From the swashbuckling mishaps of Nathan Drake in the Uncharted franchise to the marvelous misadventures of Parappa the Rapper, gaming made storytelling interactive and alive. But there's one game title that really shows how well a story can be constructed across multiple playthroughs: Nier Replicant. In particular, I am talking about the remastered version of the original Nier Replicant, Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… (Yes, this is the actual name of the remastered version.)
Famed video game director and connoisseur of obscure masks Yoko Taro created the Action RPG Nier as a spin-off to the Drakengard franchise released on the PlayStation 2, and the story continues later in the sequel Nier Automata. Set one thousand years after the events of the first Drakengard, players take control of a protagonist as they find a cure for someone they love who has succumbed to a disease.
There were two versions of Nier that were released in Japan. First was Nier Gestalt released on April 22, 2010, on the Xbox 360. The second version, Nier Replicant, was released the same day on the PlayStation 3. The two games actually tell the same story, but the protagonists are different. In Gestalt, you play as a father who tries to find a cure for his sick daughter, Yonah. In Replicant, you play as a boy doing the same thing for his younger sister, also named Yonah. The rest of the story stays the same.
That's Japan, but what about the rest of the world? For the rest of us, only the Gestalt version was released, and only on the PS3, on April 27, 2010. This made the original Nier Replicant a Japan-only release and is region locked from the rest of the world.
A decade later, in March 2020, Sony released a teaser trailer on the official PlayStation YouTube channel showing that a remastered version of Nier Replicant would be released worldwide soon. A second trailer at that year's Tokyo Game Show highlighted more of the game’s world while a remade score of the iconic "Kaine: Salvation" played in the background. As someone who played Drakengard on the PS2 a long time ago, goosebumps covered my body as I watched these teasers. For those of us who played Nier Automata first, it was an opportunity to see what the prior game was like and how its story connects to the entire Nier universe.
That remastered version, Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…, was released on April 22, 2021, to celebrate Nier's 10th year anniversary of its release. Once I had a chance to play it, I came to realize how the creators set up the story for a big payoff. I'll minimize the spoilers while I tell you about it, though, so you can enjoy the game and find out what really happened!
The main characters in Nier Replicant display relatable traits over the course of the game's story. The main hero you play in the game, named Nier, voiced by Ray Chase in the English-speaking cast, will do anything to provide for his younger sister Yonah (Heather Hogan) while finding a cure for her disease, the Black Scrawl. Kaine (Laura Bailey), is the tomboyish companion who is half human and faces her literal demon with her Shade half. The Shade are the enemies you encounter throughout the game's world. After having a rough upbringing as a child, Kaine becomes crass and savage while interacting with people, only to have a change of heart and perspective when she joins Nier's team. Emil (Julie Ann Taylor), had it rough when he was transformed from a boy with magical powers to a monstrosity with magical powers as a result of a lab experiment. Fun fact: Emil's head is the official mascot of the Nier franchise. Even Grimoire Weiss (Liam O'Brien), the ancient book which is a key part of finding Yonah's cure, has a few quirks past his pompous personality. Each character has different problems they have to overcome. As the player, you get to see their triumphs and failures as the story progresses and root for them throughout the game.
Yoko Taro really wants players to play the games he creates more than once. You can end the game on the first playthrough or keep going through the multiple endings and see how deep this rabbit hole will go. The real payoff in this story comes with playing more than once to experience different aspects of the same story. The Replicant remaster has five endings: four from the original game and one that's exclusive to the remastered version.
Why go through all the endings? After the first playthrough, you'll probably have more questions than answers and a sense that there are plot holes that need to be filled. The story goes deeper than just finding a cure for the main hero's sister. It expands the game's world and lore as the player goes through each end. Playing through the other endings reveals more of the story, answering those questions left behind on the first playthrough. Even boss fights have more context with their own little backstory included. It may cause you to question why you beat them in the first place. By the final ending, the story comes full circle, and the aim of the game is for the player to really find an emotional attachment as they progress through the game.
With a colorful cast of characters, players can find some similarities and can relate with each of them. Plus, after multiple playthroughs, you can unravel what's really going on in the game's story. As someone who has played the Drakengard series, Nier Replicant has been worth the time to play and replay.
Yoko Taro shared his secrets on what makes a great story in a Platinum Games article. Taro explains that first, storytellers have to find their own emotions. What stirs them internally to create this story? Second, Taro recognizes that players are moved by different things. How can their stories be approached by different audiences who have their own bias or sensibilities? Finally, Taro asks, what does the storyteller want the players to feel as they go through this story? When a storyteller covers these details, players can experience the game at its full potential.
Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Have you tried out the Nier Replicant remaster? What are your favorite games that have a big payoff in their stories by the end?