by Robert Zak
previewed on X360
Square Enix is a publisher that needs no introduction, being responsible for the release of popular JRPG series' such as Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts and of course the legendary Final Fantasy series. With the much-anticipated Final Fantasy XIII just released, you could be forgiven for overlooking Nier; the unique and ambitious Action RPG that Square Enix says will be its most narratively complex and dark game to date.
Nier is set in the year 2049 as the world is reeling from a pandemic called The Black Scrawl. This means that all hell is breaking loose as mysterious evil creatures known as shades are running around terrorizing and killing the world's hapless inhabitants. You take control of the titular character Nier, who has a Scrawl-stricken daughter and is willing to do anything to save her; naturally, this involves saving the world. And so Nier sets forth on his quest to save his troubled world and daughter. Help comes in the form of a mysterious sentient tome called Grimoire Weiss and a dirty-talking hermaphrodite called Kaine – whose ambiguous gender has for some reason been a major talking point about this game.
This all may sound fairly conventional thus far but all that goes out the window after your first combat encounter with some shades. After this sequence, which acts as a tutorial and showcases Nier's fast-paced combat system, the plot skips 1300 years into the future. In this future world little has changed as Nier continues to search for a cure for his daughter and all is still in the grips of The Black Scrawl. While the reason for this time warp is not yet known, it goes in line with Square Enix's motto for Nier that 'nothing is as it seems.' It is one of countless plot twists and mysteries that unravel through the game's storyline. By constantly shifting our understanding of the game world and forcing us to question why the game's events unfold as they do, Square Enix are on track in achieving a wonderfully twisted and intriguing storyline.
In many ways, Nier turns away from Square Enix's usual formula of creating colorful and traditional JRPGs. The combat system is more brutal and action-oriented, showing plenty of spraying blood as well as some spectacular over-the-top spells being used on colossal bosses. Experience is gained in the form of Word Edits. While this may sound like some dodgy 3rd-party writing software, Word Edits allow you to assign 'words' to your weapons, giving them various special abilities. There will be over 100 of these words to collect, allowing enough weapon customization to satisfy the most micromanagement-obsessed of RPG gamers.