An action-RPG from the makers of "Drakengard", Nier is an intriguing game for a few different reasons. Its complex plot and setting, in conjunction with exciting gameplay and absolutely breathtaking design, makes for a game that initially seems good. However, the unfolding story and various mediocre levels take the wind out of its sails enough to turn it from a great game to a middling game.
Nier is a fantasy action game with a few RPG elements. It's based largely in the "beat-em-up" genre; as the titular character, you fight through huge crowds of enemies with swords, spears, and magic. Nier handles extremely well, and has some really satisfying acrobatic dodges and combo attacks. The game's spells are one of its centerpoints - rather than being distinct spells with different elements and so on, the spells use the same generalized energy but manifest it in different forms. For example, one spell creates giant lances of energy, while another shoots out homing blasts. One spell creates a large wall, while another creates a doppelganger of the main character to strike at enemies. The spells work extremely well for their own purposes, and feel like a natural extension of the swordplay in most cases rather than being entirely separate.
However, action isn't Nier's only draw. A few dungeons switch things up; one dungeon is highly puzzle-centric (by putting you in rooms with certain restrictions and forcing you to work around them), while another is actually a text adventure. A few dungeons, on the other hand, are monumentally boring - essentially just hallways full of monsters to fight through, with no defining features or charm. This is made worse by the fact that you visit each dungeon at least twice over the course of the game. While normally it would be okay to just have a bunch of combat rooms, the fact that it's such an unavoidable slog pushes it over the brink to be fully annoying. Still, the few cool dungeons and memorable boss fights make up for it.
The game's design, including its graphics and sounds, are probably its strongest point. The game takes place in a far-off post-apocalyptic world, where civilization has started to regrow in some capacity. The maps and dungeons are littered with the remnants of the old world, from conspicuous escape pods used as housing to giant wrecked railroad bridges. Many of the areas have a very "Shadow of the Colossus" feel to them, combining monumental structures and areas with an overwhelming sense of emptiness or abandonment. The music helps foster this feeling with the use of ominous choruses and orchestras. While in technical terms the graphics aren't great, the presence of "jaggies" makes it seem in some ways closer to games like Ico or SOTC. The spell effects, at least, are great, and the design of the locations, characters, and enemies is enough to overcome technical limitations or failings.
Of course, Nier has its bad points, as well. In addition to the aforementioned slog dungeons, a lot of the quests and story advancements are just "run from here to point x". While the quests are fairly interesting, story-wise, in gameplay terms they amount to an annoying amount of running back and forth delivering stuff to people. In addition, the story starts out strong and intriguing, but generally fails to deliver in later areas. Supplemental documents answer some questions (especially about how the game relates to Cavia's previous game, "Drakengard"), but overall the plot twists seem eye-rolling and overwrought.
On the whole Nier is a fun action game that it's easy to get caught up in. The incredible delivery of the game, however, is marred by repetition and padding, and so the experience as a whole is somewhat tainted. Still, it was an enjoyable game overall, and definitely worth at least one playthrough.
We bought our copy of Nier with our own money from a gaming store.