The dark world of Nier Replicant is over a decade old (the original Nier released in 2010), and yet its morbid commentary on human frailty still resonates. This bittersweet tale is backed up by enhanced character models, satisfying hack-and-slash mechanics, and a haunting soundtrack that turns a compelling storyline. At the same time, the outdated features that made the original game tedious to play remain present, and that’s because Nier Replicant is neither a remake nor a remaster of that 2010 title. Creative director Yoko Taro prefers the term “bet”. version level ”, and that moniker fits the bill – for better or for worse.
Fans will immediately notice Deny: the influence of Automata; Replicant’s combat is simple and flashy. A new lockable camera makes parries and evasive maneuvers easier, but light and heavy attacks are still your bread and butter. Chaining together combos with a variety of different weapons or executing incapacitated enemies appears to be the fastest way to gain engagements. Whimsical animations, like in-flight whirlpools and slow-mo ground slamming, made the melee action exciting enough that I actively seek out groups of opponents of my own free will.
A repertoire of dazzling magic truly brings these barren battlefields to life. You can equip two abilities at any time, so experimentation is key. I’ve usually paired Dark Whirlwind – which conjures up rotating crimson blades to deal area damage – with Dark Blast’s rapid-fire bullets so I can always stay on the offensive. You can also give orders to your companions, but other than directing them outright to disengage from time to time, I never noticed any change in their behavior.
You need these mystical powers to survive because the world is dying. Small colonies dot the countryside where shadow monsters called “shadows” roam in packs. In addition, a mysterious disease is slowly eating away at the last vestiges of civilization. Mankind’s withering state is much more personal to you than to anyone else: Yonah, your little sister, is slowly succumbing to a plague called the Black Scrawl. Strange runes continue to spread over his flesh as you venture into the wilderness for a cure. But you are never alone. A floating tome named Grimoire Weiss, a kind-hearted boy named Emil and a rude, scantily clad warrior named Kainé accompany you to the far reaches of the continent. Together, you brave stormy deserts, race past seaside town beaches and roam spooky mansions to save Yonah. Hard-hitting story beats like generational trauma and the cycle of hate offered thrilling surprises that left me in emotional turmoil on several occasions.
I also loved the original Nier Replicant cast, and that goes beyond the main crew. The conversations you have with characters are filled to the brim with deep, albeit country, feelings. The side missions give a narrative flavor to an otherwise bland game world, but I’d like these tasks to have more variance as most of it boils down to forgettable recovery quests. Plus, unlike your beautifully made party members, all NPCs are poorly textured. Because of this, the emotional stakes and side mission resolutions fall flat. It’s hard to relate to a character when their facial features are virtually indistinguishable.
Shadows are the most common enemy you encounter on your travels. They strike in droves, but don’t be fooled by their numbers; these are pushovers, with the exception of the high level damage sponges that appear at the end of the game. Shadow attacks are considerably easy to anticipate and counter, making their constant ambushes more annoying than anything else. Boss fights, however, are fun sequences that push your mechanical skills to the limit, forcing you to react quickly to a flurry of magical and physical attacks, often at the same time. Atmospheric choruses paired with the visual panoply of blood and sword sparks make each of these tense confrontations memorable.
It’s a shame that upgrading your gear to comfortably finish these battles is less enjoyable. Combat mods, called Words, drop from slain shadows and can be inserted into weapons or magical abilities for permanent buffs. You can also collect raw materials scattered around each location and exchange them for upgrades. Both options (especially the last one) require hours of monotonous grinding, rolling back, and luck. At one point, I spent almost five hours in one location trying to collect enough “Eagle Eggs” to upgrade my favorite one-handed sword and spear. Challenging random number generators are common in RPGs, but the implementation of Nier Replicant creates a frustrating exploration loop.
Despite some dated shortcomings, this “version upgrade” is more than the sum of its parts. New design choices like camera and genre changes are as impressive today as they were over 10 years ago. The main characters are vibrant with their own interesting stories, and the plot is as deliciously devastating as you’d expect. Denying Replicant may not convert players who were disabled by the Original or Automata, but there are more than enough quality-of-life updates and story-centric nuances to keep longtime fans going. and the new initiates return for later games.
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