Nier Automata is so good. It’s just so incandescently, transcendentally good. For many people, it’s in their top games of all time, and for a good number of those, it’s the first and only game in the franchise they’ve played. Why? Because it’s part of a complex franchise that exists across various generations of consoles, so it’s not particularly accessible.
So imagine the collective moan of pleasure at the news that NieR, the prequel to Automata would be remastered and re-released as NieR Replicant.
From the outset, Replicant plays and feels like Automata. Full disclosure: I didn’t go back and play the Drakengard series, a trilogy that serves as a precursor to NieR, nor did I play the first NieR. So when the game opened on a ruined futuristic city with a young boy defending his sick sister, it made a kind of thematic sense. Keiichi Okabe’s signature score combines with the deft, sleek combat and existential horror to make it feel pretty much exactly like NieR Automata did – bleak, but epic.
I kept expecting 2B to saunter out into frame.
NieR Replicant Review
Then, Yoko Taro does a kind of rug-pull, and suddenly, the game starts in earnest. We jump forward in time – a long way forward. You’re Alpha, a young man living in a medieval village. You have a sick sister, too, and the other villagers seem to regard you as a real stand-up guy, sending you on a variety of errands. This world looks far sunnier, far more idyllic, but it’s beset by the same brand of monsters as you fought in the prologue, but the links between the two plot threads aren’t clear.
And to clarify them would, frankly, rob players of some truly NieR Automata-worthy reveals, so I shan’t do that here.
The whole thing plays out in the Automata engine, and whilst the game world isn’t quite as brutalist and ambitious as Automata’s, the story has a slow, creeping quality that makes up for any mild banality evoked by… well, pleasant fields and pretty mountains. Automata flung players into a twisted, ruined, towering confluence of recognizable architecture; hunks of skyscrapers jutted out of striking red sand dunes, leaving you with the sense that you were wandering through the ruins of a familiar world.
NieR Replicant is a gentler ride, at least initially. Alpha’s journey to save his sister is an errand of hope, and his allies eventually become a kind of family unit. Replicant is, to put it bluntly, what NieR Automata would be if it were… well, human.
The whole story – and the stories within the story, which unfold with NieR’s signature melancholy – seem to pivot around something Grimoire Weiss, your floating, talking book buddy, says later in the game. “Hatred and madness will never heal a wounded heart…. Revenge is a fool’s errand.” The whole game seems to be a condemnation of, and a treatise on, people succumbing to their emotions in the worst way possible. That might even be what the monsters – here called Shades – are actually stand-ins for: the beef we have with the world in general.
Our rage, grief, fear; and the shades, in turn, carry out acts that trigger the most genuinely tragic events within the game. Violence begets violence. Revenge gets us nowhere. Letting go of baggage is the only way forward. Pretty powerful messages coming from a game, to be honest
Being a remastered, retooled and refurbished version of an older game, Replicant comes with a slew of wonderful improvements. Once you clock the game, you can start again and have the NieR Automata soundtrack playing as the score. There’s an extra episode that takes place on a wrecked ship, costumes, challenge dungeons, and to top it all off, the English and Japanese voice actors who played 2B and 9S in Automata are featured in the game, too.
I love this game. It’s just such a joy to return to the universe of NieR, a universe which can’t help but evoke optimism. Automata felt bleak, but it allowed you to bend the rules of the story through sheer bloody-mindedness; to wrench a win from the ashes of a broken world.
Replicant might be a prequel, but it is no less adept at tugging on heartstrings, at taking a small crew of fallible characters and championing their intense dedication to one another. NieR Replicant might be rife with lightning-fast combat, blazing necromancy and monsters the size of houses, but it’s also about love.
Alpha loves his sister and his friends, and he loves the scraps of the world which remain habitable. Wrap that up in a fast, free-wheeling action game with a brilliant score and terrific voice work (I implore you to play with Japanese dialogue and English subtitles), and NieR Replicant is far more than just a prequel.
NieR Replicant was reviewed on PC using a digital code provided by the publisher.