The Special Wonders Of The Original NieR

The Special Wonders Of The Original NieR

The Special Wonders Of The Original NieR

Posted by Chanel Ferguson

31 Jan, 2021


The original NieR game from 2010 embodies the saying “a diamond in the rough.”

More widely known for spawning the popular follow-up action RPG, NieR: Automata, not many people have played the first game. Originally released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, NieR is a spin-off of Drakengard, a dark fantasy action RPG directed by Yoko Taro and published by Square Enix. NieR follows the events from one of Drakengard’s endings that leaves Earth deteriorating, its future uncertain.

NieR released as two different versions in Japan. NieR Replicant features a young man, Nier, as the main protagonist, out to save his little sister Yonah from a deadly disease, the Black Scrawl. NieR Gestalt features an older Nier who is instead Yonah’s father. In the West, only the NieR Gestalt version released, simply titled NieR. Reception has been mixed in the years following, with critics noting the abhorrently bad combat action, lackluster controls, and sparse open world. The unsatisfying gameplay and harsh reviews should have made Square Enix toss this project into the abyss, soon to be forgotten. 

But there’s something special about NieR, well beyond the terrible gameplay and limited open world. Once you experience them, it’s hard to ignore the magical wonders of the poignant plot, unique characters, and incredible soundtrack. Director Yoko Taro has crafted a wonderful tale full of twists and turns, making the most of the video game medium to tell NieR’s story. These same wonders are what made NieR: Automata possible. The same is true for the upcoming NieR remake, NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139…, slated for worldwide release on April 23, 2021, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows.

Premise and Inspirations: Video Games as a Medium

NieR starts with the simple, tried-and-true premise: how far would you go to save someone you love? The protagonist discovers Yonah has fallen ill with a mysterious disease that causes strange black scrolls to appear over her body. Nier ventures off to learn more about this illness, meeting a number of unlikely friends along the way, including a snooty talking book named Grimoire Weiss, a powerful young boy named Emil, a vulgar and troubled young woman named Kainé, and the scholarly twins Popola and Devola. On their quest, Nier and his allies battle a number of shadowy Shade enemies. They cut down their foes without thinking much of them, more focused on finding a cure for Yonah’s disease.

In interviews over the years, Director Yoko Taro has discussed his inspirations for the game. Notably, he has mentioned the horrifying events that transpired in the United States on September 11, 2001. Taro has talked about the stark difference in perspectives from that event. Someone’s unique views and beliefs can completely change their interpretation of what happened. He applied these inspirations to the game itself, starting with the way NieR handles multiple playthroughs. After beating the game once, you have the option of playing through it again. It is functionally the same game with the same story, but you get to see different perspectives. For example, NieR’s story shows you that the Shade enemies you mindlessly slaughter to level up have lives of their own. As the player, you destroy real families and annihilate entire communities, all in your pursuit to save Yonah. 

In this way, NieR challenges players to think about their actions while playing video games. This social commentary makes us question why violence itself is a reward in so many games. Beyond this commentary, NieR makes special use of its medium later on. Completing multiple playthroughs not only shows the enemy’s perspective – it also creates a powerful twist at the end of your journey. The choices presented at this conclusion are nothing short of incredible, again making the most of video games as a medium. NieR wouldn’t work as a book, film, TV show, or anything else thanks to this ending. Similar concepts carry over to NieR: Automata, making a lasting impression on the player.

Wonderfully Weird

NieR is a unique blend of different elements, all of which come together as an unforgettable experience. Along with the thoughtful social commentary, NieR will surprise you in strange and humorous ways. This is a wonderfully weird game, which is a perfect reflection of its director, Yoko Taro. For example, he rarely shows his face during interviews, instead donning a Nightmare Before Christmas-esque headpiece like the one Emil wears in the game. He’s translated that extraordinary weirdness throughout his work. 

After booting up NieR, the player’s first introduction is a monologue voiceover with Kainé yelling crass obscenities at Grimoire Weiss, threatening to tear out all his pages in order to kill him. There’s no context whatsoever for her tirade, which leads into the opening sequence, showing exciting and spoiler-filled cutscenes from the game itself. Then you arrive at the main menu, wondering what the heck you’ve just watched. Kainé herself is the source of much hilarity and confusion. It’s easy to judge her as one-dimensional when you first meet her. But she has an incredibly touching backstory, presented in such unorthodox ways, especially when going through NieR’s multiple playthroughs. Each character is similarly multi-layered, starting off with clichés and soaring into exceptional stories.

Music Transcends Gameplay

The game’s beautifully haunting soundtrack makes NieR what it is. Even with the great cast of characters, the memorable story, and the abundance of weirdness everywhere, NieR wouldn’t be the same without its music. Ethereal arias from vocalist Emi Evans play over classical and electronic tracks, and epic scores. Her vocals have no meaning upon first listen, with Evans singing in the made-up Chaos language, based on snippets of English, Japanese, and French, among other languages. From the first playable sequence, with Nier looking after Yonah in what appears to be a snowy city, a haunting chorus plays. The bleak, melodic refrain sets the stage for Nier’s struggles throughout the rest of the story.

Despite the frustrating gameplay, this peerless soundtrack helps you forgive NieR’s many flaws. The soundtrack alone elevates players above such imperfections, keeping them immersed in the moment. Even visiting bland towns becomes an experience of its own due to such powerfully moving music playing in the background. “Cold Steel Coffin,” “Grandma,” “Shadowlord,” “The Wretched Automatons” and “Kainé (Salvation)” are among the standout songs on the soundtrack.

Worth the Struggle

Even with its shortcomings, NieR proves itself to be a diamond in the rough. A cult classic for diehard Japanese role-playing game fans, it’s the greatest overlooked game of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 generation. An unknown masterpiece. A game so great that it inspired Square Enix to give Yoko Taro a second chance and a third chance after that, leading to NieR: Automata and the NieR Replicant remake. 

New players might not want to delve into the bumpy gameplay of the original NieR, but they certainly have NieR Replicant to look forward to as a way to experience what made the 2010 release so amazing. For anyone who falls in love with the remake, you may want to take the risk and dive into the first NieR or even the Drakengard series. Seeing the original NieR in all its messy glory has its upsides. That glory might inspire you to appreciate NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139… that much more, along with everything that made its release possible just over a decade after the original.


About Author

Chanel Ferguson

Chanel Ferguson is a novelist who loves gaming. She grew up with role-playing games such as Final Fantasy and Shin Megami Tensei. While pursuing an undergraduate degree in philosophy, she spent her free time writing fiction novels, crafting unique worlds and characters inspired by video games.

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