Video game franchises can get confusing.
“Kingdom Hearts” was spread across a variety of consoles until its HD remix collections came out. The “Mega Man” franchise has no less than six subseries, some of which have their own spin-offs, derivatives and licensed adaptations — the impact of which has been mitigated somewhat by the recent “Mega Man Legacy Collections.” The “Shin Megami Tensei” series is similarly convoluted, with many of its games lacking worldwide releases. There are running online jokes about Zelda timelines, obscure Mario characters and Kirby lore.
The “NieR” series, one of the Cinderella stories in AAA video games, was relatively difficult to jump into via the first installment — until now.
“NieR Replicant ver. 1.22 ... “ is a “version upgrade” of the first “NieR,” featuring a variety of important changes that make it a more approachable game. It features spruced-up combat, a now mostly-bloomless look, and — most importantly — a consolidation of virtually everything you need to know from the original “NieR” in one 40-hour game.
The polished World of Recycled Vessel DLC, a new adaptation of the once lore-book-exclusive text-only narrative Route E, an additional sequence, a few new dialogues, and a switch to the original “Replicant” version of the story are the major reasons why “Replicant ver. 1.22 … “ can be considered the “definitive” edition of “NieR.” Far more of its lore and connection to the rest of the byzantine “Drakengard” and “NieR” continuities are now included in the game proper, and the whole experience feels more deliberate and less rough-around-the-edges. According to remarks by the developers, strong sales could even result in the addition of a “Nier: Gestalt” version of the campaign, making the package all the more comprehensive.
There are upsides and downsides to each change, and some boil down to personal preference. The switch to the “Replicant” version and some added exposition lead the plot to make a lot more sense, but take away some of its characteristic incongruity and subtlety. The more muted visuals yield greater readability and “class,” but some of the original’s ethereal feel is lost in translation. Route E and its ending put a lot more of the larger series’ connections up front, but they do so at the cost of Ending D’s impact and having the two current-console “NieR” games end in superficially similar ways. They gave the protagonist an indoor walk cycle comically similar to those in Scooby-Doo, but removed Kainé’s hilariously out-of-context speech from the intro (likely owing to Square leaning heavily into the NieR series’ newfound critical prestige).
As far as those who haven’t played any “NieR” games are concerned, “Replicant ver. 1.22 “ is a good entry point to the series and a fantastic game. The gameplay is varied and compelling, the visuals and soundtrack are both exceptional, my 40-hour playthrough rarely had its low points despite the game’s unusual structure, and the narrative’s reputation as Taro Yoko’s best, if not one of the best in recent game industry memory, is well-deserved. “NieR” is a dense, bizarre masterpiece, one that still fascinates me years later after multiple playthroughs.
The (successful) attempt to make almost everything relating to the original “NieR” playable on one disc is a laudable effort, and one well worth the years of development time. In an environment absolutely mired with re-releases, updates, patches, remasters and remakes, this is among the most meaningful and worthwhile ones, not for its revisions, but for its additions, combinations and purpose. Though the true depth of the connection between the “NieR” and “Drakengard” franchises remains complicated and vague, the series can now largely be approached on its own — a good solution for the “all NieR all the time” approach Square Enix seems apt to take in the future following Automata’s runaway success. I give it a universal recommendation.
Gaget is a video game developer and critic. He is a neutral game reviewer.
If You Play
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Internet Usage (accounts for download size): 27 GB
ESRB Rating: M
Release Date: April 24, 2021
Genre (if applicable): Hack-and-Slash/Action-RPG