Drakengard Retrospective: Nieron June 4, 2014 by Kitsumeda
While technically a spin off, Nier picks up where the final ending of the original Drakengard left us. How can anything continue after a rhythmic showdown versus a huge statue in the middle of modern day Japan? Stick by and find out.
Nier is an action RPG released in all regions in April of 2010. Unfortunately this game was overshadowed by the release of Final Fantasy XIII, the first installment of the franchise on that generation of consoles, just a month prior to Nier.
This title came out in Japan as Nier Replicant for the PlayStation 3 and Nier Gestalt for the Xbox 360. The rest of the world only got Nier Gestalt for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, just title as Nier. The only difference between these two versions is the relationship between the protagonist Nier and the character Yonah. In Nier Replicant the protagonist is Yonah’s brother, while in Gestalt he is her Father. Because of this the dialog was altered to suit this change and the main character looks older in the western release of the game. This was done because of the cultural difference between Japan and the West. In both cases the protagonist is realistically portrayed. Where the younger Nier is more naive and hopeful, the older one acts more like he has seen everything there is to see with little surprising him.
Yoko Taro makes his triumphant return and it shows. All the weird and creepy elements you have come to expect are here. A post apocalyptic medieval setting with magic? Check. Freakish enemies only visible by their glowing yellow lines? Check. The protagonist makes a pact with an inanimate object? Check. The characters all have dark and grisly fates. All this makes the game feel unique as it touches on topics rarely seen in video games.
The story opens in the snowy summer of 2049. Our protagonist stands defending his daughter Yonah against an onslaught of monsters. Out of desperation he makes a pact with a magic book, saving his and his daughters life.
Fast forward 1312 years later and the whole world has degraded into a medieval society. People hide behind high walls and use swords to defend themselves. Cultures and languages developed differently. What little remains of past civilizations just serves as a reminder of a more technologically advanced time.
Nier and his daughter Yonah still seem to be living in this world. As Yonah is frequently sick, Nier goes around town helping the locals for any money they might give. One day Yonah goes missing in search for a Lunar Tear, a legendary flower that is said to cure any illness. Just like in the intro you find her imprisoned by shades and Nier makes a pact with the talkative book Grimoire Weiss. You soon discover that Yonah is suffering from an incurable disease called the Black Scrawl. With the help of Grimoire Weiss you set out on a journey to collect the sealed verses that are said to stop this illness.
The story isn’t about saving the world or universe, it’s not even about stopping an evil empire, its just a story about a father who wants to find a cure for his daughter. But because of its smaller scope it carries a lot more emotional weight.
Nier is truly a thought-provoking title, that will stay with you a long time after the credits finish rolling. It feels more like a piece of classic literature than a game, but what Nier ultimately does is only possible within this media. It was heavily inspired by the events of 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq. It focuses on the fact that both sides are doing what they think is right, forcing the player to reconsider his system of values. There is no karma system to tell you what is right and what is wrong. You might be thinking you are helping someone by returning their runaway son only to see that not everything was as it seemed.
This is most apparent with the second playthrough, as the game pulls you along for the ride. It’s here that you will start to question all the decisions that you made. Even simple things as Nier’s willingness to search for a cure is questioned, as you read Yonah’s diary during loading screens, seeing his journey from her viewpoint. You will see all the moments you missed in her life and the times she felt sad and lonely, all while you were on your search for a cure.
Because of this even loading screen have an almost artistic style to them. The majority of loadings screens will feature a diary entry from Yonah talking about events that were special to her. There are times when these loading screens will instead have random military notes that come from a bygone era, leaving you with more questions than answers.
Despite its humorous elements this game never loses its darker more adult tones. There is a major focus on deep and engaging characters. Every character is well written and extremely believable. There is always some light-hearted banter between Nier and Grimoire Weiss livening up the mood no matter how dire it may be. Even Kainé’s profanities and undergarments make sense in the context of her story.
The protagonist of this tale, which you can freely name. His primary drive is to save his daughter/sister. You will follow him across the years in search for a cure for Yonah. Throughout his journey he will party up with many unique folks.
The mysterious talking book that Nier encounters and makes a pact with. Despite losing his memories, he is an omnipotent being, without which Nier wouldn’t stand a chance of saving his daughter. He is acts in a condescending manner and hates it when people abbreviate his name.
As an outcast of a nearby village, Kainé spends her days living in solitude waiting to avenge her grandmother’s death. Kainé is possessed by a shade, making her skilled both with swords and magic. It is implied that she is a hermaphrodite and that this is the reason why the other villagers shun her.
He lives alone with his butler in a desolated creepy manor. A specific event in the game leaves him disfigured, but in return gives him tremendous power. An interesting fact is that he wears his sash like women in the nearby fishing village and has a crush on Nier.
Beings that appear out of nowhere whenever it is dark or cloudy. Their population has soared recently due to the events preceding the game, which ties them deeply into the storyline.
Nier received major updates when compared to its predecessors. The game no longer has a Dynasty Warriors vibe. It now has more similarities to God of War, which Taro said was a major inspiration. Characters have weight to their movements making them feel more realistic. When something hits Nier he will fly in a direction sliding on the floor from the impact.
The magic system also greatly differs from previous Drakengard titles. MP replenishes gradually when not in use. All magic is cast from Weiss, ranging from a dark hand that comes smashing down, to a powerful lance that can pierce even the most resilient of foes. In the opening section you will be able to test out some of the higher level skills before the game resets you to level one a thousand years later.
Linked with the plot is an interesting word system. Throughout the game you will collect words. Each of your weapons, magic and skills can equip the words enhancing their stats. Some words can decrease mana costs while others can increase item drop rate. Once found you can equip a word on as many items and skills as you want.
Nier features the biggest mix of genres out there. Some interiors and areas switch to a 2D platformer style, while others have a top down view. At specific times the game even throws at you bullet hell like segments. The game makes a number of homages to other titles. In one location the game has you walking in an isometric perspective not unlike in Diablo, while another has you exploring a creepy mansion with fixed camera angles and a black and white filter. The game even plays a Zelda-esque tune when the prince of Façade holds a mask above his head.
Nier’s almost poetic design seeps into its gameplay. Particular sections of the game are just white unnarrated text against a black background, only requiring you to read them in order to complete them. But this doesn’t mean it’s not engaging, on the contrary, these are some of the best written parts in any game. Bosses are named by characters from fairy tales, while scenery looks like it came from a dark children’s book. Because of this the game constantly gives off an almost nostalgic feeling.
There are a few puzzles here and there and they are a good break of pace. One segment even has you completing challenges with various constraints, such as not being able to jump or use magic. These portions were quite entertaining and it would have been great if more were included.
Like in previous Drakengard titles weapons can be upgraded. This time they don’t use kills or experience to upgrade, but instead you must take them to the junk heap shop. Upgrading a weapon requires you to find the correct materials and pay a sum of gold. This upgrade system is mostly available in the second half of the game, as that’s when it will be the easiest to collect the required materials. Unfortunately weapon stories haven’t made their way into this game, but instead they were added in Grimoire Nier a book we will cover later.
This brings us to the next aspect of the game, gathering materials. Despite it being optional, you can go around and pick up items from flashing spots or kill animals such as sheep for mutton and wool. On the other hand, if you need metals you can go to the abandoned military factory and kill robots for a titanium alloy. The game even has farming and fishing. Next to your house you can cultivate plants while in the seaside village you can go on fishing trips.
Like stated these tasks are all optional, only needed if you want to complete all the side quests. The game has a large number of these and they are mainly repetitive fetch quests. But what made these quests standout from the crowd is the fact that each one of them has a tragic story behind it. In one quest you need to find a missing dog for an old man. You find the dog dead, holding medicine for his owner. Once you make it back you find out that the old man had already died. There are a lot more depressing quests, many of which might bring a tear to the eye of even the most heartless of people. Some of these quests even give no reward, making them feel more like weapon stories from the original Drakengard games.
This game does have its fair share of issues. For one, the scale of the world is very limited, especially since this is a 20+ hour game. You can basically walk from one end of the world to the other in less than 10 minutes and later you will have a fast travel system. Locations can get quite stale, mainly because you will visit all of them more than once in a single playthough. You see the whole world in the first part of the game and then it’s just backtracking to each of those locations in the second half and every successive playthrough. Like locations, there is a lack in enemy variety. What you see in the first half of the game is mainly what you will have until the end. Because of these issues and the repetitive fetch quests the game was heavily criticized, receiving lacklustre scores. However all these issues are irrelevant to the experience of Nier as a whole.
What the game lacks in numbers it makes up in variety. All locations look really breathtaking. You visit a Mediterranean-like sea front village, a desert city with rivers of sand, an automated robot factory and a haunted mansion filled with creepy changing portraits. Each area is drastically different from one another. The most unique being the Façade, the desert city, who’s inhabitants all wear masks, talk in a foreign language and follow a strict set of thousands of rules.
Nier’s DLC, The World of Recycled Vessel, was released in the following weeks and featured 15 new battles. This DLC also explains how Nier’s wife succumbed to the Black Scrawl, as the whole segment takes place in her diary. Completing this grants you additional weapons and costumes, as well as a new loading screen animation.
There are four different endings in Nier. You need to get the first one before the others open up. The endings depend on just a few factors, the most of which come from the very end of the game. Playing a second time is recommended, as it starts you off from the half way point, so you will be able to breeze through the game. But it’s here that you will get new dialogue, mostly from Kainé and the shade that possesses her. You will be able to hear what other shades are saying and uncover the mystery behind what really is happening.
Endings C and D require you to collect all the weapons in the game. By cavia’s tradition the final ending is a special treat, forcing you to wipe all your save data. You watch as every buffed stat, collected item, completed quest and even tutorial page is wiped away one by one from your menu. Even after all this, the game doesn’t allow you to use the same name for a future playthrough, only leaving a flower on the title screen as a reminder of your journey.
The enemy and the magic design is definitely something I haven’t seen anywhere before. Enemy’s almost human-like form accompanied with their enigmatic design makes for a unique experience. Grimoire Weiss’s magic has a black and red design, making it look even more sinister than it is.
The scenery can be a bit empty at times, since there are almost no trees to talk about. Because of this and undersaturated colors the graphics were criticized for being behind the times. Like Drakengard it was a design choice to include undersaturated environments in order to get a more emotional attachment from the player. But unlike Drakengard everything feels much more alive in this title, making sure the game never looks dull.
Nier has an extremely atmospheric presentation. All locations have a grand feeling of scale. The lighting is awesome. Exiting a location leaves the camera blinded by light for a few moments. Clouds move in the sky while dogs follow you around and cats lie around basking in the sun. Everything in the game looks lively. Some remnants of the past can be seen such as the foundations of bridges, an automated military facility and a library around which Nier’s town was built. These perfectly contrast this now serene world.
This title has one of the best sound tracks of this generation. Keiichi Okabe was the composer and he closely worked with his studio Monaca, spending three years on the sound track. All the songs were made with a sense of sadness. Okabe had a lot of freedom with only one request from Yoko Taro and that is to have a lot of vocal songs. I won’t forget the first time I ran up to the fountain only to hear the singing voice of a musician accompanied to the already impressive song, giving of a particular sensation I never felt before in a game. Each location has its own tune accompanied with vocals and they all sound stunning. Boss fights particularly can get your blood flowing.
The vocalist is Emiko Rebecca Evans, a singer living in Tokyo but originally from England. She worked on Etrian Odyssey. Because the songs in Nier are written in a language 1000 years from now, she used words from multiple languages and even made up her own.
The voice work is no slouch either. The actors in the English version did a phenomenal job and the translation sounds extremely natural. Laura Bailey the voice actor of Serah from Final Fantasy XIII, Rise Kujikawa from Persona 4 and Catherine from Catherine, does a fantastic job as the potty mouth Kaine. Grimoire Weiss is played by Liam O’Brien, who worked on various game and anime characters including Persona 3’s Akihiko. His voice perfectly matches Weiss’s eloquent speech, as he always looks down on you.
Nier is an amazing title, which is criminally underrated. cavia had truly come far with this franchise, featuring both the best gameplay and plot in the series. Definitely a lot of its success can be attributed to Yoko Taro and his love for weird and tragic elements. All its shortcomings do not dampen the experience of this title. Its pragmatic drama and emotional impact make this one of the best titles of this generation.
Grimoire Nier is a book that was released exclusively in Japan. It covers the events that preceded the game in detail. In addition it features weapon stories, character profiles, illustrations, concept art, guides, short stories and even an additional ending missing from the game.
Because the game didn’t have weapon stories, they were added in Grimoire Nier. Many of the stories are interlinked, as many weapons tell a story closely related to another weapon. By tradition all the stories end on a sad note and some of these weapons actually appeared in the previous Drakengard games. A few of these tales are directly connected with the characters in Nier and serve as a interesting background to the characters.
Once upon a time there were three brothers in a kingdom. The youngest of the three was a lazy person who slept through his days. But the youngest brother had a cheerful demeanor, so he was liked by everyone.
Level 2: Even when an epidemic broke out in the country, the youngest brother merely hummed to himself while lazing about the palace. But the people in the city found healing in his cheery voice so they praised him. That person is amazing. He really is.
Level 3: Even when the country was involved in war, the youngest brother merely talked about things past while lazing about the palace. But the people in the city could forget the war with his anecdotes and comforted each other. That person is wonderful really wonderful.
Level 4: One day the youngest brother was lazing about the palace again. But today he could not hear the voices of the people in the city. While lazing about, the youngest brother continued thinking…idle, “Why?” idle, “Why?” idle, “Why?” But he eventually became sleepy. In a country where everyone had died from sickness and war, only snores resounded throughout the palace today. This is a happy kingdom. A happy kingdom. A happy kingdom. A happy kingdom. A happy kingdom. A happy kingdom.
Blade Of Treachery
The two sisters were a perfect pair of walking mannequins. In no way could you tell they were mechanical. State of the art technology gave them the gift of life, Of laughter, of joy, of satisfaction. But, they could not cry. They were never meant to cry.
Level 2: Being mere dolls, they could not feel. They could be sad, but not feel sadness. Sadness was unknowable to them. Even the death of a loved one, Even as their creator succumbed to disease, they felt nothing. As if their creator had just disappeared from the face of the earth.
Level 3: One warm spring day, a stray cat approached and greeted them. Covered in scars, riddled with disease and thin as a rail, They took it in, and cared for it. “Ah, what a fuss.” Their tender care rejuvenated it, and in time regained it health. From that day on, that cat became a fixture in their daily lives. Every day, it would beg for food, affection, and praise. “Ah, what a fuss.”
Level 4: Winter’s cold blew into the house as it staggered in from outside. With a weak meow, the cat’s strength slipped, and it fell limply to the floor. The younger shook it again and again. The elder called for it again and again. But in the end, not a single cry, not a single response came. Something in the twins, something deep in their hearts, broke. And from that day on, they felt nothing at all.
Bellow you can read the fan-translation, but beware it contains spoilers for both Nier and Drakengard.
Nier Replicant Drama CD: The Lost Words and the Red Sky
Nier also received it’s own drama CD and like Grimoire Nier it never came to the west. It consists of two CDs. The first CD covers the whole plot including two centuries after the events of the game. The second part of the Drama CD is a Nier parody with a school setting.
This Drama CD has a more in-depth look into the backstory than Grimoire Nier, focusing on Nier, his wife, Emil, Kaine, and her grandparents.
Unfortunately there is no full translation. There is however a summary of the CDs which you can read in the link bellow. It’s full of spoilers so don’t read it if you plan on enjoying the game.
Before the launch of Nier, Square Enix, along with the American comic book publishing company Wildstorm, released three chapters of a Nier comic book. Each one of these focused on the past of one of the characters, with every story being illustrated by another author. These authors worked along with Ricardo Sanchez, the founder of IGN Entertainment and creator of the ReVisioned: Tomb Raider Animated Series.
Click the images to read the full comic
The first story covers the past of Grimoire Weiss as well as the events before the apocalypse. This was illustrated by Carlos D’Anda.
The second was made by Pop Mahn and is a story told by Kainé. It focuses on her exploits, saving a child in the process.
The final one is the story of Nier and Yonah. It was made by Eddie Nuñez, who also worked on the DC Universe MMO.
Because each of the comics were made by another author, the artwork feels a bit inconsistent. The stories, while fine, don’t really seem as they are part of the series canon, as the destroyed buildings in the background and cars on the streets never made their way into the game. Shades are another aspect that doesn’t match with the full title. In the game shades where almost shapeless yellow glowing entities, while in the comics they are black beings resembling the heartless from Kingdom Hearts. The design of the shade at the end doesn’t even remotely resemble those in the game, instead it looks like a random monster.
On the whole the comic feels like it was just there in order to popularize the game, missing even Emil, who is an important party member in the game. Despite being lacklustre, it is short and free so there is little reason not to read through it.
Read Part 4 – covering Nier’s development and interviews for Drakengard 3.