By now the shock that some JRPG lovers endured over Final Fantasy XIII’s bizarre new direction has probably faded a bit. Some die-hard fans are still trying to defend it, while a large contingent say that it isn’t even a game – and their case is argue. If you fall into this latter category, then what better way to lick your wounds than with something a little more familiar?
If you like games like Darksiders, Rogue Galaxy, Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, Monster Hunter or Castlevania, then you might want to give Square-Enix’s recently released action RPG a try. Nier is set thousands of years in the future, when the inhabitants of our dying world eke out a meagre existence in the derelict cities. Players take on the role of a man searching for a cure for his ailing daughter. In his travels, he comes across a magical book called Grimoire Weiss that tells him that the source of all evil and trouble in the world is a man called the Shadowlord, who has his own magical book, Grimoire Noir. If the hero is to stand any chance of saving his daughter, he must use Grimoire Weiss’s magical powers to defeat this evil Shadowlord.
For having such an urgent-sounding premise, the pace of the game is quite relaxed. The hero and his party can choose to go straight into the story-advancing missions, which usually take the form of Zelda-like dungeons filled with puzzles to solve and enemies to fight; or they can spend hours and hours fishing, growing crops, making deliveries and hunting bounties. You wouldn’t think impending doom is at hand, would you? Still, you’ll probably want to do at least a few of these missions to earn some money and items to keep your party kitted out with the best equipment and weapons.
The combat is a remarkably simple affair for a Square-Enix published title. At first, players can simply hack away at enemies with their sword, but after they acquire Grimoire Weiss, they’ll slowly gain access to powerful magic spells which have all kinds of tactical applications. As players advance in level, they’ll gain more hit points and mana, meaning they can take on bigger enemies and cast more magic spells. Another interesting feature is that as players defeat enemies, they’ll randomly earn magic words. These words can be applied to weapons, magic spells and even combat moves to gain benefits like increased strength, damage resistance, decreased magic cost, and so on, adding a bit more depth to the combat.
The story of the game is fairly compelling if a little disconnected and overly dramatic at times, like a hammy anime. The graphics are pretty good overall, especially the lighting, and the overall atmosphere is deliciously desolate and ominous, similar to Ico. This bleak atmosphere is helped along nicely by the sorrowful, haunting scores that play in the different areas. The simple integration of combat and magic make the game easy to play, ideal for someone looking for a causal to hardcore action RPG.