This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Nier.
So I ventured from my cave to pick up Dead to Rights: Retribution, probably with latex gloves and the longest pair of tongs I could find, when I noticed a game on the New Release shelves I'd never heard of. A Square Enix game apparently populated with characters who dress themselves by running at full speed into the bin behind a fetish shop, exactly the sort of thing you'd expect Square Enix to be proud of. But it's flown completely under the radar. I asked everyone I knew and neither of them had heard of it either. Ooh, I thought, this mystery intrigues me. And if Dead to Rights: Retribution is anything like the first Dead to Rights, I could probably simulate it just as well by shooting execution style a few people with funny accents. So fuck it! Let's see if it's a hidden gem or a petrified arsehole they were hoping could scoot by unnoticed.
Since then, I've played through Nier, and I must say it's gratifying to see that the game is named after the sound I make when asked to describe it. Nier is in actuality the name of the main character, the guy on the box who looks a bit like Emmett Brown wearing his underpants on his face. I only found this out later, though, because before the game tells you his name it asks you if you can come up with a better one, and thus began the adventures of Twattycake, defender of the innocent. Twattycake is a middle-aged village handyman who is seeking a cure for his daughter's mysterious disease that makes incomprehensible writing appear on her body, which is exactly the excuse I gave my mum when I got back from the tattoo shop.
I must say, it's nice to see a Square Enix RPG where the main character isn't a skinny, emo child whose balls are still in his fucking neck, although there still is plenty of angst to go around. The other members of your party are an angsty leprechaun version of Jack Skellington and an angsty lady, whose angst apparently stems from a question mark hanging over the whole "lady" thing. Or, should I say, hanging under. I know outfits in JRPGs tend to lean towards the fetishistic, but I swear they're just trying to see what they can get away with now. The woman's combat gear is a jockstrap with a negligee. Someone should probably call them out on this, or the next game will have a heroine going into battle with nothing but high heels and three bits of masking tape.
Insert Name Hier's combat is of the hacky slashy variety. Swinging the weapons feels a bit gluey at times, but overall it's functional if uninteresting, like former Prime Minister John Major. Although what is interesting is that enemy magic attacks take a cue from bullet hell shooters, of all things, filling the room with row after row of deadly spheres, like a long-distance tea-bagging, turning gameplay into more like navigating an organic maze of glow-testicles than dodging bullets. Except that the block move renders them harmless, so so much for that.
There's a bit of a difficulty problem overall. Twattycake has a variety of his own magic attacks that are about as balanced as entering an orc at a cockfight, especially one that lets you pause the game, point at an enemy, and summon the ethereal equivalent of a tactical nuclear strike. Even the final bosses got their shit ruined with the most basic armour-breaking attacks, and after maxing out on healing items and the best weapons I still had a hundred grand kicking around. What else am I supposed to spend this money on, game? Maintaining the back garden? Oh, "yes," apparently.
You know how in some RPGs you start off in your lovely idyllic green grass home village, where smiling neighbors bid you "how do you do" and which is virtually guaranteed to get Hiroshimafied before the second act? Well, Nier is like that but never quite gets as far as the second bit. Frankly, I wish it would. Here we have a stalwart fighter who in between fighting cosmic death beasts from beyond the veil of time and space has to repeatedly run back home to water his melons, spend quality time with his child, and see if anyone needs him to run down the shops to buy them a healing potion and a Mars bar.
It's one of the those games that seeks to challenge the notion that gamers need to get a life by attempting to simulate one. As well as planting and harvesting crops for about one-hundredth of the profit margin to be found in monster murdering, there's also a fishing minigame (which is about as fun as digging hooks into your own gums) and, of course, the fetch quest, since you're the only person in town who can read shopping lists. I suppose in the game's defense, while it does force you back to the home village every half-hour like it's ringing a service bell, you don't have to do anything when you get there, although I did get pangs of guilt when I saw the ocean of floating speech bubbles hovering over the helpless townsfolk, whose feet were apparantly encased in cement.
One game I'm also reminded of is Zelda (for Zelda is only one game with about fifty different dresses). It has a similar overworld/dungeon structure, and one of the bosses bears such a close resemblance to a boss from Zelda: Wind Waker that it's either a deliberate homage or a sign that the games industry needs to go to its room and seriously think about what it's doing. And something it has in common with Zelda: Twilight Princess is that someone lent too hard on the bloom button. It's like all you have to do is walk into a tunnel and the sun goes supernova. Maybe this explains why Twattycake takes to wearing his pants over his eyes.
Anyway, Nier was presumably working with less of a budget than Zelda and rabidly recycles like air crash survivors in the mountains. You go through maybe four dungeons, then the action skips ahead five years for no apparent reason, which everyone supposedly spends sitting around in their pants waiting to figure out the next course of action, which turns out to be: go to the same four dungeons again! All the while listening to the same fucking ten-second music loops over and over again, which are all now playing in the elevators of my personal hell. And there's a pretty fucking glaring budget cut at one point where a dungeon is replace by a series of text screens. Seriously. I didn't buy a PS3 to play Zork, bitch.
Nier has the bones of a half-decent action RPG in here somewhere, but bones are only good so long as you drink your milk and avoid throwing yourself down flights of stairs. The combat is all right, and story and characters are somewhat above average, if a little enamoured with glurgy power of friendship drama. But there's too much fat, wobbly wrapping paper around the good bits. Explain to me the appeal of a weapon and magic upgrade system where you have to go down your list of spells and weapons applying the same upgrade to all of them individually like ticking a fucking school register. It's a game that paradoxically cuts down its adventure content while leaving room for stupid fucking gardening and spoon-feeding retarded villagers. Perhaps there was some cock-up at a budget meeting and Fun got allocated less money than the Nobbing Around department. There are bits of it that are so boring I almost had a Nier-death experience. Boosh!
Hier is a pier who likes his bier: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Actually if anyone ever played Illbleed on the Dreamcast they'd know that the masking tape thing has kind of already been done
Personally I didn't notice anything untoward about the jockstrap