Nier Replicant’s remaster fixes the worst thing about that flawed but broadly brilliant game
I’ve been playing a preview build of Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139, the imminent remaster of 2010’s Nier - and I’m thrilled to report this upgraded re-release handily addresses my absolute biggest complaint about the original, while smartly stopping short of any major changes that’d risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
That main complaint, as detailed in my eleven-year-old review of the original release, was with its visuals. Nier was a very bland-looking game. It wasn’t that it lacked flair in its artistic design, but rather that it was simply painfully aligned with a time in video games history when all too many games just looked like muddy messes. Nier was among the worst; in the RPG Site screenshot database, it’s difficult to lay hands on screenshots of the original that aren’t just smeared in a sort of unpalatable yellow-brown.
This new version of Nier Replicant fixes that with a complete visual overhaul that brings the game’s look more in line with 2017’s beloved Nier Automata, and that’s an entirely welcome change.
As well as new textures that aren’t afraid to use a bit more color for definition, there’s new character models and several adjusted character designs, with Automata art lead Akihiko Yoshida coming on board to help reshape the game’s identity. The world geometry itself seems largely unchanged, mind, and so still features more basic, 2010-era layout design that’s sometimes even a little confusingly unclear to navigate.
While I’ve only played a small portion of Nier Replicant and can talk about even less at this preview stage, that does appear to be the theme of this remaster. Those expecting significant overhauls to truly make this game feel like it's much-loved successor won’t quite get that; it is broadly the same game under the hood.
Combat, for instance, isn’t ‘PlatinumGames’ tight, with the original Nier having come from a studio that definitely didn’t have as much of an action pedigree. What you get instead is a little sloppier - back in 2010 I compared it to Dynasty Warriors but with magic and RPG abilities, and while reading that back now it feels a little reductive, it also feels close enough to reference here.
The combat is mildly improved, but it’s through smaller tweaks, plus the significant overall benefit of this new presentation on current hardware where the action runs smoothly and at a higher frame rate. As a result it feels much better, but it still obviously isn’t going to hold a candle to Automata - that’s systemic, baked deep into the game itself. Only a full remake could change that.
And, y’know what? I’m not sure I’d want that full remake even if it were offered to me. There’s a lot that I really love about the original Nier, and there’s more about it that, while flawed, forms a really important part of the identity of the series. Automata could only exist because this game was how it was - and that includes the bumpier elements of the ride.
Those who missed this originally but played Automata will find much that’s familiar to love, but also a very different sort of game at the same time. This Nier is willing to offer downtime more frequently to its successor, and owes quite a bit to The Legend of Zelda both in terms of presentation and the design of some of its dungeon-like locations and boss encounters.
The score I gave the original back in 2010 still feels fair - it was a deeply flawed game bursting with above-average potential that was later realized in the 10/10 Automata. However, this Remaster seems to make enough changes in enough places to let the brighter elements of Nier Replicant shine through. The roughest edges have been sanded off, making for a much more pleasant experience that the approximately five million more people who purchased Automata over the original will likely enjoy without too much frustration.
At the heart of all this, of course, and barely mentioned in this preview, is Nier Replicant’s storyline. This version of the narrative, with a younger man as the protagonist, was not released in the West last time. Instead we got the version of the story where you play as a gruff, older father figure. This is the originally conceived version of the tale, though, available in the West for the first time. That means we’ve got an all-new localization with both returning and new cast members, and it’s as excellent - if not better - than the first time around.
I’m not going to say much else, as this is a story that should be experienced for real rather than via proxy; but I will say that I actually have enough of a soft spot for the original Nier’s tale that I sort of prefer it to Automata - which is very high praise indeed.
Anyway - there’s much else that could be said about Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139 - but for that I’ll have to play the full version in greater detail. For now, you can leave this preview understanding that this remaster more than does justice to the original - which was a cult classic, but a flawed one. It’s definitely a better game this time around - and hopefully that means more people can experience its wonderful story in full.