Weiss! You dumbass!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a part of the soundtrack, a gameplay mechanic, a line of dialogue, or anything else about the game that is particularly noteworthy and/or awesome.
This series will no doubt contain spoilers for the games being discussed, so keep that in mind if you plan on playing the game for the first time.
With a sequel recently announced at E3 this year, this entry will be all about Nier. Feel free to share some of your own favorite things about the game in the comments!
Don’t look at me!
Nier‘s Emil is one of my favorite video game characters of all time. The player first meets Emil in his super creepy mansion, a young boy playing the piano alone with a piece of cloth covering his eyes. Due to the setting, his initial appearance is a little off-putting, but once he begins to open up to the player, he turns out to be anything but creepy.
Emil is just about the sweetest, most kind-hearted kid you’ll ever meet, but he suffers from a peculiar and unfortunate ailment wherein everything he looks at turns to stone, which is why he always wears a blindfold. His eyes are a great source of shame and guilt for him, which he has a hard time coming to terms with until Kaine, another outcast, comforts him by saying, “Your eyes are not a sin. Don’t ever be ashamed of them. They’re part of you. A vital part of you.”
Eventually, he brings the party to a secret laboratory in an attempt to find a cure for his ailment. After a few bizarre revelations and an emotional boss fight, the mission is a success. Emil regains the use of his eyes without the risk of petrification, but unfortunately this comes at a great cost. The process transforms his body into a grotesque, skeletal figure as the player finds him cowering and sobbing on the floor, horrified and ashamed by his own appearance. During a touching moment, Nier assures him that everything will be okay and that they won’t treat him any differently.
Poor Emil is such a tragic character. He goes from being unable to look at anyone without hurting them, to being ashamed to even be seen because of his disfigured body. But even after so much hardship, he never loses his cheery, optimistic attitude, and he never stops trying to bring happiness to everyone around him. It always makes me so happy that his friends don’t treat him any differently after he transforms. Kaine and Nier are nothing but supportive and comforting, and it makes me smile to see Emil light up after being reassured. There are so many scenes with Emil that just make my heart swell. You’re the greatest, Emil, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Those who dream
Nier‘s gameplay is rather interesting as it’s never afraid to suddenly switch things up by throwing in new mechanics from different genres. It may seem like a typical action adventure with RPG elements at first, but then it goes and adds side-scrolling platform segments, top-down perspectives, bullet hell boss fights, survival horror areas, and more like it’s nothing at all. And somehow, all of these elements work well and feel completely natural.
The strangest part of the game, though, is when it suddenly becomes a text-based adventure of all things, and they still manage to have it make sense within the context of the story. In the Forest of Myth, the party comes upon an odd village of sleeping people. The villagers warn Nier to beware of the words, the “contagious words,” but by then it’s already too late. A strange illness known as the Deathdream lingers over the forest denizens, trapping them in their dreams, and it quickly begins to take hold of Nier and Weiss.
The illness manifests itself as words in the minds of the characters, which appear as text on the screen for the player to read. Rather than speaking, the characters’ dialogue appears as written words and their thoughts and actions appear as narration. It’s actually rather humorous, because they can read the narration being written about them, and sometimes react as though it’s being unfair or deceiving (especially Weiss, who gets very irritated with the narrator’s choice of words).
There are several dreams the player must enter by speaking with the various villagers. Some of them require some light puzzle solving to escape, such as choosing the correct path to take or answering some reading comprehension questions which make sure the player isn’t just skipping through all the dialogue. Failing these sections can actually lead to death and a game over, so players have to be careful and pay attention or they’ll never escape from the dreams.
It’s so bizarre to see a game like Nier suddenly switch gears and try something completely unexpected like this, but somehow it worked so well that it actually resulted in one of my favorite parts of the game. I loved how they worked the text adventure mechanics into the actual story by forming an illness around it, so it actually made sense to be seeing nothing but words on the screen and it didn’t feel jarring or clumsy. I’ll be curious to see if they try anything else unexpected like this in the sequel!
Speaking of the different genre elements, I have to bring up the survival horror section as well, because it’s another one of my favorite parts of the game. The area in question is Emil’s mansion, a wonderful homage to survival horror games, and to Resident Evil especially.
Upon approaching the mansion, all of the colors of the world seem to fade slowly to gray, casting a gloomy atmosphere over the party. Inside, every room has that static Resident Evil camera angle. A butler directs the party to a waiting room, but after waiting around for a while, Nier decides to investigate. After leaving the room, Kaine mysteriously disappears. Weiss begins to panic, believing the mansion to be haunted, as strange things start to happen. Paintings begin changing, creepy, petrified statues of people start showing up, unsettling voices can be heard, a sink randomly starts filling up with blood… this is clearly not a good place to get lost!
And yet, the mansion is owned by Emil, the kindest person in the world. His presence really threw me off at first. What is he doing staying in a creepy place like this? He admits to having the power to turn things to stone, so it’s safe to assume that all those petrified people were his doing. But is he aware of the bloody sinks and scary paintings? Probably not, since he’s always blindfolded. Or maybe he’s just used to it. At least he’s the one comforting thing about this place, so it’s not all creepy.
Play it again, Devola
If there’s one thing I think everyone can agree on, it’s that Nier has a phenomenal soundtrack. It’s legitimately one of the very best video game soundtracks I can think of. The fictional language and Latin-esque vocals are haunting and beautiful, and combined with the dreamlike music, memorable melodies, and unique sounds, the result is just magical.
Every track is exceptional, but if I had to choose one track to share for those who have never heard anything from the game before, I’d probably choose the “Song of the Ancients.” Like much of Nier‘s music, there are multiple versions, but I chose Devola’s version for its peacefulness and the fact that it could be considered a main theme, since it plays in the hub village. It’s one of my favorite vocal tracks, along with the themes for Kaine, Emil, and the Shadowlord. Even if you haven’t played Nier, I highly recommend giving the rest of the soundtrack a listen if you enjoy this track!
Defense against the dark arts
Nier often gets criticized for its mediocre gameplay mechanics, most likely because of the combat, since the sword techniques are rather limited. However, there’s one aspect of the combat that I found to be especially satisfying: the Sealed Verses.
Nier‘s Sealed Verses are basically magic attacks which are learned by Weiss and can be used by Nier in battle. There are eight Sealed Verses to learn, and two can be equipped at a time. They’re all very different and useful in various situations. Dark Blast shoots out small, quick projectiles; Dark Lance fires a barrage of large spears; Dark Hand summons up giant fists for lots of damage; Dark Phantom calls forth a shadowy doppelganger to fight for Nier; Dark Whirlwind creates spinning blades which block enemy projectiles and cause damage; Dark Execution causes spears to burst up out of the ground in straight lines; Dark Gluttony absorbs enemy projectiles and fires them back; and Dark Wall creates a shield around Nier.
Combining the various Sealed Verses with the limited physical attacks honestly left me feeling very satisfied with the combat. Even though I usually stuck with Dark Lance, as it seemed to be the most useful for just about any situation, I had a lot of fun experimenting with all the other spells as well. Dark Execution is especially cool, since the spears can pop out of the ground in every direction, impaling enemies all around Nier. I loved that I could be slashing Shades with a sword one second, summoning a huge, magical fist to pound them into the ground the next, and then finishing them off by impaling them with spears popping out of the ground below them. Honestly, the Sealed Verses simply felt amazing to use, and I thought they more than made up for the lackluster swordplay.
The bold and the beautiful
Initially, I didn’t like Kaine very much. Scantily clad woman with an attitude? I’ve seen that before, plenty of times. Show me something new! Well, surprisingly for me, Nier did show me something completely new with none other than Kaine herself.
Kaine’s backstory isn’t revealed to the player until New Game+, and it sure as hell does its job in getting me to care about the half-naked heroine. Much like the forest text adventure part of the game, Kaine’s backstory is told entirely through text. It opens with a young Kaine, running from a group of bullies in her hometown. The bullies throw rocks at her, call her a freak, and beat her up before finally dropping an unexpected revelation by saying, “I don’t get you, freak. Whatcha acting like a girl for, huh? Everyone knows what you really are!”
As it turns out, Kaine is actually a hermaphrodite. Because of this, she is viewed as an outcast and is bullied relentlessly, leaving her depressed, suicidal, and feeling as though she has no place in the world. The only person who stands up for her is her grandmother, a tough, admirable woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone and isn’t afraid to retaliate against those who have been bullying her granddaughter. She comforts Kaine by saying, “You’re my granddaughter, and I love you, and if folks have a problem with that, they can just go to hell.” What a wonderful woman!
It may seem strange for a character to wear skimpy, revealing clothing, especially in combat situations, but in Kaine’s case I totally get it. Her entire life, she was bullied about her body and made to feel ugly and bad about herself. But as an adult, she’s become hardened to all of those criticisms and has decided to finally own her body and feel proud about herself. She may be different from everyone else, but she’s no less beautiful, and after so many years of being ashamed of her body, she’s finally comfortable enough to show some skin and not care about what anyone else thinks. Personally, I think that’s terrific. If there was ever a good way to justify a character dressing in next to nothing at all, Nier certainly pulled it off successfully with Kaine.
MAJOR NEW GAME+ SPOILERS AHEAD
Few games utilize the possibilities which New Game+ can offer better than Nier. For any game, there needs to be a good reason for players to want to continue into New Game+. Usually, this means new content or more difficult challenges to keep the player engaged and wanting to come back for more. But in Nier‘s case, New Game+ offers so much more. In fact, it pretty much changes the tone of the story entirely.
A major part of Nier‘s New Game+ experience focuses on explaining the game’s main enemies, the Shades. It’s revealed that the Shades are actually the souls of the original humans, also known as Gestalts, and they are meant to fuse with the Replicants, which are their corresponding shells and the characters that the player has gotten to know all this time. So essentially, the player has been killing off the souls of their human counterparts, without even realizing it until the second playthrough, at which point the killing spree must continue if the player ever hopes to see the final ending.
And the game certainly tries to make the player feel as bad about this as possible. Many of the boss Shades are given sympathetic personalities and backstories, and then the player is forced to fight them all over again. It’s true that they were trying to fuse with the Replicants, who had developed their own consciences and obviously didn’t want to lose them, but it’s unfortunate that the Gestalts and Replicants couldn’t just live peacefully together.
It really started to dawn on me after a while that there were clues to this all along. I mean, I always wondered why these creepy Shades were dropping items like coloring books, photo albums, earrings, and other personal things, and why I seemed to hear garbled human speech whenever they were killed. At first, I figured it was because the Shades had been killing humans and taking their stuff, but oh how wrong I was. New Game+ made me feel like a monster, and Nier deserves all the praise in the world for that very reason.
Past Experience Points
.01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
.02: Shadow of the Colossus
.05: Demon’s Souls
.06: No More Heroes
.07: Paper Mario
.08: Persona 4
.09: Final Fantasy IX
.10: Mega Man Legends
.11: Rayman Origins
.12: Metal Slug 3
.13: Animal Crossing
.14: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
.15: Super Mario Sunshine
.16: Final Fantasy VII