We here at Kotaku have been underwhelmed by forthcoming Cavia-made video game Nier Gestalt. We have played it and been bewildered. We have questioned the game's reason for being. So, uh, last time I saw it, I liked it.
Maybe we got this Nier thing all wrong. That was the Olympic-level leap I tried to make a couple of weeks ago in New York when a publicist hired by Square-Enix to showcase Nier invited me to take another look.
First thing we agreed to agree on: Nier isn't an action game. But It sure looked like one. Grizzled protagonist Nier has been running around in Nier demos, including the one I played in bewilderment in Tokyo, with a big sword that slashes enemies, a floating book that can shoot balls of energy, project some red-and-black magic powers, all usable in real-time against enemy soldiers and such. It sure looked like an action game. To correct that mistake, the man showing me Nier two weeks ago in New York loaded up a... town. A town full of quest-givers and people to chat with, all very convincingly role-playing-game-like. Nier can fish and farm , grow flowers and fruits. Yes, yes, very RPG. Let's call it an action-RPG.
I thought this was a third-person game. It is, sort of. But I was shown a little bit of side-scroller perspective - confined to interior sequences and maybe just a visual gimmick for depicting the inside of homes and shops. The game might also be played from a top-down perspective, more like a dungeon-crawler, I was told. But mostly what I saw did indeed appear to be a third-person action game, camera behind our hero.
Camera angles and genre classifications aren't what interest me. No, I began to get intrigued by Nier during my demo in New York once the man showing me the game started explaining how weird the adventure is. I'm a Majora's Mask man. I like my action-RPGs weird.
Gruff and grizzled hero Nier is the father of sick, dying girl Yonah. She appears to be sick from a disease that broke out as a result of a failed cure to another disease. That's rough. Early in the game, she pleads to her dad: "Don't hate me for this disease." That's Daddening of Games material there.
The illnesses have wiped out most of humanity. And while the game appears to take place in some ye old fantasy past, it actually starts with Nier sheltering a sick Yonah in a modern supermarket circa 2049, using a book he has to help fight bad guys. The game then skips forward to the swords-and-magic fantasy scenes you usually see in the game, which are actually set 1300 years in the future - though maybe that's all misdirection and it'll be explained in the game. And there is no time-travelling involved, somehow.
One of the odder things is about the Nier game is that our hero pals around with a sentient book called the Grimoire Weiss. This is the book that is being cursed at in the graphics-free Nier trailer that was released in December. Don't worry, book lovers, this book can fight back. And it has attitude.
For example... when the book and Nier are being assisted in battle by hermaphrodite non-playable character Kaine, Kaine yells at the evil monster they're fighting: "You're going to die today, shit hog." The book chimes in: "Shit hog? Oh, come now, that's not even a real word."
There are conventional aspects about Nier Gestalt. Neir can use swords and spears, and alter his weapons' abilities by applying words to them (OK, that's not conventional). He can summon animals to ride and use impressive magic powers such as Dark Blast, Dark Execution and Dark Fist.
I believe this is Dark Hand:
But if I am going to hop on the lonely Nier bandwagon it's going to be because of the oddities, the fact that a boss battle against the beast you see atop this post turns into a test of bullet-hell reflexes as beads of energy start shooting out of the enemy - as if this is an action game, no, RPG, no... shmup now?
I didn't get to play the game, and I certainly wasn't going to be allowed to understand it. But I was finally able to get that, yes, this is a weird game, intentionally so, but maybe one with both delightful variety, a familiar underling action-RPG structure and that ever-more-relevant emotional hook of being a dad in a video game.
Of course, in the Japanese PS3 version of the game you're not Yonah's dad but Yonah's brother. Hey, that's Nier. The game will be out in late April in the US on the Xbox 360 and PS3. No word yet on whether it will have a demo. But there is word that it's an oddball game and one that we were maybe wrong about then, or maybe I'm wrong about it now. We shall see!