Nier Replicant is a brilliant video game that I like to recommend with essentially the most irritating caveat in leisure: “It gets good after 10 hours.”

Of course the game would transfer slowly by 2021 requirements. Nier Replicant is a remake of a game from a decade ago, itself criticized by its harsher reviewers for outdated pacing and repetitive fight. It may look new on the floor, however this game’s skeleton exhibits its age.

If you’ll be able to muscle via to the 10-hour mark, nevertheless, you’ll uncover why this — at occasions plodding, typically messy — cult game spawned the hit sequel Nier: Automata, a touring symphony, and a humongous enlargement to, of all issues, Final Fantasy 14, regardless of having nothing to do with Final Fantasy past a shared writer and rabid fandoms.

Emil learns about his dark past in Nier Replicant.

Image: Toylogic/Square Enix

The story defies concision, so let’s stick with the throughline: In 2049, a mysterious virus seems first in Shinjuku after which the world over, changing people into both statues of salt or shadowy ghouls referred to as Shades. Flash-forward 1,300 years, when a younger man named Nier learns that his sister Yonah has been contaminated with a equally mysterious and seemingly incurable virus.

Refusing destiny, Nier quests throughout an Earth reclaimed by nature and populated with Shades, now ranging in dimension from “lap dog” to “cruise ship.” Nier believes that uncovering the thriller of those creatures — by slaughtering them — will grant him the misplaced historical information obligatory to save lots of Yonah.

You tackle fetch quests and navigate varied dungeons, killing bosses, gathering keys, and studying how the loss of life of a house dragon triggered the near-annihilation of the human race. Picture The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, however gorier, raunchier, and loaded with sufficient existential dread to make a matinee of Annihilation sound like a enjoyable method to kill a couple of hours.

After a few hours of desk setting, establishing Nier Replicant as a commonplace motion journey, the game begins to warp into one thing stranger. Slowly, at first imperceptibly, the quests deviate throughout sudden genres, reminiscent of shoot-’em-ups, Resident Evil-like horror, and Diablo clones.

The character enter a Diablo-like world in Nier Replicant.

Image: Toylogic/Square Enix

Rather than recreate its inspirations on a one-to-one foundation, Nier’s pastiche is nearer to a hurried tour via the halls of video game historical past, winking and nodding with every new locale. Like Automata, Replicant’s journey doubles as a critique and parody of its contemporaries. And like Automata, it options a number of endings, every new playthrough of the game revealing new data that calls into query the actions you took within the earlier run.

(If you propose to see the whole lot, learn our information to unlocking all endings earlier than enjoying. Without sure duties accomplished, some endings will likely be reduce off completely. That’s a bummer if, like me, you’ve already dedicated 30 hours and alter and notice you forgot to purchase some obscure, however necessary sword.)

If that sounds bizarre and dense, pricey reader, I haven’t scratched the floor of the game’s lore. We have a top-secret authorities plan to separate soul and physique; a speaking guide named Grimoire Noir, who works kind of like Green Lantern’s ring, morphing crimson power into bullets, spikes, and large fists; and the lore of a largely forgotten sequence referred to as Drakengard.

I’m critical.

A text adventure ends in Nier Replicant.

Image: Toylogic/Square Enix

Don’t let any of this intimidate you. The sluggish intro affords newcomers time and context to get their sea legs. The early journey is minimal to the purpose of parody. One quest scraps the visuals altogether, changing the game into a textual content journey by which you don’t have any duty aside from clicking via web page after web page of ellipses. For hours, you study the backstory and terrain of this open world, taking lengthy hikes backwards and forwards and again once more via deserts, forests, caverns, and deserted factories.

Nier Replicant runs counter to most modern video game “wastelands,” which paradoxically brim with life. Despite the nuclear holocaust or hordes of zombies or rising sea ranges in video games like these, people have survived, if not thrived, cobbling collectively complete cities, subcultures, and edgy trend strains from the detritus of the Before Times. Nier Replicant’s post-apocalypse, by comparability, feels empty and banal, an open world largely empty of issues to do and other people to satisfy.

The vibe calls to thoughts Andrei Tarkovsky’s sci-fi of the mundane. In movies like Stalker and Solaris, Tarkovsky would let pictures run for minutes as characters did little greater than trudge through a tunnel or float in an empty spacecraft. This pacing turns into meditative, transportive, and magnetic. Time within the film and time in actual life start to align, and the 2 worlds blur collectively.

Nier goes fishing in a beautiful ocean in Nier Replicant.

Image: Toylogic/Square Enix

Even the motion — slaughtering hundreds of Shades with dozens of swords, daggers, and spears — tends in direction of mindlessness, one thing you do to boost a lengthy journey or to farm supplies. Nier Replicant is unapologetically repetitious on a moment-to-moment degree.

It additionally bets boldly that you’ll replay the game a number of occasions to see its true endings. I did. The game entranced me, like listening to Gregorian chants on a cross-country street journey … solely with extra sword fights.

Forcing me to stroll the identical empty world time and again and time and again and over and over and over tricked my thoughts into in search of a fleck of novelty, to note each tiny element. I grew to become acquainted with the atmosphere the best way I’ve memorized the format of my hometown, regardless of by no means having seen it on a map.

After I charted sufficient of the world to be a credentialed tour information, I might spot all the hints that this Earth is our Earth.

A bride takes our heroes to a destroyed city in Nier Replicant.

Image: Toylogic/Square Enix

Time after time

Nier Replicant’s timeframe is so distant from immediately that the world is almost unrecognizable as our personal. Not simply in nature and structure and communities, but in addition within the very evolution of life.

By the 10-hour mark, my compatriots are a speaking guide, a mutilated baby with a Medusa-like curse, and a younger half-demon who wears lingerie and carries a big sword. We meet shadow creatures, large gelatinous sea creatures, and a bottomless cup of bored robots.

This weirdness serves a function. Many post-apocalyptic video games really feel like our world in cosplay — it’s the whole lot we all know and perceive, simply mutilated, decrepit, and extra corrupt. The apparent metaphor of a lot post-apocalyptic fiction is that the top of the world isn’t so completely different from the world of immediately.

But think about if we stepped into a time machine and warped a thousand years past our personal apocalypse. The planet (assuming something’s left) can be incomprehensible, and inhuman by our present notion of “human.” And at its finest, that’s what Nier’s weirdness accomplishes.

Kaine has some words with a Shade in Nier Replicant.

Image: Toylogic/Square Enix

But at its worst, the weirdness will be mean-spirited and grating. One of your celebration members is a hypersexualized younger girl who wears a negligee that goes unexplained for dozens of hours. And the eventual justification is a misstep, with the story flippantly and poorly unpacking the character’s experience as intersex. The aforementioned speaking guide alternates between sounding like a voice-over from a BBC nature documentary and Stewie Griffin, calling girls hussies and making dry jabs at Nier about his life decisions, as if the guide had been swirling a glass of Suntory.

Nier Replicant additionally carries the burden of its predecessor’s reputation. I performed Nier: Automata first, so enjoying Nier Replicant contemporary in 2021 felt akin to studying a author’s first draft. For a fan, that is a deal with, attending to see how creators’ concepts evolve, to see the germs of ideas that can flourish within the completed product. We merely wouldn’t have Nier: Automata with out the game that impressed Nier Replicant. But the remake, even with the polished visuals, refined rating recording, and modernized fight, can’t conceal its aged and shaggy design.

Nier enters a bullet-hell dungeon in Nier Replicant.

Image: Toylogic/Square Enix

With that burden of comparability, Nier Replicant has the duty to serve two audiences. For longtime followers of the unique Nier, this implies the game is being preserved and celebrated. This launch will likely be a masterpiece for them.

For followers who joined the sequence with Automata, Replicant might really feel like an appetizer, feeding the yearning for something new, whether or not it is an MMO enlargement, a gachapon cellular game, or a fancy remake. They will discover some surprises right here, regardless of the nagging sense of déjà vu.

So I return to the caveats. If you’re a fan of the sequence, and you’ll respect the audacity of those decade-old concepts, Nier Replicant is the very best appetizer but for no matter predominant course Square Enix will inevitably serve sooner or later. But for newcomers or informal followers, the caveat stands: Nier Replicant is definitely worth the time, however solely in case you have loads of time to spend.

Nier Replicant will likely be launched April 23 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 5 utilizing a pre-release obtain code offered by Square Enix. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media might earn commissions for merchandise bought by way of affiliate hyperlinks. You can discover extra details about Polygon’s ethics coverage right here.