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The Subtle Brilliance of Choice in Square Enix’s ‘Nier: Replicant’

This article was written by Justin Charity and originally published by The Ringer. Read the full article here.

“More than a millennia into the future, NieR: Replicant ver. 1.22474487139… finds humanity in a sad, strange, and irreconcilable state. The world is filled with rust, ruins, sickness, and monsters. Replicant follows Nier, a young warrior tending to his younger sister, Yonah, who suffers a debilitating illness known as ‘the black scrawl.’ Seeking a cure, Nier explores a countryside overrun with ethereal creatures known as Shades. They’re led by the mysterious Shadowlord, who is determined to overrun the last few villages in this emaciated civilization. In his travels Nier also recruits a few crucial allies: the brooding vagabond Kainé; the friendly boy Emil; and a snobby, levitating, anthropomorphic tome, Grimoire Weiss, which grants Nier magical powers. Together, Nier, Weiss, Kainé, and Emil must rescue Yonah and defeat the Shadowlord, vanquishing the Shades once and for all.

As a fantasy concept, Replicant, the Square Enix RPG out Friday for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and on Steam sounds simple and familiar enough. It’s a young warrior’s open-world quest to save a loved one and purge evil from a world on the brink. But Replicant twists this premise into devious contortions. For one, there’s a certain shonen angst which distinguishes the characters in these games. The game knows you’re nostalgic for Zelda but also knows you’re spoiling for a more mature outlook on love and war. So Nier draws copious amounts of blood and dark magic in battle. Kainé fights in a nightgown and unleashes obscenities upon friends and foes; Kainé calls Weiss ‘a little bitch,’ and Weiss, with equal affection, takes to calling Kainé a ‘hussy’ There’s a prevailing sincerity and abiding innocence in the more precious characters, such as Yonah and Emil, but otherwise Replicant grinds Nier and his allies to bitter extremes.

Beyond the tone of storytelling and characterizations, there’s also the structure: nested endings which require the player to commit to playing the game multiple times, with new knowledge and assets, before they’ve experienced it in full. In the era of cinematic video games, Replicant is a treasure. There are cinematic video games that frog-march the player through a story and more or less disregard the player’s choices along the way. There are ‘moral choice’ games that process, but trivialize, such decisions as a conversational gimmick, with blunt, uninteresting consequences. And then there’s Nier, a series that keeps you second-guessing your own role and decisions in the story.”

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