Nier Replicant is a remaster that’s been a long time coming, with many fans feeling like the original 2010 game, while good, had so much more potential just waiting to be tapped into. At the time, Nier didn’t fare too well critically, with reviewers often citing the clunky combat as a reason to avoid it. Despite this, the action adventure maintained a devoted cult fanbase, but quickly faded into obscurity for everyone else.
However, the surprise announcement of a sequel, Nier Automata, generated a whole new wave of interest for the series, thanks in no small part to its...eye-catching protagonist, YoRHa No.2 Type B (or just 2B for short), an android with a stoic disposition and a peculiar fashion sense.
Thanks to Nier Automata’s surprising success (the game has sold over 5 million copies to date), a true revival of the series suddenly became a very real possibility - and Nier Replicant is the first step in making that a reality. And what a step it is. Due to release four years to the month after Nier Automata first landed on PS4, Nier Replicant is easily one of the best remasters I’ve ever played and sets a whole new standard for the importance of video game preservation.
To be frank, Nier Replicant puts most other remasters to shame. Often it can feel like remasters offer nothing more than slightly upscaled textures, then being thrown onto a current-gen storefront before calling it a day. But Nier Replicant doesn’t settle for that. Instead, it’s entirely raised the bar for how good remasters can be.
The end result of Nier Replicant, then, is a remaster/remake hybrid of sorts. Environments are utterly gorgeous now, with vastly improved textures and lighting across the board. While some of the indoor locales do still look a little bland, the upgrades seen in the overworld and the small towns that dot the map more than make up for this.
Going into Nier Replicant for the first time, my excitement was quelled by an intruding thought, and that’s no fault of the game itself. Rather, it’s a thought I typically get whenever a remaster of a classic game is on the way: what if the game isn’t as great as we once remembered?
Maybe the jump to newer hardware will present entirely new technical problems that weren’t in the original release (I still shudder thinking about the Silent Hill HD Collection). Maybe the remaster will fail to paint over the cracks that show the original’s age.
In the case of Nier Replicant, though, my fears couldn’t have been more misplaced, as the remaster sidesteps these issues entirely by not just being a faithful remaster, but also a careful restoration of an aged piece of art.
Locations are simply more vibrant than before, with a smartly heightened level of contrast that doesn’t go overboard. The Nier Replicant remaster presents a world that’s still bleak and barren, but feels more lived in and as a result, creates the impression that the beauty of the world here is absolutely worth fighting for.
Toylogic also took strides to modernize the game’s combat somewhat. Once again, combat remains faithful to the original game, but feels so much more responsive than it did prior. It’s not mind blowing, and certainly not as flashy as Platinum Games’ work on Nier Automata, but what we do get is an easy-to-understand and snappy combat system that really benefits from 60fps and the general fast pace of traversal.
Faithful to its core
The key areas where the original Nier didn’t need improvements are fully intact in Nier Replicant, too, but somehow even they have been improved upon. The rollercoaster of a story is more impactful than ever, with completely re-recorded voice work for both main characters and NPCs.
Nier Replicant tells a mature, fairytale-esque story with characters who are genuinely good people trying to do right in a hopelessly cruel world. Said characters often struggle with their identities, existentialism and choosing to make morally grey choices. But Nier’s strength is that it’s able to tell a mature story without straying into aimless nihilism, and the refurbished visuals and voice acting hammer this home effortlessly.
Composer Keiichi Okabe and vocalist Emi Evans also revisit their legendary soundtrack, offering cleaned-up rearrangements for what was already one of the most stunning collections of songs ever put into a game.
Now that Nier is a much more revered franchise than it used to be, the Nier Replicant remaster has no small reputation to live up to. Personally, I’m thankful Square Enix didn’t opt for a simple port job. Instead, it clearly saw an opportunity in further developing Nier as a core franchise, and developer Toylogic took that mentality and ran with it.
The most important thing the Nier Replicant remaster gets right is that it knows exactly what it is. It’s not a grand reimagining of the original narrative, nor is it a ‘from the ground up’ kind of remake. On the flipside, it’s not a ‘warts and all’ recreation of the original Nier, either. What Toylogic has crucially recognized is that there’s already a great game in Nier - it’s just one that had a ton of untapped potential.
A remaster for the ages
The Nier Replicant remaster is impressive on two fronts. One, it’s a quality remaster that completely revitalizes a cult classic smartly and respectfully. And two, it’s something of a remake that doesn’t eschew what made the original release so special, and introduces it to a new audience of fans that jumped into the series starting with Nier Automata.
Nier as a whole, then, shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Nier Automata became something of a phenomenon, with its characters making guest appearances in other games (most notably 2B as a DLC character in Soul Calibur 6), as well as a full-blown crossover with Final Fantasy 14. It’s my prediction that the Nier Replicant remaster will cement the series’ yet-young legacy for even more years to come.
Square Enix and Toylogic not only delivered a great experience with Nier Replicant, but they also showed the entire gaming industry that with enough time and an adequate budget that remasters can be just as good - if not better - than full-fledged new releases.
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