NIER: The Cult Game of the Generation
So since it's the end of this console generation, with the WiiU already out, and the Xbone and PS4'll coming out soon, plenty of critics and commentators will be compiling fun lists of games they thought were the best this gen. That's all fine and good, but how many times and I gonna read about weak-footed swill like Bioshock: Infinite and not hear about the stuff no one knows about yet?
I won’t speak as a comprehensive expert on “games you haven’t played.” Sadly, I actually didn’t finish as many games as I would’ve liked to this generation. Even games I was really enjoying just seemed to slip away from me: Xenoblade, The Last Story, Resonance of Fate, and more than a few other. (I’m workin’ on ‘em. I want to write about JRPGs a lot on Haptic Feedback.)
But aside from the other classics I got to play that you’ll surely be hearing about from others, there was one game. A game that gripped me from its opening through each of its endings. A game that lovingly wraps its arms around you while it destroys everything you believe in. That game is NIER.
But to talk about NIER, we must talk about Drakengard.
"Man, you ever hear of that game where like, you ride a dragon, and the alternate endings just keep getting worse until the last one it's modern Japan and then they just blow you up, and your dragon gets impaled on the Tokyo tower?"
That sells the game's level of hatred for its audience short: Drakengard is intentionally repetitive, scored with grinding orchestral dissonance cut like EDM, dark to the point of causing numbness to the shock, and filled with characters who would serve as the villains of a lesser game (pedophiliac and incestuous tropes were made much more subtextual in the American release, which of course had shitty voice acting, emphasizing the effect). In other words, it's pretty great, a required purchase for anyone interested in Japanese Postmodern games.
If any of that interests you, NIER is the sequel to Drakengard going from that infamous Ending E (rather than Ending A which leads into Drakengard 2: it's a dumb story, but basically think Snake's Revenge)
Developed by Cavia (their last game) and published in 2010 by Square-Enix, NIER went unnoticed by a JRPG fandom either still shocked by Final Fantasy XIII or checking out Resonance of Fate by perennial fan favorites Tri-Ace.
NIER is the kind of videogame that's named after its protagonist, only to allow you to name said protagonist whose name is then never spoken by voice actors, highlighting the player as some sort of perverse, unspeakable intrusion on the game world.
NIER is the kind of game with a New Game + mode that starts you at the halfway point of the game. And when you New Game + two times after beating the game, it deletes your save file, and when you start again, you have to pick a different name.
Drakengard was intentionally nails-on-chalkboard and was as alienating as it meant to be, but NIER is a more mature game and tames some of that adolescent tendency towards opposition.
The dissonance of the first game's music is gone in favor of one of the best soundtracks this console generation, composed by Keiichi Okabe, filled with Yasunori Mitsuda-esque experimentalism and world-folk-inflections but also full of the sweeping romantic beauty of Yoko Shimomura's more tragic pieces.
The repetitive combat grind of Drakengard is in NIER given nuance with a tactical roll, some really fun, overpowered magic, interesting puzzle-like boss fights, and riffs on other genres. One dungeon is even a direct reference to Resident Evil, and one town turns into a text adventure.
Drakengard's attack on typical Japanese Role-Playing tropes was so vicious that it was often more shocking and brutal than sad. NIER's story is clearly written by an older, more mature Yoko Taro (the director of Drakengard and NIER) who realizes the impact that adding simple human conflicts add to your characters: you may not empathize with your protagonist and his combat buddies as the game goes on, but that's not the point. Drakengard points at itself and screams "HATE ME" like something off of the first two Slipknot albums, but NIER lets you walk away from or stick with the characters as you please. NIER lets you choose when you break your own heart.
It's a unique, truly harrowing experience, and gaming sorely needs more of that.
NIER can be found new on Amazon for $20 and used for as little as $9 as of this writing.
A prequel to Drakengard, Drakengard 3, is also in the works from the same team that made the original and NIER, including director Yoko Taro and composer Keiichi Okabe, and is coming out in Japan in December, and out in early 2014 in the United States. I implore you for the love of videogames to pre-order it.
- Austin C. Howe, Maryland, 2013