NieR Replicant opens on a desperate fight in a ruined Tokyo supermarket in 2053 where a brother struggles to keep his ill sister safe from deadly monsters.
An ominous book sits nearby that infected the sister with a strange, seemingly hopeless disease.
After events unfold, Replicant skips forward nearly 1,500 years to a barren world on the edge of disaster.
The sick sister and desperate brother remain, but the only signs of that earlier civilization are hulking ruins dotted around the landscape.
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Mysteries and Broken Hearts
If your reaction to that paragraph is “wut,” welcome to NieR Replicant, the modern remaster of Yoko Taro’s first NieR game and the original story not released in the West.
This is just the first of the game’s several mysteries, and don’t expect answers to each until you’ve seen all the endings.
Getting to that point takes a while, but it’s absolutely worth your time.
It’s hard to talk about the overarching story without spoiling it, but suffice to say the broad beats seem initially familiar.
Replicant is hardly the first RPG set in a hopeless, ruined world with a dependable protagonist who wants to protect those he loves.
The difference is that here, the world is decaying and players experience the hopelessness as Replicant breaks you and makes you watch the hero’s innocence fade away. So it should come as no surprise to hear NieR Replicant is not a happy game.
Granted, it’s not wall-to-wall sadness. Grimoire Weiss’ regular sarcastic intervals and Kainé’s... flexible... vocabulary see to that. Still, there is a pervasive melancholy, and it might be best to take it in small doses depending on your own mental state.
Not that you’ll experience much of this in the first act, as NieR Replicant’s opening six to seven hours are not its best.
The story comes in drips while you travel back and forth across the map fulfilling what ultimately amounts to a bunch of fetch quests.
Push through it, though, and you’ll realize why it’s essential to the story Yoko Taro wants to tell.
Fortunately, Replicant has a few flourishes that make these early hours easier to deal with, and what they lack in quest variety, they make up for in context.
The arcane whisperings as Grimoire Weiss absorbs Shade blood, muffled snatches of a song coming from inside the nearby tavern, the sickeningly wet 'thwishing' sounds your weapons make during finishing moves — NieR Replicant is awash in little details that breathe life into an otherwise tedious early experience.
There is some uneven world-building in this segment as well, where you learn more about NPCs through quests and dialogue than you do the game’s key characters. It makes certain early key events hit less hard than I think the game wants them to.
However, there’s a good reason for this, a reason that elevates the protagonist to one of the more interesting RPG heroes after it emerges in act two and plot development skyrockets from that point.
Even before then, it’s hard not to get attached to Kainé, Emil, and Weiss during act one.
NieR Replicant is earthy, raw, and human, evoking strong emotion through just a short scene and touching on fundamental experiences such as loneliness and searching for purpose.
Of course, the game’s glorious soundtrack helps here too.
NieR Replicant is one of those rare instances where the soundtrack isn’t just a nice addition, it’s a crucial part of the game’s storytelling and even characterization.
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There are a few things holding Replicant back, though.
Whether it’s a metaphor for a dying world or just the limitations of PlayStation 3 hardware leaking into the polished remaster, NieR Replicant’s environments are dated and empty, even though the remastered graphics look gorgeous.
Dungeon areas are a bit better, despite being basic on the surface, which stands out even more when you revisit them in act two.
However, Lost Shrine aside, Replicant’s other dungeons shake things up unexpectedly in ways that are best not to spoil.
Then there’s the combat. NieR Replicant is like a musou-style game if the enemies in said game actually wanted to hurt you.
There’s not too much strategy involved in mowing down hordes of Shades, but stringing combos together, experimenting with weapon types, and demolishing your enemies with Weiss’ magic just feels good.
Enemy variety is slim, admittedly, though there is a significant increase in challenge during act two, as well as some exciting boss fights that help alleviate that.
Blemishes aside, it’s hard to see NieR Replicant ver. 1.22 as anything other than a masterpiece. Beautiful and tragic in equal measures, it’s a feast for the senses, a true epic, and an utterly unforgettable experience.
Reviewed on PS5
PS4 review code provided by the publisher