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Far and Away, a Shining Example of Modern Remasters

What exactly is NieR Replicant ver.1.22? From an industry standpoint, it’s the latest release in director Yoko Taro and producer Yosuke Saito‘s near 20-year video game franchise. From a technical standpoint, it’s a new take on a previously released game, one that the team behind the scenes is calling a “version upgrade” instead of using the more common “remake” or “remaster” descriptors. And from a history standpoint, NieR Replicant ver.1.22… is a core title in the franchise that merges elements of the original Japanese release with its modified Western adaptation, while also adding new material for players around the world. And above all that, it’s a shining example of how to properly do a modernized take on an iconic property.

That’s, understandably, a lot to take in. And we haven’t even mentioned the extensive and mind-bending lore of NieR and its parent series Drakengard.

The good news for newcomers who might feel overwhelmed by the weight of NieR‘s nearly 20 years (like yours truly) is that this game acts perfectly well as a standalone title and will offer you dozens of hours of entertainment. Its dynamic combat, compelling characters, and unforgettable story remain as good as the original if not better across the board thanks to a modern polish. The better news for longtime fans of NieR and the like is that NieR Replicant ver.1.22… brings back everything you know and love about the original while correcting (most of) your pain points, amping up the audio and visual quality, and staying honest to what made the first game so great; it even has a brand new sequence for you to obsess over and gauge its merits. And perhaps the best aspect overall of NieR Replicant ver.1.22… is its replayability that rewards dedicated players in new and familiar ways. (Is that vague enough for you? Good, because spoilers follow from here on out!)

Image via Square Enix, Toylogic

Here’s the official synopsis (which I’ll break down a bit more below):

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is a modern re-telling of NieR Replicant, a third-person action-RPG which originally released in Japan in 2010, and is the highly anticipated prequel to NieR:Automata, the post-apocalyptic action-RPG that has shipped/downloaded over 5.5 million copies worldwide. Players are invited to experience a dark, apocalyptic world as they join a brother’s captivating quest to cure his sister of a deadly disease – a quest which will in turn make them question everything. Developed in collaboration with Toylogic, NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… brings together an all-star team including acclaimed director YOKO TARO (Drakengard / NieR:Automata), composer Keiichi Okabe (TEKKEN / Drakengard / NieR:Automata), and producer Yosuke Saito (DRAGON QUEST X / NieR:Automata).

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Like I mentioned earlier, NieR Replicant ver.1.22… is the first game from the franchise I’ve played. I wasn’t completely clueless going into it, however; I’ve heard friends wax poetic about the deep, rich, and thought-provoking lore, I’ve seen them defend various characters (and their eye-grabbing designs) to the death, and I’ve watched them struggle through their own All-Endings playthroughs. But all that gave me a passing familiarity with NieR. I strongly suggest that, if you’re like me and you’re on the fence about the new release, you should dive right in and experience it for yourself.

How Hard Is NieR Replicant ver.1.22…?

Image via Square Enix, Toylogic

For starters, the difficulty options offer plenty of flexibility for a variety of players. The Easy mode, a.k.a. “Journo Mode,” with Auto-Battle enabled basically lets you walk, run, and boar-ride through the game with relative ease; a bit of button-mashing will get you all the way to the end with no fuss, letting you enjoy the superlative story and all its beats. (It’ll also let you easily earn some otherwise difficult time-based trophy achievements.) However, like other titles in the franchise, NieR Replicant ver.1.22… also offers plenty of challenging combat throughout the game on higher difficulties, even for veteran players. The clever combination of sword/spear-based melee attacks and a huge variety of spellbook-based magic makes each and every fight thrilling and kinetic, while some bosses may leave you with a death-grip on your controller.

If you haven’t familiarized yourself with games like NieR: Automata or various “bullet hell” titles, you might struggle with some of the more magic-based mobs and bosses; Easy mode and auto-battle will take care of this for you. For transparency, I dabbled with the challenging combat for a while before switching to Journo Mode due to time considerations. (I cleared the first playthrough in about 16 hours this way, mostly focusing on the main missions … with a little sprinkling of gardening, fishing, and fetch quests thrown in, of course.) But whether or not the combat of NieR Replicant ver.1.22… is what you’re in for, the characters and story will reward you no matter what difficulty you take on.

Story & Characters

Image via Square Enix, Toylogic

Like most of NieR Replicant ver.1.22…, the opening sequence will be pretty familiar to those who played (and in some cases beat) the original game. Not much has changed from the 2010 title’s story and its various re-releases, because the developers wisely chose not to mess with near-perfection. Players will be introduced to the protagonist, whose name is of your choosing (choose wisely). This time around, however, that protagonist will be a boy / young man, similar to how the original Japanese game presented him; the Western release opted for the older, more grizzled father figure NieR. That’s one of the biggest changes, but the fact that your character protects and takes care of the young girl Yonah remains the same. You’ll join the siblings and their cast of supporting characters across a time span of nearly 1,500 years in order to search for a cure for the deadly Black Scrawl and eliminate the plague of Shades that has ravaged the land for centuries. What you’ll find at the end of your journey (and, ideally, multiple journies) is an incredible and devastating truth that still carries a tremendous amount of emotional impact to this very day.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that the story of NieR Replicant ver.1.22… is worth the playthrough(s). Without getting into any spoilers, save one exception, I won’t get into the details of that story since it remains largely the same from its first debut. It’s so similar, in fact, that you can use 2010 walkthroughs for the 2021 release if you get stuck. There is, however, one main quest line that you’ll have to complete in the “version upgrade” that didn’t appear in the first game. [Highlight the following text if you want to read semi-spoilers: That main quest line starts in Act I with a Seafront search for a married couple who each carry a red bag and resolves in Act II with a follow-up search for them once more, this time with devastating results. The original game largely avoided Seafront in the final main quest, so NieR Replicant ver.1.22… makes up for that with a quest and combat that’s entertaining but sticks out like a sore thumb.] But it’s the characters that really drive those emotional points home.

Image via Square Enix, Toylogic

Since the player’s protagonist (Zach Aguilar / Ray Chase) has no real agency in the game — it’s really not an RPG except for some elements in how you modify your magic and weapons — the supporting players are vastly more interesting. They’re as varied as the floating, cynical, and sharp-tongued spellbook Grimoire Weiss (Liam O’Brien); Kainé (Laura Bailey), the endlessly fascinating femme fatale with the mouth of a sailor; and Emil (Julie Ann Taylor), the heartbreaking young lad with incredible power that’s matched only by the depths of his longing and sadness. That fearsome foursome — voice-acted expertly well by a majority of returning cast members from the original, including the fantastic Eden Riegel doing double duty for Devola and Popola — interact with denizens of this wild world, from simple and supersitious villagers, to mysterious, masked warriors.

Gorgeous settings are yours to explore (and roll through, for expediency’s sake), ranging from sunny grasslands, rusted-out junkyards, isolated cliffside villages, and misty forests (with as much verbiage as verdancy), to an arid desert governed by ironclad rules. And it’s in this picturesque fairytale (and often nightmare) world that the dark and post-apocalyptic story of NieR Replicant ver.1.22… ultimately plays out. These characters, main and supporting alike, all go through a devastating arc from beginning to end, one that spans centuries and species and civilizations; I can’t overstate how good their individual stories are, even if some are more controversial than others.

Hits and Misses

Image via Square Enix, Toylogic

Despite iconic characters and a compelling story anchoring a satisfying swords-and-sorcery smasher, NieR Replicant ver.1.22… isn’t a perfect game. It suffers from that same feeling of big, empty spaces that almost all remasters do since modern game engines attempt to correct the space ratios of older games. The newly added main story quest, while offering a fantastic boss fight, also features that creepy, icky factor the franchise is sometimes known for in all the wrong ways. Despite a wide variety of Shades, fights can occasionally grow tedious; add in the sometimes-squishy melee combos and an auto-battling system that can hinder more than it helps, and combat could give some more of a headache than others. (Certain combat mechanics require your protagonist to interact with things in the world, which is impossible when the AI sends your character rolling all over the place. And sometimes the auto-battler would throw me off a platform to my “death,” just for fun.)

Some of the gripes from the original title remain. For me, that’s mainly the fetch quests that have you running endlessly back and forth between two points while characters make meta commentary on that very fact. There’s also a true lack of agency and the “illusion of choice” for your playable character. But the main source of controversy for this game, if any, remains rooted in its treatment of LGBTQIA+ characters.

Image via Square Enix, Toylogic

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that 2021 feels like a sensitive time for social and cultural issues; it’s certainly a different world that NieR Replicant ver.1.22… arrives in, compared to 2010. And yet, fans of the game have long praised the original story treatment of both Emil and Kainé, characters who fall on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum (and, yes, it’s important to include all of those letters/symbols.) I’m of the opinion that Emil’s own burgeoning sexuality gets a bit of a superficial surface treatment in this game and that Kainé, regardless of how solid her story has become over the years, originated from a “sexy design first, explain said sexy design with a story second” mindset.

Emil’s ill-fated physical turn and veiled suggestions of attraction do make the character all the more endearing, while Kainé’s attractively objectified appearance starts you out wrong-footed, all the better to learn about her own heartbreaking origin story and inner monologue. I get it. But I could lend the more serious takes on Kainé a bit more credence if Grimoire Weiss wasn’t cosntantly calling her a hussy and if NieR Replicant ver.1.22… didn’t have an upskirt achievement


Image via Square Enix, Toylogic

Missteps aside, NieR Replicant ver.1.22… is an incredible game that has stood the test of time (so far) and only benefits from a modern “version upgrade” thanks mainly to incredible remasters of audio and visual aspects. Yes, this new version comes with all the bells and whistles you may have enjoyed from the original, like unlockable wardrobe changes (each pretty much equally revealing for poor Kainé but cool nonetheless); an epic variety of weapons to find, use, and upgrade; plenty of reasons to play the game again (and again … and again and again?); and even the opportunity to step into the shoes of another familiar character, perhaps to battle through some nightmares and learn a bit more lore in the process. It is a leaner, meaner, and prettier version of the original in almost every way.

NieR Replicant ver.1.22… gives back as much as fans have given the franchise over the years. It’s a shining example of how modern remasters can and should be done, especially without necessitating a complete remake from the ground up. Hopefully, this stand-out title benefits from the huge success of the franchise’s recent release NieR: Automata and brings more players into the fold. And like its predecessor, NieR Replicant ver.1.22… should very much be in the Game of the Year conversation.

Rating: B+

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… will release for the PlayStation4 computer entertainment system, Xbox One family of devices including Xbox One X, and PC (Steam) on April 23, 2021.

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