My 2021 Game of the Year: NieR Replicant ver 1.22474487139…

I cannot emphasize how hard it was not to repeat Frostpunk as my game of the year in this sophomore year of the pandemic. I’ve sunk another several hundred hours into it, there was DLC, I’m a pleased bean.

But there is one game I had been craving to experience ever since finishing NieR Automata, and it’s the game whose “joke” ending spins into that far future sequel with robots and existential crises. With similar structure to Automata and the same beautiful music, I was thrilled to see the NieR remake announced, and got chills when I finally got to hear “Snow in Summer in context.

NieR Replicant ver 1.22474487139… is available on Steam, xBox, and PS4.

Logo by Square Enix

What It’s About

This game is a remaster of NieR, an action hack-and-slash role-playing game which came out in 2010 under the name Gestalt with an older male protagonist father outside of Japan and under the name Replicant with a younger male protagonist brother in Japan. NieR Replicant honored the younger brother NieR protagonist as he navigates a decayed world trying to find a cure for his sister’s black scrawl.

There’s a magic talking book named Grimoire Noir, an angry lady in lingerie named Kaine, and a sweet boy named Emil. There are also demons called Shades of various designs and sizes with different backstories, each more upsetting than the one that came before it, and multiple endings which require retreads of the game’s second half after the time skip. Most of anything else I say will barely make sense in context, and even less so without it, so I’ll leave the plot summary there.

What is the Game Like?

Unlike other games I like, there is a story you need to follow without too many branching paths. Most of the gameplay comes from getting assigned a quest, getting a thing or killing a monster, handing in the quest and then progressing to the next bit. Magic starts when NieR meets Grimoire Noir, and he can collect a range of weapons that need to be updated to the highest level in order to get all the game’s endings.

One of the things I enjoy is the range of styles. Granted, it doesn’t get into first person perspective, but there is a range depending on the section of the game you’re in. Most of it lets you see the character, but there are segments that are side-scrollers, top-down, and isometric. This depends on the environment. Each one also comes with its own beautiful music that made my dad incredulous that it could have possibly come from a video game.

What is the Appeal Here?

The aesthetic and the character growth and development are something worth destroying a box of tissues over. There’s questions about the cost of immortality and mortality, what it means to be who you say or who you know you are. As the game progresses, you get more insight into what is a Shade, really, and at what point do things stop being considered human? It features hallmarks of both science fiction and fantasy, with an interesting exploration of both throughout. If you played NieR Automata first and got fairly upset, there’s more of that here.

I went into this remake fairly nervous, admittedly. I had played the Final Fantasy VII Remake, which takes the first quarter of a forty-hour game and makes it into its own forty-hour experience. It’s truly a remake in the sense that it not only upgraded the graphics, but made fairly significant changes to the story. The fact that NieR’s name changed made me nervous that this same game development philosophy also applied, and, in order to understand the context for Automata, I would have to track down a PS3 and play it that way. Or watch a Let’s Play and lose a bit of the experience.

I am delighted to say that the changes are mostly when it comes to graphics and playability.

Which matched my expectations, which is a relief in a time period where expectation management means constantly shifting goalposts to an extent which makes having expectations at all a pointless endeavor. If you’re looking for a game which has fun gameplay, stories with layers, playthroughs that enrich understanding, and characters which throat-punch you in the feels.

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