Playing: Nier (PS3) (XBOX 360)

Nier_Cover

With the upcoming international release of Drakengard 3, I wanted to review the equally emotionally-confusing spin-off game of the Drakengard series, Nier. While Cavia (rest in peace) has been known for their strange and often complex games, Nier stands to be yet another quirky entry to their list. Sporting two different versions, wherein the titular protagonist is a teenage brother and a middle aged father in Replicant and Gestalt respectively, the game provides players with an intricate, if not captivating story.

Set on Earth in a distant future, Nier’s almost unrecognisable world is the product of the fifth hidden ending of Drankengard. Nier, whose sister/daughter Yonah is stricken with the “Black Scrawl”, dreams of finding a cure for her illness. Upon teaming up with the magical tome Grimoire Weiss, the foulmouthed Kainè and the ever mellow Emil during his search, Yonah is inexplicably kidnapped by the Shadowlord – the master of the enemies known only as Shades. With an army of these enemies in his path, Nier and his team must travel ruined landscapes and the remnants of lost civilisations to find the missing Yonah.

Nier is definitely one of the most interesting games I’ve ever played. Completely finishing the game is no easy task, and players will often find that the game is considerably more frustrating than it needs to be. This is most evident in the arduous task of finding materials for weapon upgrades, which sounds easy. But if you’ve ever played a Cavia game, you’d understand that the most simple task can take hours. Another interesting point is that completely finishing the game… also completely erases it. Upon taking the fourth ending route, the player’s save file is completely erased, along with other copies on the HDD (You have been warned). The game itself has also has a heap of extra missions to complete, so expect Nier to take quite awhile.

It’s primarily an action, hack and slash game that possesses role playing elements. It also, interestingly, has a variety of other game types interjected in sections of the story, such as platform, shooter and even text adventure. There are three weapon types (spears, one-handed swords and two-handed swords) that can be used and magic is also available, creating a solid, but average, combat experience. Both can have “words” attached to them, which augment and strengthen the power or abilities of equips. Defeating enemies results in gathering loot, words and experience, all of which are extremely useful towards the second half of the game. Nier also gains companions on his journey (typical of the JRPG genre) and attack on their own with competent attacks. Finally, finishing the game one opens of the New Game+ option, which allows players to experience the story again, but with twists and bigger revelations to the events of the story.

While Nier’s story is entertaining and sometimes actually touching, the graphics of the game weigh it down. While I praised the graphics of Bayonetta, I must say – Nier’s visuals are remarkably disappointing. It seems as though they would be rather suited to the graphic capabilities of the PS2. It does, though, have a few pleasant instances; such as the Resident Evil style graphics in Emil’s manor and the distant towers on the horizon of the port town in the game. Although the visuals of the game are about as mediocre as they can be, I cannot express just how much the soundtrack adds to the overall value of the game. I wrote about it before here, but briefly, it is beyond belief just how amazing the game’s music compels the audience to actually feel and pay attention. If Nier was ever to be completely forgotten, I guarantee  its OST would remain.

Even though Nier doesn’t shape up to be one of the better entries to the JRPG genre (or any genre for that matter), it’s overall cohesiveness,  story and soundtrack make it a worthwhile experience to enjoy. It is no way Nier (heh) the quality of other games released around the same time, but its effort in creating an emotional and captivating story redeems it (at least for me) from the more… displeasing aspects of the game. If you’d rather play a game more fixed on its story and appreciate a good soundtrack, give Nier a go – and just experience the mind-blowing story it has to offer.

Bry Rating: 3/5
Recommended? Definitely, for a compelling, and addictive story.
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Cavia

 

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Playing: Record of Agarest War (PS3) (XBOX 360) (PC) (Android)

Record_Of_Agarest_War_Cover

The Japanese role playing game Record of Agarest War, also known as Agarest: Generations of War, has become a project for me for awhile. Although it sports amazing storyline visuals and the overall plot is interesting, the game (And mind you I’ve never quite said this) drags on for far too long.

The story spans five generations of heroes, starting with Leonhardt – a knight that is disgraced after he saves an elven girl. After sustaining a fatal blow from the mysterious Dark Knight, he manages to live through a pact that ties his destiny, and the destinies of his children, to the end of the darkness that plagues his world.

Before you keep reading, please understand – this is a hardcore strategic JRPG. For those familiar with games like these, play throughs typically last 50+ hours. For those less experienced, you’re looking at about 100+ hours worth of playtime. This would most likely be due to the level of customisation in the game as it quite literally depends on it.

The gameplay of the RoAW is an interesting mix of different games – it’s essentially a Final Fantasy Tactics – type strategy game with elements from dating simulators and choice-driven games. At first, it can be extremely overwhelming to deal with all the battle and story related game mechanics. These are, as always, quite useful though, but only later in the game. 

Battles are fought in a generated board with a 2D team the player can construct. Characters have distinct roles in their style of fighting, something the player must take into account when building playable characters. The player must also be aware of other things such as the concepts of AP costs, Combined attacks, Fields,  Extended fields and SP. These things, which are trivial at first, can mean instant defeat or victory near the end, especially if characters are under-leveled or the battle has taken more than an hour.

In the over-world, destinations are either towns, dungeons, battles or story points. The number of “turns” are taken into account and can affect certain the story in different ways. In towns, players can visit the shop to purchase items, the Blacksmith’s Guild to create and enhance items, the Adventurer’s Guild to earn titles and the Horoscope to see the compatibility between the hero and his love interests. The “Soul Breed” system is also of particular interest in the game: at the end of each generation, the player can choose to wed one of the three available girls. The catch? Depending on who you choose to marry, the stats and weapons of the future heroes are affected.

Although the battle visuals are disappointing and the story itself can be long, the storyboard art is excellent, as is the CG images that can be obtained if the player makes the right choices. The music for the game is also great, but the best part of the game must be the voice acting. It’s extremely well done and gives all characters distinct personalities and qualities.

Overall, RoAW is an average JRPG balanced by its pros and cons. With an interesting plot, high level of customisability and exceptional art and audio, it fails in its length, battle mechanics and nearly unfair “True End” path (Which must be followed to a tee to fully complete the game. It can be found here if needed). Although I mostly enjoyed it, it is virtually unplayable after one full play through. I only recommend it for those absolutely in love with JRPGs, but be warned – this is not a game one can simply complete on a weekend.

Bry Rating: 2.5/5
Recommended? Only for the Hardcore JRPG Gamer
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Idea Factory; Compile Heart; Red Entertainment