NIER – The Power of a Narrative

Posted: November 1, 2013 in Current Gaming
Tags: , , , , ,

NIER

NIER is a game that was developed by Cavia (Drakengard) and published by Square a few years ago for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Upon it’s release, it received mixed reactions from both reviewers and gamers alike. Criticisms included repetitive fetch quests, sub-par graphics, and mundane, if varied, gameplay. NIER also happens to be one of my favorite games of the current generation, or of any generation. NIER, I believe, is a wonderful example of how the narrative of a game can actually transcend gameplay and elevate said game to be more than the sum of it’s parts. It is also an element that is hard to quantify in a review or review score and can be too easily passed over in an attempt to complete the game for the sake of completing a review.

The Fishing Mechanic Debacle
Before I touch on the power of NIER’s narrative, this has to be addressed as I made a point about reviews above. A few hours into the game, as part of a required fetch-quest, you must go fishing on a beach. The area is marked with a circle on the map and is easily found. The fishing mechanic is very simplistic, similar in a way to the fishing mechanic found in Twilight Princess, except you are given a gauge showing the stress on your line and the goal is to keep the stress level low lest your line break. When I played through NIER, I got this quest, went to the area, and caught the needed fish in less than a minute (the needed fish is the only one you will catch at this point). It took me two casts to accomplish this.

Understand that I bought NIER right after launch and before many reviews were published. I played it right away and had fallen in love with the game, so I was hoping for high reviews. When they came in a bit middling, I was disappointed but not terribly surprised as the game does have some faults, even though I was able to look past them. My shock came when I saw that at least one reviewer had been completely unable to get past the fishing fetch-quest. Meaning that they hadn’t even completed the game before publishing the review. Granted, they did disclose this, but there are potential buyers of this game that will read that review and believe that the game is broken, as opposed to the reviewer just not getting how the mechanic worked. I want to reiterate once again that I finished this quest and didn’t give it a second thought. I simply can’t understand how anyone, especially a reviewer of games (this is what they do) would fail to complete this part. But they did, and the review suffered as a result.

The hardest part of any game ever.

The hardest part of any game ever.

The Story
So I laid out some of the complaints about this game above. Even though I don’t fully agree with those complaints, they are valid as we all have preferences that differ. NIER does employ a variety of play styles, ranging from standard third person adventure to SHMUPs and text adventures. While I enjoyed this variety, I can see how it would be irritating or jarring for someone that wanted or expected only one or two types of play, and while NIER does touch on these varieties, it can then abandon them just as quickly. It’s also true that there are many fetch-quests, so if you aren’t fully immersed in the play style of the game, you may find these tedious, though only a handful are actually required. I refuse to address the complaint about graphics as I feel that was a design choice, one that I thought was actually well done, especially the bosses and shades.

Graphical style is hardly objective, and I personally have no qualms with NIER's.

Graphical style is hardly objective, but I personally have no qualms with NIER’s.

So why do I still love this game? To me, it has something that you can’t properly judge in a quick playthrough. The story behind NIER is one of the most touching and emotional of any game I’ve ever experienced. None of the actions I completed in the game ever felt tedious because I felt the burden the main character, NIER, was carrying on his shoulders as he completed them.

In NIER, you play the title character. Your daughter, Yonah, has caught the Black Scrawl, an incurable disease that will kill her. You, understandably, are determined to find a cure, even though no one has in the past. This motivation is your entire driving force through the first half of the game and is driven home in your regular interactions with Yonah, as well as the townspeople where NIER lives. The developers seemed to go out of there way to make the connection as close as possible in order to establish an emotional connection not just between NIER and Yonah, but with the player as well.  After you travel to another city, for instance, you receive a letter there from Yonah about how she misses you.  At one point, you come home to find she has fixed you dinner. The internal dialogue lets you know that it tastes awful, but your character eats it anyway to keep her happy. You can also sometimes bring her gifts.

Halfway through the game, there is an event that makes your quest more urgent, and then five years pass by before you regain control. I was so involved in the story at this point that I felt a personal urgency to start getting things done so I could resolve the aforementioned event. Once you reach the end of the game, NIER somehow outdoes itself in the story department as you get a few new revelations about what has happened to the world that completely changes the way you’ll view your actions in the game. This is driven home in a subsequent playthrough, where additional scenes are added that  completely alter your perception of the Shades and what you are doing to cure Yonah. It is another testament to the game’s story that I fully completed it twice, and finished the second half yet another time in order to gain all four endings. I generally don’t care to replay a game so quickly after completing it a first time, but I simply had to see all the conclusions to the story before I would be happy. No, reading them on Wikipedia wouldn’t count.

This is where I think the reviews missed on NIER. Even if you agree with the criticisms of the game, and I’m sure many did, the story element of this game is extremely powerful, and an aspect that is hard to be fully appreciated in a quick playthrough for a review. Also, I’m not knocking reviews or reviewers in this post (well, except the one that didn’t know how to fish). You can’t dwell on a particular game when you have more waiting to be completed, and that’s completely understandable. I just feel that in some cases, such as with NIER, there’s an experience that’s missed in doing a review playthrough and will then be missed in the review itself. It’s unavoidable, sadly, but again, it’s also an element that’s difficult to fully explain or evaluate to another person. Even in my attempt here, I’m sure that I’ve come up short in some way. Unfortunately, it is simply the nature of the beast that some aspects of a game may be beyond fully informing someone on, and have to be simply played to be appreciated.

NIER - Story

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Comments
  1. Lo Burton says:

    Sounds like you have a soft spot for chick flicks…

    Haha. You’ve piqued my interest! I’m all for heavy narrative as long as the gameplay isn’t awful, and you’ve succeeded in making this sound interesting, if not fun. I’ll pick it up when I get the chance! For some reason the few visuals I’ve seen really remind me of Shadow of the Colossus.

    • JAVGB says:

      Funny that you mention chick flicks. This past weekend I commented to my wife that I need to watch Steel Magnolias again. Lol

      SotC is a good comp visually speaking. The gameplay reminds me of Zelda, frankly. Not a ton of variety, but still very serviceable. The use of magic via Grimoire Weiss helps shake things up in that regard. Just so you know, in regards to the game being fun, I had a great time with the game, combat and sidequests both. I may have overshot my goal of being sympathetic to the criticisms of the gameplay in this post.

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