NieR Replicant is… tough to explain. The original NieR was a 2010 PS3 game, the sequel to one possible ending of the 2003 PS2 game Drakengard. Replicant is a not-quite remaster, not-quite remake of that 2010 game, which exists in large part due to the success of 2017’s NieR: Automata – which was set in the aftermath of one of NieR’s endings – offering fans of the newer game a chance to explore its overlooked roots. Confused yet?

While both this modern take and the original dropped players into a strange post-apocalyptic world, the PS3 version of NieR also had a different version released in the west, with an adult protagonist protecting his ailing daughter. Replicant marks the first western appearance of the original Japanese version, with an anime-typical teen instead protecting his younger sister, who has been afflicted by a mysterious disease.

This is caught between remaster and remake – it can’t escape the flaws of the original’s structure.

The problem is, Automata was already designed as an improvement on the raw materials of NieR, and even with developer Toylogic overhauling the visuals and, more noticeably, the combat, Replicant still feels like a step backwards. It’s a game mired in not just its own history, serving primarily to provide interactive lore to Automata fans, but in real-world gaming history, a relic of a period where “brown and muddy” was the aesthetic du jour and gameplay was still too often linear.

Toylogic has done a fantastic job in recreating the ruined world Nier and his sister Yonah inhabit, taking it from an expanse of nebulous brown to a more wondrous, detailed world built on the ruins of our own. It’s still largely empty, essentially a vast field connecting scattered human villages, but now it has a touch of Shadow of the Colossus’ lonely beauty to it.

However, with the game not being a ground-up rebuild – the “ver.1.22474487139…” of Replicant’s full, unweildy title hints at this, being the square root of 1.5, a subtle acknowledgement that this is caught between remaster and remake – it can’t escape the flaws of the original’s structure. Much of the game is spent running between outposts doing chasing fixed objectives, while dungeons are essentially linear challenges. It all feels very dated.

NieR: Replicant

One aspect that really shines though is the improved combat, now smoother, faster, and more akin to Automata’s. Initially sword focused, Nier gains magical abilities from partnering with a talking book called Grimoire Weiss, allowing you to chain up-close melee attacks with a variety of ranged mystic arts. You won’t be racking up quite the mega-combos of Automata, but flicking between sword slashes and magic is satisfying, even if the rafts of overly similar enemies aren’t.

The system is also nicely customisable to preferred play style, with spells such as Dark Blast firing off a constant stream of magic missles, allowing you to focus on distant crowd control against hordes of enemies, or Dark Hand further emphasising physical encounters with its giant spectral arms to slam down opponents in the area. Skills can be further customised with magic words, dropped by downed foes, and which add modifiers to the spells, weapons, or martial arts they’re equipped to.

Although there’s an experimental streak to Replicant, treating players to sections that dabble with gaming genres as diverse as platforming or bullet hell shooters, it ultimately lacks the frenetic nature and wild inventiveness of Automata. It is, again, the age of the source material showing itself. With the original NieR being comparatively niche, it was never going to get the lavish treatment that Final Fantasy VII Remake enjoyed, but despite the combat and visual upgrades, this still feels constrained by the limits of the PS3 over a decade ago. Ultimately, this will be a delight for any long-term fans of the franchise, but anyone who was drawn into this strange gaming universe via Automata will feel like they’ve taken a massive step backwards.

Buy NieR: Replicant from Amazon.

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