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post #1 of 1 Old 03-31-10, 01:50 AM Thread Starter
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Nier Hands-on

Nier Hands-on

Square Enix tackles the action-adventure genre with Zelda-like results.
by Patrick Kolan, IGN AU

Australia, March 30, 2010 - A land plagued by a mysterious virus; an ancient race, a lost form of magic and a father protecting his dying daughter – Nier is, if nothing else, a game steeped in RPG conventions you know and love. Or loathe, potentially. It's also a Square Enix-published action-adventure game that takes more cues from Nintendo's Zelda franchise than you might expect from the hallowed house that brought you Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Of course, experimenting outside of the straight JRPG genre is nothing new to the company – but these experiments generally have not come close to attaining the level of polish of its core franchises. At this stage, it appears Nier is no exception.

Nier opens in a post-apocalyptic city, frozen over and plagued by mysterious monsters called Shades – though you don't know it at the time. A father is left to defend his ailing daughter as you're thrown headlong into Nier's combat system – a combination of swordplay (or, erm, steel-pipe play initially) and eventually magical attacks from 'Grimoire Weiss' a sophisticated, wise-talking magical tome. Yeah.

The introduction dips your toes in Nier's backstory – and in the space of five seconds, that setting jumps exactly 1312 years into the future, where the world has moved on, and the last outcrops of humanity are scattered around villages now hemmed in by the throngs of Shades that crop up in shadows or spread as the weather becomes overcast.

Your main character, the titular hero Nier (though you can rename before getting stuck into proceedings), appears almost identical to the character a thousand years prior. Even his daughter, Yonah, is sickly and meek – but with that classic 'heart of gold' to keep you vaguely compelled to save her, we suppose. Clearly the parallel storyline will hold some serious significance down the line, but for the sake of spoilers (and our NDA-binding gag), we'll just leave you with the broad brushstrokes.

It's an unusual but compelling setting, but one that feels a little too familiar to RPG enthusiasts. Your home village acts as something of a hub between the other realms; gates separate you from the surrounding fields, which are populated with all manner of beast. Amusingly, the sheep and goats of the world have evolved to become supersized versions of the classic domesticated livestock –and the villagers apparently live in fear of hunting them now. Your earliest missions involve dicing these suckers up for fun and profit.

In true action-adventure fashion, it's not too long before you're sent to the 'Lost Shrine' (which, frankly, couldn't be that lost if you know exactly where it is and what's waiting for you inside) – the first true dungeon of the game. The interior wraps its way around a gigantic withered tree, but crumbling walkways force you off the path and into the fray. In classic Zelda style, Nier tasks you with that old puzzle fall-back, crate shifting, as well as hampering your progression with locked rooms and a good, old-fashioned monster mash.

Grimoire Weiss' magical attacks give you potent distance abilities.

That resolutely traditional game design is actually made all the more transparent, thanks to a dynamic camera that often swings to a top-down viewpoint in classic Legend of Zelda tradition. It's quirky stuff for a game that's clearly striving for an epic feel. The perspective shift really highlights how little Nier does that's new or remarkable – instead, your character sprints around like a caffeinated kid with ADD, smashing his way through barrels and crates for healing herbs, defence weeds and all the RPG-throwback trimmings.

Outside of combat scenarios, the camera also shifts to a side-on perspective inside rooms in villages. It's an oddly jarring experience that only begins to make sense when you see other camera perspective shifts elsewhere. It's resolutely old-school stuff – and not always in a good way.

Things improved when we finally encountered our first significant boss battle –which also reintroduced Grimoire Weiss back to the story. Hovering at your side like only an enchanted-book-of-magic can, Weiss acts more like a magical machine-gun cross-bred with Navi from Ocarina of Time, but with a voice that renders images of monocles, cups o' tea and the aristocracy. Tapping R1 repeatedly sends out blasts of glowing red energy, while holding it down sets it into rapid-fire mode, gradually depleting your magic gauge (which automatically replenishes itself, thereby saving you the effort of constantly quaffing restorative mana herbs or some such staple).

The combat system is moderately deep; the standard hack-and-slash rules apply – mash square (on PS3) to slice away or triangle to ram your enemy. R2 is your dodge button – an essential manoeuvre to master early in the game, since most enemies tend to get in your face and it's pretty easy to become overwhelmed.

The D-pad toggles between weapons and abilities on-the-fly, also saving you from needing to pause the game and dig through the menus to upgrade to new weapons and spells. Handy. Conversely, if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of your items, the backstory and training, all of these options are at your disposal.

After trouncing the first boss (twin demon knights in hefty armour and a pack of Shades), it's back to the hub village for more to-ing and fro-ing – something your first hour sees you doing in order to come to grips with your village layout, clear-cut love interest and your daughter's precocious babbling. Quests become available for the first time, and these mostly revolve around fetch-quests and special deliveries. One quest deviated slightly, requiring you to escort a fragile item from your village to another – and it inevitably breaks along the way. Oh what to do, what to do?

Oh boy! Peasants and fetch-quests and monsters oh my!

Nier is not a beautiful game. In fact, we'd say the engine is about as sophisticated as the gameplay itself – that is, acceptable and functional. The world is expansive and the high dynamic range lighting splashes the green fields and dusty valleys with sunburn glow – but the organic detail just isn't there. The structures and buildings lack personality, rendered with hard edges and flat textures that, while charming in a simplistic, PS2-era way, undercut the artistry its striving for. The result is a flat and mostly generic fantasy environment with the occasional 'cool' set piece or foe. It's generic stuff, largely.

Delightfully, the score is excellent – the soundtrack dynamically shifts as you wander through the environment, starting with a simple guitar melody and perhaps layering in vocals if someone's singing nearby or changing the instruments if you enter the town library or enter combat. Small touches like this add some much-needed charm to the experience, as does a script filled with bafflingly coarse language that flies in the face of the fantasy setting.

If Nier's scope broadens deeper into the game – and we suspect it does, then so much the better for it. There's a backend of upgradable spells, weapons and special 'word' enhancements (referred to as 'word editing in the game), hinging around Grimoire Weiss' magical abilities. Eventually animals can be summoned too, though we've yet to see the impact on the gameplay. If the dungeons hold up and the story also comes together, Nier might well be worth delving into for fans of action-adventures looking for a dash of classic Square Enix RPG fixings.

Source: IGN

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
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