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I have never played a game quite like Nier before. But it took a while for me to realise what exactly that meant. Characters, relationships and story overtake its gameplay mechanics, and invite us to intrude on the painful loss of intimacy between a father and his sick daughter.
Part of my unusual reaction to Nier was how the game handled its characters and how they drove the story. Unlike many hack and slash adventure games I had played before, Nier offered me a wonderful, promising and sometimes interactive storyline.
From the offset, you are plunged into a weird and post apocalyptic world. It looked familiar at first, a grim world plagued by snow and cold, cluttered with devastated buildings and the colour grey. From that moment I saw the shell of a man, at first any typical forlorn and tragic hero, having lost everything, it looked like he had nothing to live for. But he got up and he fought, and it was quickly revealed that he was a father, and from that moment on, that was exactly how I saw him.
It became a story about a father striving to protect his sick daughter, and about a daughter who only wanted to spend time with her father, and not be a burden to him. I expected the girl to die, and our hero to become that tragic figure, wondering without a purpose. But unlike other games I've player that didn't happen, and I found that really refreshing.
Nier's daughter's name is Yonah. The dynamic between father and daughter meant I was instantly attached to her, which doesn't happen often. Children in video games rarely prove to be a driving force, more often a hindrance or a sorrowful plot device, and although Yonah may have been exactly that - a way to bring the magic and mystery to Nier's small village and give him purpose, it didn't feel forced.
The dynamic between father and daughter meant I was instantly attached to her.
It felt tragic in the loss of their parent-child intimacy. Through surprisingly believable reactions we see how Nier wants to make certain of what exactly is wrong with her. Searching for an answer he struggles to keep them afloat in a dying world, needing to spend time apart from his sick daughter in order to secure their future.
When Yonah's disease, the Black Scrawl, begins to makes itself known in full Nier is finally lost in his determination to find a cure. It becomes difficult to interact with anyone, such was his single minded intent -- the will of a man driven to find a cure for his daughter.
The architecture of a forgotten world, this bizarre landscape of bridges that lead nowhere and abandoned military bunkers turned junk heaps, creates a unique place for this intimacy to be played out.
But more than the world, it is the Neir-Yonah relationship that really makes the game work. The diary entries on the loading screens were a beautiful way of keeping Yonah present in her absence, bringing forward little details about her and her father that could not be expressed elsewhere.
It was already clear that Yonah loved her father, but through these messages you see her loneliness, and how in order to keep her alive Nier is almost negligent in his love. It is a sad dynamic that speaks for itself, something that rarely gets explored in video games.
It is a sad dynamic that speaks for itself, something that rarely gets explored in video games.
It's odd, but very realistic. Yonah, despite her illness, just wants her father around more. We are let into the innermost mind set of both Yonah and her father, and throughout the game I felt it push me forwards.
My only regret is that the gameplay mechanics weren't able to match the weight of the relationships. It often felt more like reading a novel than playing a game. In these terms it suffers next to more mature handling of characters we find in books. Many of the other characters were stale, and weren't terribly original. Despite the unusual world setting the people were all terribly familiar, almost type cast.
Although there are lovely touches here and there, characters like the hard-done-by outcast and spoilt-young-king detract from the father/daughter experience. I had such high hopes for the game, and although it did offer a different story and way of playing through it, I think that in the end, these ambitious actions may have been its own downfall.
Neir will always be special for me though. It may be one game that I've played where the plot and characters truly overtook everything else. The game-play was not exactly challenging, just awkward, so I kept on playing for the story alone, and I think that is both wonderful and a little weird too.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: