by Robert Zak
previewed on X360
The weary and dangerous world is reflected in its washed-out color palette and ruined landscape that looks more akin to Demon's Souls than it does to the vibrant and colorful worlds of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. Don't expect to see many hand-holding friendships here; Nier's world is overrun by desperation and fear, with its people preferring to keep human contact to a minimum.
Square Enix have stressed that Nier is a mature game for a mature audience, focusing on themes such as loneliness and the relationship between father and daughter. However, while this was pointed out as something that distinguishes this game from others, the last few months have brought us a strong batch of mature/adult-themed games. The presence of Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect 2, Heavy Rain and Demon's Souls means that Nier has the unenviable task of breaking into a small but strong market aimed at the older gamer.
True to RPG formula, Nier gives a degree of freedom to the gamer as to how they approach the game. While certain quests are essential for the progress of the story, there are countless things you can do on the side to earn money. Since money can buy most things in Nier you will find it important to have a steady income. Aside from completing side-quests such as killing some lambs for someone in town, Nier can also try his hand at more domestic duties such as fishing and cultivating crops. As well as giving you a nice break from the high-intensity combat sequences, getting in touch with Nier's pastoral side is also very rewarding; you can earn plenty by growing fruits and vegetables or by fishing for sharks, or you can grow herbs that will come in handy on Nier's travels.
To simply label Nier as an Action-RPG wouldn't do justice to how unique this game is. Square Enix have been creative in adapting the camera to best suit a given part of the game, even if it breaks dramatically from the default 3rd-person view. So don't be surprised if you suddenly find yourself jumping across a 2D platformer screen or fighting from a birds-eye view perspective. This is an inventive way of varying the gameplay and, as well as paying homage to gaming's roots, keeps you guessing as to what twists and surprises Nier will throw at you next.
The decision to release Nier in April this year is a slightly perplexing one. Square Enix's very own Final Fantasy XIII is just released, which will surely distract a good portion of the gaming population for a good amount of time. However, Nier clearly isn't copying its competitors and looks set to give a unique and engrossing game experience that can be appreciated no matter what games the masses are currently playing. Whether this ambitious approach can draw gamers away from their current RPG preoccupations will become clearer on 27 April when Nier will become available for PS3 and Xbox 360.