What is it trying to be?
Roleplaying games, they're a funny old thing. J-RPG's are usually built on the premise that you can often get to areas of the game where there's a whole lot of danger and you haven't a hope in hell of fighting the monsters, so you have to go back to the other areas and repeat monotonous side-quests and fetch items for various NPC's. Nier is unfortunately no different; it has a very interesting way of presenting things on screen but lacks the true polish to make it shine. It mixes several things up and reminds us in a way of Vandal Hearts.Story
The story revolves around the protagonist Nier and his quest to save his daughter Yonah, from the Black Scrawl which is killing her. You'll find that it twists and turns quite a lot but never really delivers anything satisfying or truly interesting to draw you in. Neither Nier or any of the characters in the game were likeable enough to truly engage us beyond press button here to kill something.Gameplay
It's an odd little mix of things with some nods to MMO's and definitely feels like a J-RPG. Though the combat is often reminiscent of Devil May Cry in that its real time and not turn based and has combos, the monsters are there and you can attempt to outrun them or if you have a particular animal mount you can outride them. You have magical powers bestowed by a strange book, you level up and you have weapons that you can upgrade. There are a plethora of side quests and interestingly enough there are animals that you can skin and trade for currency. This is where it feels like an MMO, especially after you get past the first little combat part that makes the game feel more like DMC.
There are towns and there are wide open plains, it reminded us of Final Fantasy 12 in a way and offers a lot more freedom than 13. With the skills, the upgradeable weapons, special powers and hub-like towns/villages that make the game more engaging Nier has certainly gone a way to pleasing the RP-Veteran crowd in that respect, especially those who adore the grind of a J-RPG. It might be a little hard to swallow for Western audiences but the 3rd person combat, exploration and discovery is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. Slightly odd to the Western mind are some of Bullet Hell style boss attacks which unleash a bazillion projectiles in various patterns across the screen, you must either shoot or avoid them or you're going to be in some serious pain.
The camera is an odd little thing because it shifts around as you enter some locations, changing from a pure 3d view to an isometric locked, top down, side on depending on the location. It is a little jarring at first but again adds a nice little level of interest to the normal proceedings and helps you solve some of the game's puzzles.
The enemies of Nier are the Shades who look rather odd, they manifest in the physical plane as disjointed vague shapes made up of bright yellow triangles. This detracts from the otherwise decent graphics outside and in, making the game break your suspension of disbelief and pull you out of the experience. You feel like you wandered into a fantasy version of TRON, not as though that's truly a bad thing.
Enemies and animals respawn when you leave a zone and come back, so you can easily grind to get to the next experience level and thankfully the combat gets easier as you unlock more and more power. You'll be asked to follow a main side quest which is fairly easy to get through as long as you remember to check your book, follow the clues. Or you can fetch things for people, hunt animals and monsters and generally do all the things you might expect from a list of side-quests that basically boil down to generic tasks. They get you currency and they get you xp, so they're worth grinding through.
You can save at any mailbox and it's wise that you save regularly.