A Man, a Talking Book, a Hermaphrodite, and a Skeleton Walk Into a Bar…

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

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The Drakengard series is very, VERY weird. Really, anything that series creator Taro Yoko creates is bound to be way out there in its content and unique storytelling approach. Gameplay-wise, they aren’t that much to write home about. They have standard hack-and-slash mechanics, graphics that aren’t that impressive on the platforms they debut on, and, in the case of the first two games, voice acting that is rather sub-par. It’s with the story and the characters that the series is known for.

However, in 2010, after not being involved in Drakengard 2’s development, Yoko and his team came back to deal out one last game before developer Cavia went under. A spinoff of the first Drakengard, specifically that of the game’s fifth ending (Ending E), this game, while not selling enough to save the company, went on to become highly regarded as not only Taro Yoko’s best game, but also one of the most unique and heart wrenching games put out in recent years, complete with beautiful music, a gripping story, and superb voice acting from the likes of Jamieson Price, Liam O’Brien, and Laura Bailey. That game is called NieR.

Much like its parent series, NieR is NOT a happy game. A player familiar with Drakengard will be able to pick up little details that tie the two together, but even a newcomer can enjoy the game without prior knowledge. Taking place a thousand years or so after a cataclysmic event nearly wiped out humanity, the story centers around the eponymous character named Nier (though the character can input any name they wish for him), a middle-aged man who tries to make a living for himself and his young, sickly daughter, Yonah. After Yonah contracts a deadly disease called the “Black Scrawl”, Nier sets out to find a cure for his daughter by any means necessary.

The main cast can be best described as “lovable jerks”. Nier himself, while well-intentioned and possessing a love for his daughter that would make fathers everywhere proud, is single minded in his pursuit for a cure. He doesn’t care who he has to kill and hurt on his way to that goal, if they get in his way, he WILL cut them down if it means saving his daughter, regardless of the consequences. As such, his actions can end up making things worse for people. Even staying away for long periods of time ends up hurting his daughter since she would rather be with her father than have him be gone for so long.

Nier’s dysfunctional group of friends includes Grimoire Weiss (his full and proper title, thank you very much), a haughty, ancient, talking book that possess arcane knowledge that gives Nier his offensive magic capabilities; a foul-mouthed, violent woman named Kainé, who also has the Black Scrawl and is secretly a hermaphrodite; and Emil, a polite and timid young boy (who’s actually MUCH older than he appears) who possess gorgon-like powers in that he can turn anyone he looks at into stone, and as such, he willingly blinds himself by covering his eyes to avoid doing that to his new friends. Throughout their travels, the people and world they see and meet can be just as dysfunctional.

The greatest danger to Nier’s group and the rest of the world are a species of shadow-like creatures called “Shades”. These creatures, speaking in some unintelligible language, are seemingly trying to get rid of what’s left of humanity. They cannot step into sunlight, but are still organized enough to prove to be a dangerous threat for the remaining humans. Their leader is only known as the “Shadowlord” and the dark book of legend and Weiss’ opposite, Grimoire Noir, aids him. According to ancient texts, Weiss can cure the Black Scrawl if Noir is destroyed since it’s said that the latter is the source of the disease.

Gameplay wise, NieR is a little different than its predecessor. Whereas Drakengard featured hack-n-slash gameplay reminiscent of Dynasty Warriors or Sengoku Basara, NieR is more of a traditional RPG with action game controls, with side-quests, item crafting, and other familiar elements. The play controls Nier in a third person view, with buttons dedicated to normal and special attacks, dodging, guarding, and other functions. Weiss acts as the source of Nier’s magic attacks, which allows him to use different abilities like shooting small energy bolts, forming a hand to punch enemies, and causing the ground to erupt into spears. As Nier levels up and progresses through the story line, his health, stamina, and magic bars can be increased in addition to learning more magic attacks from Weiss.

As is Taro Yoko’s modus operandi, there is much more to NieR’s story than what is initially seen. Many twists and revelations unfold as the story nears its completion, but that’s only the start of it all. Beating the game once nets the player Ending A and unlocks New Game Plus, where they can carry over all of Nier’s weapons, experience, and completed side-quests, as well as giving the chance to get Ending B, C, and D. NGP begins at the mid point of the story after the time skip, but several things have now changed. Not only can the player finally understand just what the Shades are saying, but it also introduces a new character named Tyrann, a bloodthirsty and psychotic individual that has a certain connection to Kainé. Finally, after collecting all of the weapons in the game, Ending D is unlocked for completion, but in order to do so, both Nier and the player have to make the ultimate sacrifice…

NieR, much like its parent series, is truly a unique experience. It’s such a shame that Cavia became defunct after the game failed to sell well, especially one that is probably one of the most emotional games of the previous generation. The characters are flawed, yet sympathetic and likable, the story is depressing, but also heartwarming and very engaging, and the music is hauntingly beautiful, enough that it’s currently available on iTunes. A very passionate fanbase has helped ensure that this gem of a title isn’t easily forgotten, and if this has piqued your interest enough to consider looking for a copy, I wholeheartedly encourage it.

EDIT: The above was written prior to E3 2015, where Square Enix announced that, in collaboration between Taro Yoko’s team and Platinum Games, they are bringing NieR back with a sequel. Besides some concept art and a few seconds of rendered footage, not much is currently known about the game.