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Nier First Look

Nier is yet another example of Square Enix breaking with tradition. This is a new IP for the current-gen consoles, with a game type that, to my knowledge, the company has yet to attempt – the Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden-like action/adventure.  It has been designed, from the word go, to appeal specifically to a Western audience.  A group of journalists including myself sat down with Yosuke Saito, the title’s executive producer, to get a look at a very early build of the title. I’d like to stress that all of his quotes, naturally, have gone through an interpreter.

The first thing that’s clear is that this really is an early build, so making any estimates of the eventual quality of the title is impossible. The second thing that’s clear is that Nier looks very, very different to other titles of this genre.

The demo opened with a side-on view of a house, with a conversation between protagonist Nier and a girl, presumably his daughter. The first noticeable difference was that it was side-on, which isn’t something you tend to expect from this genre. The second was that there was an RPG-style conversation going on. The third was that Nier is, as Square Enix characters go, really rather old. A lead character, probably in his 30s, with a daughter? Unthinkable!

Once outside, though, the view shifted to the traditional 3D, freely controllable camera. That said, yet another difference became apparent as the external area – the starting village – was wide open, with a vast field. I kid you not: my first thought was of the Hyrule Fields from the Nintendo 64 Zelda game, Ocarina of Time. While it wasn’t nearly that sizeable, it was surprisingly large and spacious.


The camera, we were told, is situational. Most of the time it’ll be the controllable 3D camera, but there are times when it’ll shift to a fixed 2D perspective, particularly when it comes to conversation. Yes, conversation: there look to be a large number of NPCs with whom Nier can converse. We actually saw another example of the 2D camera when one room in an inside area shifted to a top-down perspective; there’s apparently good reason for this, but that reason hadn’t been implemented. I suspect either some sort of mural on the floor, or a block-pushing puzzle. Here’s hoping I’m being needlessly cynical with the latter.

Combat, at least, was more traditional. The giant sword you can see Nier with in all of the art is the first of several weapons he’ll acquire over the course of the game, and blocking, dodging, and a variety of swings and combos are in. There’s also a floating book placed rather prominently in the art, which allows Nier to use magic – bursts of energy fired rapidly out of it in our demonstration. We were told, however, that the book will “allow for the character to use magic […] but it’s not just a tool for magic by any means – it becomes the core of the story,” in Saito’s own translated words. Upgrades to magic and skills will be handled in a way that’s apparently very interesting, although Saito couldn’t comment further.

Even in this early state with plenty of work to be done on the graphics, the environments are gorgeous. The team is apparently putting a lot of emphasis into creating ambience in the indoor locations through use of light and shadow via windows and other light sources, and it shows. The building, which looked to be a library of sorts, was moody and atmospheric.
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The story revolves around Nier, who we’re told isn’t a violent man despite the amount of blood on the art, fighting to find a cure for his daughter. The world has been stricken with a disease that’s corrupting people and turning them into monsters, and it sounds like his daughter has been infected. The art also showcases a mix of modern buildings cr, and se&rsquohs aat aluo show;re told that the story will reveal how these fit together, but again, more specific details were under metaphorical lock and key.

So what we have is an action-adventure game, developed for Western tastes by a Japanese company, that – much like Front Mission Evolved – adds Square’s trademark characters, story, and style to a genre that doesn’t generally feature them. We’re told that we can expect plenty of “added hours” that will take the form of “a lot of other things going on.” RPG-style side quests? Perhaps.

It transpires that the character of Nier came about through a collaboration between a number of sources. Square Enix and cavia, the other company involved in the game, found a Korean illustrator who had created what was described as a “beautiful, amazing work,” and discussions between the illustrator, the directors of the companies, and the US and Europe branches of Square Enix resulted in the finished article. The feedback from the Western offices led Square Enix to the realisation that the typical Square Enix hero, the young, pretty boy, wasn’t the ideal hero in the West, with stronger, powerful heroes taking centre stage. Nier – an older, more muscular character, with a daughter – is Japan’s interpretation of a strong, powerful hero. Personally, I’m just glad they didn’t take the Gears of War route.

Saito’s got a bit of experience with Western games, too. Once again linking this to Front Mission, it transpires that both he and the people he knows at cavia are fans of Call of Duty 4, but more than that, Saito worked as the localisation producer for Tomb Raider 3 of all things. It seems that this what sparked his interest in the differences between the two cultures when it comes to games, with his early conclusions being that Western gamers value a higher difficulty level and better overall game balance than Japanese gamers. He also reckons that we’re potentially more skilled at fast-paced games because of it. (One of the other journalists commented that she found this hard to believe, with Japanese gamers largely forming the hardcore base when it comes to fighting games. “The fighting game is special!” laughed Saito. “That’s something that came out of Japan, like Street Fighter!”)

With Western games becoming more popular in Japan, however  and Saito mentioning FPS games and God of War specifically, he thinks the gap will narrow. This does leave one last question, of course. How does he think Japanese gamers will respond to the Western focus of Nier?

“We haven’t even taken any interviews from Japanese media yet, so we don’t know yet,” Saito laughed, again. “I guess we’ll find out. I’m too scared to look online, so I haven’t done it!”

I suspect that, considering the convergence of the two cultures, this is going to be a very interesting game to watch.


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