Let's get this out of the way right at the beginning: Nier is one of the hardest reviews I've ever had to write. Before I had even finished the game, it became clear that I would have to explore every last inch of the bizarre RPG to have a chance of nailing this review. Why? Because even after spending nearly 50 hours with the game, I'm still not sure if it was a good one or a bad one. This inability to come to a conclusion looks like it was widespread across the gaming community, as a quick look at Metacritic will show the game receiving every score under the sun, from the high 90s to the low 30s and 40s. Even now, for every one thing Nier blew me away with, there was a corresponding drawback, making this beautiful, strange, hideous game one that is almost impossible to describe, and even harder to slap a score on. But, if you're willing to stick with me, I'll give it a shot.
Nier's first strongpoint is the story it has to tell, though even the narrative isn't consistently great or terrible. The base story revolves around a warrior's quest to save his only daughter from a mysterious illness, but it becomes so much more than that. The game opens in another time, in a ruined city, with the warrior battling off ethereal beasts while his daughter hides in a corner. Before long, the same pair is introduced again, though this time is 1,000 years off from the first and neither seem to have changed at all. It doesn't get any less weird from there. Before long, there are monsters, a talking book with a serious attitude, magic powers and a cast of characters more original and outlandish than any found this side of Konami's Japan-only Crokett!! series. But as strange as things eventually become, it all comes back to the sad, Aesop's Fables-like tale of a man trying to save his only child. As I said, the story, and to a slightly lesser degree, the characters, really are Nier's strongest point, though the game's pacing makes things a bit tough to follow at points. It's very difficult to remained wrapped up in the tale while executing tons of pointless fetch quests and go-here, kill-this, return missions.
Which brings us right to the game's first negative - repetition. To get through this adventure, you will have to do a lot of the same thing over and over and over, which really hurts the overall appeal. You'll spend a good amount of time running lame errands for NPCs and fighting the same auxiliary monsters over and over. This can make the game a chore to play, especially in stretches where the story takes a backseat to these annoying distractions. And revisiting the same areas, areas that were completely awe-inspiring at first glance, diminishes the spectacle a great deal. Floating cities and ancient towers become blah after you've returned four or five times, and it seems like the developers would have had the common sense to see this. Alas, they didn't and it truly drags the whole game backward.
Another negative are the game's visuals. Much has been made of Nier's woefully sub par graphics, and yeah, they are pretty bad. Like Nintendo 64 bad. It can be very distracting that the game's hero has almost cartoonish features and some of the angriest eyebrows in memory, and when you add that to the lame environments, ugly enemies and the most fog this side of Silent Hill, Nier can be a chore to watch in motion. But you know what? I've always said that graphics shouldn't matter, and as bad as they are, I'm just going to move onto Nier's next good point. Practice what you preach and all...