NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22 Review
Since I picked it up (and couldn’t put it down) in 2017, NieR: Automata has remained one of my favorite games of all time. It’s one of those that has stuck with me in a way that I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of, nor do I think I will I ever quite understand the depth of its impact on who I am and what I value. I had always thought about going back to NieR (or NieR Replicant, or NieR Gestalt, or whatever) to see where it all began, but every consensus I saw was that it was too clunky and unpolished to be worth revisiting. **Very mild spoilers for part 1.**
Over time, I think that has proved to be true; so when Yoko Taro, the game’s director, announced the remaster, I nearly wept with excitement. NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22 drifted closer and closer to the top of my hype list as we approached the release. One and a half months later, I’ve reached Ending E, and I am not quite the same person I was when I began. And that’s for the better!
NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22 is a strange hybrid of a remake and remaster. The main character models have been rebuilt from the ground up and textured like 2021 models, while the world and items have been uprezed and tuned up a bit. Combat has been completely redone with consultation from Platinum Games, who made NieR: Automata, so it’s much smoother and faster than before while still not being quite as fast as what Automata presented. The original game also had four endings (A-D), but a fifth Ending E loosely based on the companion novella Grimoire NieR that released alongside the original NieR has been added to the story. I won’t spoil Ending E other than to say that it connects the story directly to Automata, and serves as the true ending of NieR.
NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22 sets the player into an almost suspiciously tropey JRPG fantasy world. Nier wakes up in a quaint village, has a younger sister and no parents, sees an encroaching threat of demons moving towards the village, has a mysterious power bestowed upon him and takes up arms to save his sister’s life. Very standard JRPG fare. Or, that’s what Yoko Taro wants you to think…
As a teenager, Nier ventures through a semi-open world to complete inane and innocuous fetch quests (which the characters openly complain about) in pursuit of finding a cure for the Black Scrawl, a mysterious but fatal disease that has beset his younger sister, Yonah. The two of them were raised by the village, but especially by twin sisters Popola and Devola, who treat them like family. Popola is wildly intelligent but reserved in decision making, while Devola is a singer who prefers to stay in the background during important conversations. Neither are overbearing nor shy, and by the end Popola had become one of my favorite characters. The twins really give off a “big sister” vibe when interacting with Nier, and I thoroughly enjoyed their dynamic.
Nier is a mild-tempered boy — innocent, optimistic, unabashedly kind. He’s never one to turn down a request for help, and before long his errands bring him to the first member of the party that joins just an hour into the story, Grimoire Weiss.
Weiss is a magical floating book that stays at Nier’s side through to the end, and as the player unlocks the Sealed Verses he gains more and more magical powers for the player to use. He’s also a grumpy, prim-and-proper old man who just might have a heart of gold underneath his dismissive exterior. He has a bone to pick with his evil twin, Grimoire Noire, and accompanies Nier on his quest to find the Book of Darkness in the hopes that a cure for the Black Scrawl can be found. He’s one of my favorite companions ever in a game, and what’s crazier still is that the rest of the party is just as endearing.
Nier and Weiss search for the rest of the sealed verses while meeting a host of colorful characters along the way (special shout out to the Ferryman and the Masked King), and are eventually joined by a foul-mouthed mid-20s woman named Kaine. Kaine lives just outside the Aerie, a village built over a chasm in between cliffs, and has been an outcast from the day she was born. Kaine is intersex, and although she’s a woman she was deemed a monster. Abandoned by everyone but her grandmother, Kaine’s life became a living hell after the death of her only family. She dedicated her life to killing shades, in some vain hope that she will one day avenge her grandmother and put the world to right. Until she meets Nier.
Soon, the squad is complete when we’re joined by Emil, a young boy with cursed eyes that turn everyone he looks at to stone. He has never been able to get close to anyone, nor has he been able to see the face of anyone he meets. Emil is the epitome of kindness. Despite drawing a cursed lot in life, he knows nothing but compassion, optimism, faith and an open heart. When Nier and Kaine adopt him into the party, you’ll already be tearing up for fear of what might happen to this precious found family.
The reason I go into such detail here is to impress upon the reader that this group of Nier, Kaine, Emil and Grimoire Weiss is the most beautiful and endearing party I’ve ever come across in a video game. I love them; plain and simple. In a way that far outpaces 2B and 9S from Automata , these characters became real to me over 40 hours like no other game has accomplished (save perhaps Final Fantasy XV). While Automata relies on theme and allegory to drive its story, the characters are the true strength of Replicant. It’s been just a day, but I miss their banter already. I can still hear Weiss angrily calling Kaine a “hussy” with just a touch of admiration, and see a smile echo across Nier’s face while Emil chuckles softly.
Combat is solid; it never felt tedious, although I also wouldn’t list it as a top feature of Replicant Ver. 1.22. Players will switch between one of 37 unique upgrade-able weapons, each of which handles just a bit differently, alongside nine magic spells that they can switch between freely. Replicant Ver. 1.22 features Platinum Games’ signature perfect dodges and perfect parries too, alongside aerial attacks that provide enough variety to keep things interesting. Combat is definitely slower and a little more methodical than Automata, but overall the movement keeps the octane running high. Enemy variety is just enough to keep you from getting bored, although they are all some form of shade. You’d be forgiven if it gets too samey for you eventually.
The world is very beautiful… for a 2009 game. The remaster doesn’t do too much to make the actual landscapes look better, but does wonders for cutscenes and character interactions. Looking at it as a “version update,” as Yoko Taro has specified, makes a bit more sense than calling it a remake or remaster. Regardless, the world is kept alive by colorful NPC’s, grazing animals, and shades galore. And of course, we can’t forget the soundtrack.
Many people say that NieR: Automata has one of the best soundtracks of all time. That is true. Against all the odds, however, I think the score of Replicant slightly outdoes it. I found myself humming nearly every track in the game (especially the overworld theme) during the day, and it made me even more excited to return to the game that evening. Keiichi Okabe, who scored Automata as well, is one of the most skilled composers of our time. His fusion of upbeat strings and melancholy vocals is strange, exciting and unmistakeable. Okabe returned for Replicant Ver. 1.22 to remaster the score and write new music for the new ending as well. Regardless of which one edges the other out, the NieR games boast two of the most impressive scores in video game history.
You may be wondering what’s so truly special about this game; why do people call it a masterpiece? It’s something you’ll need to experience on your own. NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22 is perhaps the slowest burning game I’ve ever played, but once the burn starts it does not let up. The game will be tedious at times; put it out of your mind and continue the main story. What you are doing will make sense in retrospect. I highly recommend you check one of the Ending Guides (here is a spoiler-free one) to ensure you don’t waste any extra time to get all the endings. You will be playing parts of the game 2–3 times (NOT the entire game), but each consecutive playthrough keeps your weapons and levels so it becomes easier and faster. I encourage you to play this game slowly. Putting in 1–2 hours a day over the course of six weeks proved to be a perfect pace to play at. If you try to binge this game, you will wear yourself out.
NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22 is probably not going to win a lot of Game of the Year awards, and that’s okay. It is tedious at times, and doesn’t respect the player’s time ocassionally, and moves the plot along very slowly. This is a story about finding what it means to be human. Our inexplicable ability to let down the walls around our hearts with the knowledge that we will be hurt someday — this is what it means to love, and that is what it means to be human. The magic of it is in finding you’ve fallen in love with these characters, watching them fight for what they love, and having your own heart ripped apart and stitched back together alongside them. Replicant overall has a few more flaws than Automata, but I still feel good calling it a bona fide masterpiece. While it hasn’t cracked my top 10 like Automata did, it has earned a safe place among my all-time favorites. I implore you to give this game a try. I understand it may not be for everyone, but if it is for you… well, I hope you can feel what I felt. Now get to it, hussy.