Nier Replicant review – A heartfelt retelling of a cult classic

Nier ReplicantSquare Enix

Over a decade has passed since the original Nier launched, but now a new “version upgrade” brings this heartfelt tale to a new audience. While Nier Replicant may not drastically change anything that made the original so decisive, its emotional tale is well worth revisiting. 

The first released back in 2010 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and while it had a number of stalwart fans, Yoko Taro’s Action-RPG was met with a fair amount of skepticism. Fortunately, the success of its ever-popular sequel, Nier Automata has seemingly given this flawed, but impactful tale a new lease of life. For the first time ever, western fans of the cult classic can finally get their hands on the original Japanese release.

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With the recent release of Nier Replicant on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Square Enix is hoping to recapture everything that made the original game so special. Despite featuring fresh new visuals, revamped combat, rerecorded music, and voice lines, it demonstrates what made this beautifully flawed game so special. 

Nier Replicant – Key Details

  • Price: £49.99 / $59.99
  • Developer: Square Enix 
  • Release date: April 23, 2021
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Nier Replicant trailer

A hauntingly beautiful story shrouded in mystery

Nier Replicant overworldSquare Enix
Nier Replicant’s world may look peaceful, but it is home to some dark secrets.

Nier Replicant takes place thousands of years before Nier Automata, to a time where humanity is on the brink of collapse.

Players assume the role of Nier, a teenage boy who must set out on a quest to save his younger sister, Yonah, from succumbing to a deadly disease, while also discovering the secrets surrounding the shadowy creatures that inhabit the surrounding lands. This may seem like a relatively simple premise, but it is one that gets more complex as the mysteries surrounding Nier’s apocalyptic world unfold. 

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To say that Nier Replicant is a slow burn is an understatement. In fact, it takes roughly 10 hours before the story really begins to ramp up. Now, for some, this might be rather off-putting, but if you’re willing to forgive the countless backtracking, lackluster enemy variety, and repetitive combat, then you’ll be rewarded with a heartfelt story that pulls at your heartstrings long after the credits have rolled. 

Unforgettable cast of characters

Nier Replicant character rosterSquare Enix
Nier Replicant’s cast is oozing with charm.

Directly feeding into Nier Replicant’s hauntingly beautiful story is that of its brilliant cast of characters. There’s Nier, our cheerful protagonist who cares deeply for his younger sister and will stop at nothing to save her, even if it means putting himself in danger.

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This recklessness is balanced out by Grimoire Weiss, a mysterious magical book that enjoys using his superior intelligence to make condescending and often comical remarks to those around him. 

Directly clashing with Weiss’ well-spoken nature is that of Kaine, a fearsome lingerie-wearing warrior who has a penchant for cursing and cutting down her foes in violent fits of rage. Just like Nier, Kaine has her own reasons for despising the Shades and it’s this burning hatred that can often land her in trouble.  

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Nier Replicant Kaine characterSquare Enix
Kaine and Weiss’ relationship is one of the more comical in Nier Replicant.

Holding this ragtag team together is Emil, a tragic boy who has the ability to turn anyone and anything he looks at to stone. Despite the guilt that surrounds his cursed power, Emil remains calm-minded and is the most rational of the group. It’s this level-headedness that keeps everyone on track. 

Not only do these characters often serve to balance out the darker segments of the narrative, they also make the emotional moments all the more poignant. It’s often rare to find a game where the entire cast feels believable in their motives, but it openly basks in these smaller, more intimate interactions. 

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Themes of morality, love, loss, sacrifice and good vs evil are all reflected by each cast member. At its core, Nier’s quest to save his sister is certainly a heavy one, but it’s these raw feelings that ultimately make the game’s cast so unforgettable. 

Overly simplistic combat

Nier Replicant combat Square Enix
Nier Replicant’s combat is one of the weakest aspects of the game.

Unlike Nier Automata’s combo-heavy gameplay, Nier Replicant lacks the same level of fluidity that made its predecessor deeply satisfying to play. Instead, combat largely revolves around a simple combination of light and heavy attacks. While these inputs can be loosely strung together, the lack of variety leaves a lot to be desired. 

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Throughout the 30 hour adventure, players will come across a variety of razor-sharp swords, deadly lances, and colossal great swords. Each of the game’s three weapon types has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, but the vast majority of enemies rarely require any strategy to take down. 

This results in battles devolving into tedious button-mashing brawls, where the same input is hit over and over again. Narrowly dodging an enemy’s attack or perfectly timing a block also feels hollow, particularly given the overabundance of healing items. Even if a particularly tricky foe does take a chunk out of Nier’s health pool, there’s always plenty of Medicinal Herbs on standby that ensures Nier never comes into any real danger.

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Nier Replicant boss fightSquare Enix
Boss fights are where the magic system really shines.

While the combat may be rather barebones when compared to the likes of Automata, the magic system does help alleviate things. Sealed Verses are game-changing abilities that enable Nier to unleash devastatingly powerful attacks, which can quickly chew through even the tankiest of enemies. From gigantic magical hands that launch nearby threats into the air to lethal lances that erupt from the ground and impale those caught beneath, there is plenty to unlock and try out.

These moves not only look flashy in their appearance, but they also help supplement the simple hack and slash segments. However, if you’re looking for an adrenaline-fueled game in the same vein as Nier Automata, Bayonetta, or Devil May Cry, then you’ll likely find yourself coming away disappointed. 

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An elegant blend of gameplay perspectives

Nier Replicant laboratory Square Enix
The switch between camera perspectives makes Nier Replicant feel like a different game.

One of the greatest parts of Nier Replicant is the way it effortlessly blends 3D action, 2D platforming, top-down dungeon crawling, and bullet hell sequences all together in a perfect package. None of these additions ever feel forced – instead, they all beautifully flow together. For example, one section of the game saw us search a spooky mansion from a fixed camera angle perspective while entering an old research laboratory saw the camera transition to a top-down viewpoint. 

Not only does this make each area feel a lot more interesting to navigate, but it also helps break up Nier Replicant’s lifeless open-world areas – one of the game’s biggest flaws. Despite going against the usual boring beige landscapes of most apocalyptic worlds, it features bright and vibrant environments. From the lush fields of the Northern Plains to the sun-baked sands of Seafront coastal shores, there are plenty of locations to explore.

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Unfortunately, a lot of these areas are completely devoid of any detail. Aside from groups of enemies that can be seen lifelessly trudging through the overworld, Though, environments are still plagued by the original game’s shortcomings. While the enhanced visuals, longer draw distances, and improved lighting may be welcomed additions, they do little to fix this issue. 

Tedious side quests

Nier Replicant backtrackingSquare Enix
Be prepared for a lot of side quest tedium.

Aside from the main adventure, there are hundreds of side quests to complete – the vast majority of which involve fetching an item in the overworld, traveling from one town to another, and successfully killing a target for one of the lifeless NPCs. Nier Replicant’s side quests are as generic as they come, but you’ll need to slog through a good few if you wish to unlock the farm and gain access to some of the game’s weapons – an area that is essential if you wish to see all the available endings. 

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Nier Replicant often revels in this classic RPG trope and even pokes fun of it, with Weiss comically stating “I sense another inane and time-consuming request coming on. Best to just walk away while you still can, lad”. Most games would never dare to outright poke fun at its own flaws, but this is brazen enough to actively relish in them. 

The self-aware remarks never fail to crack a smile, even if the tasks are “inane” and often “time-consuming”. While this constant backtracking is somewhat alleviated when the ability to ride wild boars and fast travel is unlocked, you’ll still need to be prepared for some rather lengthy treks between the same locations, especially if you wish to see all of the game’s five endings. 

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Breathtaking soundtrack

Nier Replicant musicSquare Enix
Nier Replicant’s soundtrack brings its world and character to life.

Fortunately, composer Keiichi Okabe and vocalist Emi Evans’ captivating soundtrack is the perfect travel companion. The game’s most instantly recognizable piece, Song of the Ancients is a beautifully soothing medley that combines a medley of words from both Japanese, English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French and Scottish Gaelic. It’s this level of experimentation that helps enhance the otherworldly mystery that encapsulated Nier’s world. 

From the upbeat drums and strings of the desert theme to the melancholic, yet calming beats of Nier’s Village, there is not a single track that feels out of place. Not only does Nier Replicant’s music sweeping orchestral score help convey its characters’ emotions where words can not, but it also helps greatly distinguish each location. 

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Rating 8/10

While Nier Replicant lacks the overall scale and depth of its critically acclaimed sequel, it still remains one of the most evocative Action-RPGs to date. The unique blend of gameplay perspectives, memorable cast of characters, and heartfelt branching narratives far outshine its flaws. Nier may have been the ugly duckling to Yoko Taro’s Nier Automata, but this “version upgrade” of the 2010 classic manages to deliver meaningful messages of love and sacrifice all these years later.

Reviewed on PC

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