, you will know that I have nothing but praise for the game’s combat gameplay. I absolutely fell in love with the snappiness and fluidity of Automata’s hack and slash combat, and I consider it to be the best third-person action combat I have personally played as a gamer.

Unsurprisingly, a considerable amount of development effort was devoted to bringing Nier Replicant’s combat gameplay closer to that of Automata’s for the Ver. 1.22 remake. I can happily say that Automata fans will be happy with the improvements in Ver. 1.22, and players will be able to immediately tell how the game’s updated combat was inspired by Automata within the first few minutes of gameplay. Although Replicant’s gameplay is in line with Automata in terms of overall input responsiveness and character mobility, it feels a touch less smooth in comparison and ultimately falls short to Automata. The small gap between Replicant and Automata’s gameplay polish never detracted from or impacted my experience with the game, but it was noticeable and I would recommend that Automata fans temper any expectations they have for Replicant’s gameplay fully matching the benchmark set by Automata. I do not fault Toylogic at all for this, since they were updating an older port and likely had some constraints when it came to enhancing combat for Ver. 1.22. Nonetheless, the quality of the combat is superior or on par with most other third-person games released this generation. This is a testament to the talent and hard work of the Toylogic team, and their dedication to ensuring the remaster could meet and exceed current gaming standards.

The original Nier had some rudimentary RPG / customization elements that were left untouched in Ver. 1.22. Players could customize weapons and magic with the ‘Word Edit’ system, which enables ‘words’ to be equipped to weapons and magic to improve character stats such as Physical Strength and Magic Cost. Words are randomly dropped by defeated enemies over the course of the game, and once a new word is obtained it can be equipped over multiple weapons and magic (i.e. two swords can have the same word equipped, equipping a word does not prevent it from being used on other weapons). The only constraints with the system are that a maximum of two words can be equipped to a weapon or magic at a time, and words in the same slot category (e.g. Physical Strength and Armor Break are both locked to Slot 1) cannot be equipped together.

I consider Word Edit to be a poorly implemented RPG system, as it never challenged players to think strategically about their loadout. There are hardly any trade-offs when it comes to equipping words and the words equipped often never made enough of a difference in combat to encourage players to try new word combinations. Players can successfully progress through the game by minimally engaging with the system, equipping the same word combination for all weapons and magic and only switching things up when a stronger word is obtained (rather than actively modifying loadouts based on the anticipated enemy types coming up). The lack of depth with the Word Edit system often makes Nier Replicant’s customization a near brainless and rote activity, as opposed to something that encourages constant critical thinking and experimentation.

Nier:Automata dramatically expanded character customization with the Plug-In Chip system. Instead of equipping words to weapons or magic, Plug-In Chips — found throughout the game world — are equipped to your character to improve different properties. Plug-In Chips individually occupy a different amount of storage space, and characters can only equip so many chips before running out of room for more. Unlike Nier Replicant, the Plug-In Chip system provides players with greater customization flexibility and freedom, and storage space limitations add legitimate trade-offs to the customization process to encourage regular loadout optimization from players. There are over forty different types of chips that players can find and use, with most chips having multiple levels of power and a different cost. With no constraints on chip combinations (anything is fair game as long as storage limits are not exceeded), players are empowered to formulate and test out different playstyles and tactics ranging from all-out offense to defensive-oriented tank builds. Creating a chipset forces players to make compromises to ensure loadouts can be versatile and effective while staying under storage limits, driving far more meaningful decision making from the player compared to the Word Edit system.

Although the Plug-In Chip system added a level of sophistication to Nier:Automata’s RPG customization, it still fails to meaningfully impact combat performance enough to warrant deep usage and exploration from the player. Effective movement and combat technique are what all fights in Nier Replicant and Automata ultimately come down to, to the point where becoming proficient in these areas will make any loadout viable. I never encountered any situations in both games where my loadout choices (which encompasses my equipped weapon, magic / Pod Program, and words / chipset) were what ended up deciding the final outcome of a battle.

Even though I think Automata’s improved RPG elements has moved the franchise in the right direction, I do believe there is still room for the Nier series to further fine tune its RPG gameplay. Ideally, action-RPG games should ensure that understanding the nuances of in-game customization / RPG elements and making smart decisions matter equally as much as mechanical skill. I look forward to seeing how Yoko Taro and his team will address these shortcomings in a future installment of the series.

Understanding Nier Replicant’s Lasting Influence — A Nier:Automata Fan’s Experience with Nier… (9)

Conclusion

All in all, I had a wonderful experience playing through Nier Replicant Ver. 1.22. The game embodied so many of the qualities that attracted me to Nier:Automata — emotional and profound storytelling, entertaining action combat, captivating characters, creative world-building and epic music. Although I never played the 2010 version of Nier, I can tell through watching old gameplay that Ver. 1.22 has set the bar high for game remasters and what can be achieved and delivered in a remaster. The updates to graphics and gameplay are beautifully done and striking, enough to put many games released this generation to shame. Admittedly, some of the game’s untouched elements such as its side quests and customization are dated by modern gaming standards, but these weaknesses are ultimately minor and hardly takes away from the overall gameplay experience.

Finishing Ver. 1.22 has only elevated my appreciation for Nier:Automata. I do consider Automata to be the superior game, having better executed many of the cornerstone gameplay, narrative and design elements introduced in the original game while directly resolving several of its initial criticisms. Playing through Nier Replicant showed me how far the franchise has come and helped me recognize the important role the original Nier played in setting Automata and the broader Nier series up for success. Although the original Nier had its hiccups, it laid a foundation and unmistakable identity for the franchise that Yoko Taro and Automata team were able to build upon to deliver a once-in-a-generation type game.

In many ways, the original Nier walked so that Nier:Automata and the Nier franchise could run. The tremendous legacy and lasting influence of the original Nier is what makes the game 100% deserving of the remake it received this year. Without the original, Automata may have never existed or existed in an entirely different form, and this franchise would not have been able to bring more people together with the rich stories its games are known for telling.

Understanding Nier Replicant’s Lasting Influence — A Nier:Automata Fan’s Experience with Nier… (2024)

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