The battle that crossed space and time is won, the enemy defeated at last. But the blood of the heroes who saved the world paints the tower red.Drakengard, Verse 4, Chapter 13
Part 1 – A Review of Nier Replicant
In the year 2003, critically acclaimed game director, Yoko Taro, chose fantasy as the tone of the first game he directed. Thus, Drakengard was created. The final ending of Drakengard involves a portal that transports the main characters and the final villain to Earth in a massive fight that has heavy ramifications for humanity in Drakengard’s spinoff series, Nier.
Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is a 2021 remake of the 2010 game Nier Replicant available on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC, while the original version of the game came on the PS3 and Xbox 360. The number 1.22474487139… is the square root of 1.5, showing the remake to be a massive overhaul of the original game in a strong and bombastic, yet difficult to remember subtitle. While the story and cinematography mostly remain the same, with the exception of an additional ending set after the last ending of the original game, the gameplay, music, environments, voice acting, and much more, have received ground-up enhancements and recreations that have brought the game to a much more modern standard similar in quality to its sequel, Nier Automata.
In the year 2053, the main character Nier and his younger sister Yonah are on the run from ethereal monsters that are trying to kill them, hiding in a run-down grocery store. After defeating the monster with the help of a mysterious book, Nier goes to check on his sister who is coughing badly, after which the game cuts to 1,412 years in the future, showing Nier and Yonah living in a medieval-styled village surrounded by the ancient ruins of modern civilization. What just happened? How did the main character live at the same age for fourteen hundred years? And why is he talking about the people from the 2000s as some sort of historical/mythical people he doesn’t know and understand?
Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is a game that is about a world desperately fighting to preserve what little humanity it has left, and profoundly failing to do so. There’s a persevering sadness that’s always hanging over the violent world of Nier Replicant. When you play any of Yoko Taro’s games, you can expect to always revisit the same places, press the same buttons on your controller or keyboard, fight the same enemies, and solve the same puzzles a lot. This is one of the biggest issues with Nier Replicant but is very much forgivable when you can see the ways in which this franchise succeeds.
Nier’s story starts slow but ultimately becomes the absolute best part of the entire game. After the time skip, Nier’s sister Yonah is shown to be afflicted by a terminal illness, The Black Scrawl. It’s a deeply personal story; one about a brother’s love for his sister much more so than any sort of grander ambitions to save the world or humanity or anything, which is one of the most intriguing aspects about it as an RPG.
Most RPGs, by the end, always end up switching over to save-the-world plots, which can be thrilling, but not necessarily fresh. Nier and his friends are not some sort of chosen heroes or anything; the actions they take very often fall into morally grey territories and sometimes even push the boundaries of ethics even darker. I give heavy respect to the writing of Nier Replicant and great applause to the performances of its cast which make the characters of Nier Replicant always feel like a joy to be around, regardless of how dark and grim their situations get.
You meet characters like Kainé, the foul-mouthed lady dressed in her undergarments to show off her feminine characters due to reasons that I consider heavy spoilers (which shall be talked about after the game’s score has been given), who wins your heart over with her unapologetic attitude and growth as a person, voiced by the critically acclaimed Laura Bailey. Emil is the cute and wholesome boy who is always a joy to be around and is full of optimism and unconditional love for his friends, despite all the trauma he’s endured, voiced by the lovely Julie Ann Taylor. And of course, we have the series’ deuteragonist, Grimoire Weiss, who’s the sassy wisecrack floating book of magic who wields the power and knowledge to save the day whenever the main cast is in a pinch, voiced by the talented Liam O’ Brien.
Beyond the story and the characters, the gameplay and combat is also something that is of note. Despite being quite easy and a bit shallow, it is something that can be fun in its own way once you get used to it. It’s a slow start that involves errands and fetch quests here and there, and as you go out into the vast world of Nier. The repetition of the combat with the limited variety of enemies and the backtracking to the same locations over and over start to make the game feel repetitive at times, especially when fast travel in the game is very limited and only unlocked in the second half of the game. I found myself using a trainer at 8x the speed of the game at times when I had to go to places I had already been many times. But through this backtracking, you do get to know the places and the characters living there very intimately, which is the whole point of the slow burn that is the travel system of this game.
The combat is fairly simple in the first half of the game when Nier is only able to handle one-handed weapons in battle. But in the second half of the game, which takes place after a 5-year time skip and shows Nier having grown up quite a bit, the player can also use two-handed swords and spears in battle. These weapons can be customized with runes and upgraded by a blacksmith to deal greater damage. One can also use magic using the Sealed Verses, magical abilities held by Grimoire Weiss, of which new ones are constantly unlocked throughout the first half of the game. In addition to the main story, there are also numerous side quests as well as fishing and farming minigames which give the player money and experience points for levelling up.
For all its poignant and moving story beats, Nier Replicant would never be what it is without the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack it boasts created by lead composer Keiichi Okabe. The music of Nier Replicant carries a feeling of inexplicable sorrow, sometimes a hint of melancholy and triumph. The melodies you hear while travelling across the world of Nier Replicant carry some of the most significant weight of the game’s narrative which completely deserved the Best Score and Music Award at the Game Awards 2021.
I’m not going to lie, Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… made me cry ugly a lot. Kainé, Emil, Weiss, Yonah, and Nier will win over you with their endearing personalities and storylines, making their tragic journey and awe-inspiring story beats hit hard. The game has 5 different endings, each unlocked one after the other, with each going more and more deep into the world and story of Nier Replicant. Exploring the story and tragedies of the characters more and more intimately, ultimately ending in a true ending that made me have to pause the game and just try not to cry out of sheer emotions. Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is a must-play for anyone who loves stories that make you think, make you emotional, and make you want to discover more. Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…’s story and characters are some of the greatest in its whole genre and I’m definitely going to be diving further into the Nier franchise with the next entry in the world, Nier Automata. Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is out now on the PS4, Xbox One and PC, and the original version of Nier Replicant is available on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Part 2 – A Discussion of the plot (Spoilers, duh)
Now that the formal side of the review is over, let us dive deep into the 5 endings that Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… has. Be warned, there are huge spoilers for any who haven’t yet finished the game and plan to. I haven’t yet played Nier Automata besides the beginning but I assume these spoilers have been mentioned in that game as well, at least briefly. Be warned again if you don’t want to be spoiled.
The game’s 5 different endings (Endings A, B, C, D, and E) are all just continuations of each other, with the exception of Ending C, which is a what-if scenario of Ending D. After Yonah has been kidnapped by the Shadowlord and you go to rescue her in a fairly standard typical fantasy way in Ending A, you are informed of Project Gestalt, which explains the scene we saw at the beginning of the game in the year 2053. After the final ending of Drakengard caused the portal to open up to Earth, magic spewed on Earth, creating an illness called the White Chlorination Syndrome (WCS) that wiped most of humanity, causing the last remnants of humans to initiate Project Gestalt. A project in which humans would separate their souls from their bodies, reuniting the two only after WCS was eradicated from the world. The soulless Replicant bodies were created from human genetic data, and their corresponding souls became Gestalts. However, an unforeseen error in the Project caused the Gestalts to lose their sanity and for the soulless Replicants to gain self-awareness. The Nier we have been playing as after the opening chapter has been the Replicant Nier, created as an artificial body for the original Gestalt Nier who we played as in 2053. The Shadowlord is the Gestalt Nier without his original body who kidnapped Replicant Yonah to force her to join together with the original Gestalt Yonah. In a way, this is a very tragic tale that makes you think which side is the better one.
The Replicant Nier, completely unaware of this project, who thought of himself as human, had been killing ghostly monsters around the world thinking of them to be nothing more than savages, while in reality, they were the original true humans whose minds had relapsed due to the Project’s error and due to a 1000+ year separation from physical bodies. The Replicant Nier and the Gestalt Nier, both want to save their sisters, with the Black Scrawl being revealed to be a disease that Replicants experience when their Gestalts start undergoing relapsing of the mind. Do you want the siblings who suffered for 1400 years, expecting to get their bodies back at the end of it all, to succeed? Or do you want the young innocent siblings who just want to continue their peaceful existence, who don’t know they’re supposed to not have a consciousness, to stay happy and together?
When you play the game subsequently for all further endings, as the player you are given access to the thoughts of all the Gestalts that Replicant Nier had attacked and killed, showing them to be normal human beings trying to protect their friends and to regain their lost bodies. Also, the background stories of all the supporting casts are revealed to you, with Kainé being shown to be intersex, and being ostracized by her hometown because of this, which is why she started wearing revealing clothing, to highlight the feminine side of her body. Emil’s past as a child experimented upon to create a bioweapon along with his sister is narrated in detail as well, with him being shown as gay in the second half of the game as well. It is extremely emotional and sad and makes you think heavily about the depressing state of the world of the Nier franchise. The 2nd ending expands upon the Gestalt siblings, showing them in the afterlife after Replicant Nier defeats the Shadowlord, together, making me REALLY want to wish a happy ending for them and for all the humans who suffered in 2053.
The 4th ending, which takes place immediately after the 2nd ending, then shows Kainé relapsing due to a Gestalt possessing her body, with the only way to save her being the Replicant Nier to give up his own existence for her’s. If he agrees to give himself up for her, the character’s existence is literally erased as we see the game go into the main menu and start to delete all the items, all the unlockables, all the notes, and all the map one by one, in what I consider to be the coolest segment the game has. After Kainé has been rescued, everyone forgets about the existence of Replicant Nier entirely, and your save data is deleted after one final cutscene. If the player starts a new game, he won’t be allowed to use the same name for Replicant Nier again.
The 5th ending takes place 3 years after the 4th ending. If you do a New Game after finishing the 4th ending, under a new name, the game cuts to a segment that takes place 3 years later halfway through your playthrough with Kainé feeling like she has forgotten something important. She goes to an old tree where a bunch of androids trying to restart Project Gestalt are fought, with the android’s infallible, non-biological memories, being used to remind Kainé of Replicant Nier’s past, and after you defeat the final boss of the 5th ending, the androids recreate Replicant Nier from when their memory of him when he first visited the tree near the beginning of the game, as you see your old save files and items being restored one by one as a giant flower blooms in the forest where the tree lays.
These endings are definitely the highlight of Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… and were a true stroke of genius by Yoko Taro. I loved them and how meta they got with the save files and the UI being destroyed and restored. It is an innovative storytelling technique possible only in video gaming and is something also done in games like Undertale, Doki Doki Literature Club, and many other games. This is storytelling that truly immerses the player in as being a part of the world of the game itself as well, and it will always be my favourite video gaming trope ever, as long as it is done correctly, which Nier Replicant did.