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NIER Preview

Nick_Tan By:
PUBLISHER Square Enix 
M Contains Blood, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Nierest and dierest.

In an act of desperation, like a certain artistic wheelchaired Greg Ki-nier, I thought it would be clever to open this preview by exploiting the obvious ve-nier of NIER's homophonic nature like some abnormal ve-nier-eal lisp, but then I decided against it… nier-ly. Of course, making fun of its name is easy - understanding NIER is not - which is why we sat down with developer Cavia and publisher Square Enix to have them set the record straight.

click to enlargeThe first hurdle of confusion is that two versions of NIER have been announced: NIER Replicant, a PS3 exclusive released only in Japan; and NIER Gestalt (known simply as NIER in America and for the rest of this preview), the “standard” PS3 and Xbox 360 versions to be released internationally, with the Xbox 360 version also being released in Japan. (Confused yet?) The main, and perhaps only, difference between the two is that NIER tells the story of a father desperate to find a cure that will save his daughter, whereas NIER Replicant opts for a brother, who is younger and slimmer than the father in NIER, trying to save his sister.

Apparently, the gaming markets between the PS3 and Xbox 360 in Japan differ enough to warrant this unusual, virtually unprecedented divergence of the main character. If you don’t live in Japan, then this probably won’t matter to you much, but it might feel as though you’re being misled or that this says something about the Japanese marketing perspective on your supposed tastes for avatars. (But that is a subject for an editorial.) No word has been given on whether the plots between the two versions will vary much at all, but I suspect that they won’t.

Another shocking tidbit is that Kaine, one of several partners who assist the eponymous main character Nier, has been revealed and loosely defined as a hermaphrodite. She has been described as a female warrior part-possessed in a demonic attack by a male spirit, akin to Princess Momohime in Muramasa: The Demon Blade. This small detail is certainly an eye-catcher, but it doesn’t say much about what the game is about, though after much contemplation (as I sip yet another late-night cup of caffeinated Sencha green tea), NIER is a little bit of everything.

So it’s probably in your best interest to know what has actually been set in stone about the game first. NIER is an action RPG that puts you in the shoes of a sword-swinging father desperate to cure his daughter Yonah of the Black Scrawl virus. In the future, a lethal disease begins to spread to the point of near human extinction, which leads scientists scrambling for a solution, but they only make things worse by accidentally creating said virus. Of course, that just gives you license to kick everything and everyone’s ass for about 20+ hours until your daughter feels better. That’s real parental love.

click to enlargeNIER can be described as God of War with sprinkles of The Red Star, ICO, and the general weirdness that can only come from Japanese RPGs. The green health and blue mana bars and swordplay might remind you of an action adventure, but there are plenty of items, side-quests, and shops littered about the world – a hodgepodge of various genres and classic ideas. When you’re inside a building, the perspective changes to a 2D side-view, and during some battles, gigantic bosses made out of black rectangles will occasionally shoot out reams of red spherical bullets which Nier can dodge as if he were a plane in a shmup like Ikaruga. Nier can also counter back by firing bullets of his own from a talking floating spellbook.

As Nier progresses through the game, he will become more than just your ordinary battle-hardened warrior. Not only can your companion spellbook provide you with dark powers, like the Dark Lance that blasts through enemies with the force of a rocket launcher, but you can gather an exorbitant amount of loot and can upgrade weapons using materials and words. Certain words, which work similar to socketed runes and jewels, can be combined together and reused to imbue a weapon with varying effects.

But whatever you do, don’t try to understand it all – cognizant grimoires, tattooed ladies, magic wards and symbols, shadowlords, and f-bombs – or you’re just going to put yourself in a stupor. One boss that we were shown was a black globular colossus that raids a quaint village by slinking its way atop the rooftops. Nier slices at the monster’s feet with each swing of his sword radiating in an arc of light, as he (hopefully) dodges bullets and shockwaves, all to a fantastical choral soundtrack. Is this a Scandavian hallucination of Princess Mononoke? It might as well be.

NIER can’t be summed up in a sentence. It is as much normal as it is bizarre. I was even assured that, at a certain point,  nothing would be what it seems. However well NIER is received, it is bold of Square Enix to put out something that’s so outlandishly peculiar, and for the JRPG genre, that's saying something. Look for NIER to arrive in stores in May 2010… or something close to that.

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