NieR Replicant is a strange game to recommend in that the experience is brilliant, thought-provoking and more rewarding than any other RPG I can remember. However, the game really doesn’t kick into gear until around 10-hours into a player’s journey. That isn’t to say the experience is lacking before 10-hours. Still, the sections prior are carried heavily by character interaction, leaving most of your tasks relegated to fetch quests and other mundane activities. After that 10-hours, NieR Replicant cemented its place as one of my favourite games of the year and perhaps one of my favourite RPGs of all time.
NieR Replicant is a remake of a game from the Playstation 3 era; while it might sound familiar, this exact version was initially not released to the NA market. The differences between the versions are relatively minor, with the original NA version titled Gestalt changing the main character’s relationship with Yonah to a father and daughter dynamic. While these changes are minor, I feel the Replicant version of the game leads to a more relatable journey of growth and development. A theme that showed itself popping up quite frequently within the world of NieR Replicant was going on with your parents. The struggles of children and teenagers having to find their way in a world that is constantly out to get them without the guidance of elders come up quite frequently and pairs well with the main protagonist’s journey.
NeiR is a game about cycles, showing a brother and sister trapped within an abandoned post-apocalyptic grocery story. We see the brother is protecting a sick and dying sibling from attacks against shades, the game’s main enemy. These shades grow more powerful and overwhelming to the point where the child must reach out to the book for help, granting him magical abilities to fight off the onslaught of demons and shades. Following the opening battle, we are thrust forward in time 1,400 years. The calamity caused by the scourge of shades is still felt in the world today, although we see a world reclaimed by nature and people rebuilding and moving on. Players are given control of Nier (brother to Yonah); these characters mirror the brother and sister we see at the beginning of the game. The game’s main story revolves around this character searching for a way to cure the black scrawl, an illness plaguing his sister and many others throughout the world.
This is where the game begins to slow down and show a little bit of its age. NeiR Replicant does have pacing issues reminiscent of RPGs at the time. The majority of the time spent early on will be talking to townsfolk, fetching parcels or going to locations on glorified fetch quests. I found myself running from one city to the next, only to be told I need to run back to the previous town to continue my quest. These issues were abundantly clear in the game’s early hours; however, the game’s excellent movement system never made me feel like running from one city to another was a chore. This is a section that actually benefits from the game coming from a bygone era. Modern RPGs love the stamina system. They love it so much that they often restrict movement and fun to ground the players in “realism.” While these realistic additions to modern RPGs are great, there’s no denying the unbelievable amount of fun infinitely rolling across a desert can provide.
This movement system flows right into NieR Replicants combat system, a full-on action RPG with heavy and light sword attacks paired with powerful magic to smite your foes down in the blink of an eye. The caveat here is that our protagonist does not provide these magical abilities but a friend, teammate and floating magical book named Grimoire Weiss does. Grimoire Weiss is the sassiest ancient tome I’ve ever seen, and I loved every minute of it. Not only was this a very creative way to bring magic into the world, but details such as the pages flipping through during spellcasting really brought this character and mechanic to life. Throughout the game, players are given dozens of magical abilities called Sealed Verses. These abilities feel powerful in their own right, and all serve a unique purpose throughout the campaign. NeiR Replicant was at its most fun when I was experimenting with different sealed verses and weapon combinations, even if it was less than intuitive to do so. There is no quick menu system for spells, and each time you would like to change the one you’re using, you must pause the game, go back to the sealed verses section and select the one you want. The menus were snappy and responsive, so this never takes more than a few seconds, but the lack of a shortcut menu is immediately apparent in such a fast-paced title.
Yosuke Saito and his team utilize the game’s camera in the more unique way I’ve ever seen to date. NeiR Replicants camera functions less like a window into the game and more as a full-fledged game mechanic. Seamlessly weaving overhead, side-scrolling and third-person camera angles change up the game constantly. I never felt bored or wanted more because the game’s camera angles would take me from genre to genre so effortlessly that I almost forgot I was playing a JRPG. Many game sections will shift to an overhead camera, forcing dozens of enemies onscreen to shoot projectiles and requiring you to utilize your magic to overcome them. These sections felt like I was playing something out of Gradius or the Shikigami No Shiro series.
NeiR Replicant requires you to throw your conventional expectations of the story out the window. To experience everything NeiR Replicant has to offer, you’ll have to unlock the game’s true ending. An ending that is only unlocked after you’ve received all five of the game’s endings. Each of these endings doesn’t strictly require you to play through precisely the same game repeatedly. While you are going through a lot of the same content, some of this is altered and changed to bring a fresh experience that feels at least a little new. This type of storytelling will come as no surprise to fans of NeiR Automata, as it follows a similar structure. Similarly, the game is littered with references and homages to classic games like Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7, Legend of Zelda etc. Each of these encounters feels natural within the game setting, and you should do your best not to spoil these incredible encounters.
NeiR Replicant is a unique experience that every RPG fan should play. The incredible musical score kept me awestruck through my entire 50-hour journey, and the weaving of genres with complex combat mechanics never left me wanting more. NeiR Replicant does show its age in some of the textures within the scenery, but the character models are top-notch, and oddly, the rough edges fit the game’s overall aesthetic. I could talk for hours about my experience within NeiR Replicant, but I leave it at this, Neir Replicant is a masterclass in game development and shows extreme care and passion for the genre.