'NieR: Replicant' is Still Weird

This cult favorite continues to be a slow burn

Key Takeaways

  • In the wake of 2017's successful NieR: Automata, publisher Square Enix is giving its predecessor another shot at success...but there were a couple of good reasons why NieR didn't take off the first time around.
  • This game is probably going to be the most interesting to serious gamers with some history behind them.
  • It's still strangely haunting, though, particularly if you can power through to its back half.
Nier Replicant cover art.

Square Enix

I’d be willing to recommend NieR: Replicant, but it’d come with qualifiers. It’s a video game aimed specifically at people who play a lot of video games.

NieR: Replicant ver.1.22474487139 (it's the square root of 1.5; this is math snark) is the remastered version of NieR, a cult favorite action-RPG from 2010. It amps up the production values, adds more quests, and replaces a bunch of content that had to be cut from the original release.

It's the best possible version of itself, made under the creative direction of Yoko Taro, one of modern video gamings' most famous eccentrics.

Replicant starts off on a very low boil, as the most generic possible example of its genre and style. It's setting you up to have certain expectations, about its plot, world, and even its basic mechanics, so it can more effectively subvert them.

As a result, I'm honestly not sure how well the game works if you aren't a dyed-in-the-wool game nerd. I suspect a newbie would bounce off of it, particularly since its first couple of hours are genuinely dull.

It's the End of the World Again

Just to be as confusing as possible, Replicant is a remake of a version of NieR that wasn't available outside of Japan. The original game shipped in two editions, Gestalt and Replicant, reportedly because the developers thought an older protagonist would be more appealing to a global audience.

In Gestalt, which is the only NieR Americans got until now, you play as a middle-aged guy with a sickly daughter; in Replicant, which the 2021 remake is based upon, you're a teenage boy with a sickly younger sister.

A screenshot from Nier Replicant.

Either way, NieR is a spin-off from the fifth ending of the 2003 game Drakengard. The final battle in a fantasy world war spilled over into modern Tokyo, causing a magical nuclear winter.

Centuries later, your protagonist lives in a small village and ekes out a living by doing odd jobs for his neighbors. In order to cure your sister of a strange disease, you strike a deal with a talking book to gain the power to destroy the artifact that might be the source of that disease.

The hook of Replicant's core gameplay is a blend of fast-moving melee combat and an arcade shooter. Once you've found your book buddy, it flies over your shoulder and can be controlled independently of your character, firing a stream of bullets or charging up to deliver big nukes at range.

It's got some of that God of War energy, where standard enemies aren't there to threaten you so much as get styled on. There are a few tough parts, but Replicant on normal difficulty feels much more about its narrative than any kind of challenge.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

NieR got a rough reception back in 2010, but eventually hit cult status. That led to an indirect sequel, 2017's Automata, which was a surprise smash hit, and is why we got the Replicant remake.

In 2021, I have a hard time seeing the remade Replicant as much more than Automata's rough draft. The broad strokes are here, like the hybrid combat system and the general fluidity of its fighting, but it doesn't feel necessary next to its sequel.

A screenshot from Nier Replicant.

That isn't to say that it's a waste of time. Replicant's opening hours are probably its biggest flaw. It builds up your character's village as this bucolic oasis in a world that's on the brink of collapse, but does so by filling it with fetch quests and faceless people.

It feels like a bone-dry parody of the starting areas in a hundred Japanese RPGs, where you're given just enough of a look at your character's pleasant hometown so you care when it gets blown up. In Replicant, its boring featurelessness borders on a joke, played so straight that I'm not sure if it's actually kidding or not.

Once it gets up to speed, Replicant gets interesting, with a dark sense of humor and twisted sensibilities. It takes a fairly typical sort of JRPG setting and plot—a post-apocalyptic quest to save a loved one—and turns it upside down, sideways, and on its head, then shoots it out an airlock.

That does go back to the earlier point, though, about its target audience. When the credits roll, Nier: Replicant comes off like nothing so much as a 20-hour inside joke for hobby veterans. That's either a testimonial or a warning, depending on where you're coming from.

Was this page helpful?