A man is bent on saving his daughter from a mysterious virus called the Black Scrawl. On his quest matches words to power up his weapons, cultivates a garden, and is allied with an intersex individual. Nier is… unusual. To find out more about their enigmatic title, we spoke with the development team at Square Enix.
How did the concept for Nier start?
Square Enix is known around the world as a great RPG developer with several notable franchises, but even with our variety of titles, we did not have any games that had a strong action element. Because of this, we wanted to design a game that featured action and combat as core elements of the game, and those elements should work hand-in-hand with our RPG and story-telling expertise as well as magical abilities to create a unique gaming experience unlike anything in our lineup. Just as we were pondering where to begin, Cavia, creators of the Drakengard series, approached with an idea that was close to what we had envisioned.
Cavia’s concept of the game included the action elements we were looking for, and their initial story concept really touched a nerve; it seems that the news these days is full of so many sad stories about families in ruin, about parents murdering their children, and vice versa. At least in this game, we wanted a strong story the showcased of a family who protect each other no matter what, against impossible odds in order to try and attain a happy ending. Although, this is a game, so not everything will be as it seems.
What other games inspired it?
We learned a lot about game progression and game play controls from our Kingdom Hearts series and took inspiration for some of our melee combat action from other successful games in the action genre.
Nier’s story is shrouded in mystery, but we’d like to know more about it. What can you tell us?
Besides that “Nothing is as it seems?” :) We have been VERY careful about what we reveal about the story and how we talk about it, because the story is especially important to the enjoyment and experience of this game – more so than most other games, frankly. It’s kind of like if you went to see The Sixth Sense and while you were standing in line to buy popcorn, some dude told you that Bruce Willis is dead from the beginning. After you finished strangling that person, you’d still go see the movie, but the twists and turns and surprises would be somewhat dulled. BTW – we do NOT advocate strangling those who blab spoilers. Just shun them. Also we apologize if you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense. Don’t shun us.
Seriously though, the core story in NIER is that somewhere in the near future, a plague ravages the earth and is wiping out humanity. Society is on the verge and in their desperation to save us, scientists discover and implement what they think will be a cure. Unfortunately, their “cure” only makes things worse. It brings about an even worse disease called The Black Scrawl. Their cure also gives birth to dark and mysterious monsters called Shades that terrorize the world, attacking and killing survivors and driving humanity even further towards to the brink. What we know as our society crumbles.
1,300 years later we find our hero Nier and his daughter Yonah living in a small village, living in fear of The Black Scrawl and Shades. What we knew of our world – huge cities, highways and other grand accomplishments of humankind, are just ruins and faded memories. Unfortunately for Nier, Yonah finds herself stricken with The Black Scrawl, a certain death sentence.
The story of the game narrows its focus down to the intimate tale of a father saving his daughter, no matter the cost. We follow his plight to learn about The Black Scrawl and how to beat it, which leads him to all kinds of other discoveries. While finding a cure for Yonah might save the world from this disease, Nier’s focus is entirely on his most precious possession, his daughter. The power of that relationship, the desperation of his need to save her, and his total commitment to the journey he will take to do anything to protect her are what make the story of NIER so compelling.
This overview leaves a lot of questions open of course. What was this cure that made things worse? What is the Black Scrawl? What are Shades and where did they come from? Who is Nier? Why are there talking books? All of that… we can’t discuss. But I can say – what you think you know will be turned on its head, and then turned again. The game keeps you guessing nonstop.
I do want to add, however, that this is a sophisticated story, full of cliffhangers and twists and turns, aimed at mature gamers who are looking for more from their game stories than “there’s an evil man/species who wants to dominate you, go kill him/them!” The story will challenge you to try and decipher its secrets, which is why we are so secretive about the details.
We keep hearing that "nothing is what it seems." I suppose there is at least one major plot twist. How big is it compared to other video game stories?
It’s fair to say that there is at least one major plot twist, with the emphasis on “at least.” The turns in the story are significant. Part of the story is obviously your mission to save Yonah, but also to discover what The Black Scrawl is and why Shades are terrorizing the population. The final answer to that remains up in the air a long time, and what you think you know is blown apart by revelations further in the game. The game is designed to reveal its secrets slowly, and even then, it is being created with the thought that if you really want to understand the story and the truth behind all of this, it will require more than one play-through.
How is combat in Nier different from other 3D action games?
Well, it’s different from other action games in that it is an Action-RPG. :) Seriously though, the game includes elements you would traditionally find in an RPG – like the ability to cast both offensive and defensive magic spells; the ability to alter your weapons, martial arts and magic (at any time, and as many times as you like) with a rune-type system to give yourself buffs or apply weaknesses to your enemies; and the ability to develop your character in a unique way.
All of these elements come together – layered on top of the very fun, core hack-and-slash mechanic you find in typical “action” games — to create a system that is customizable, flexible and fun. You can play around until you find a combination of “Word” buffs, magic load-out and equipment that suits your play style. You can even alter these settings PER ENCOUNTER – changing your weapons, buffs and magic spells depending on what you are facing like, Shades, animals, armor, magic… whatever. For example, I like to play with a lot of ranged spells to clear out the riff-riff and then charge in with melee and AoE spells. So I have customized my weapon load-out and buffs to support this strategy.
We’ve seen a lot of Nier fighting, but there are farming and fishing games too. Can you tell us about those?
Nier can swing a sword with the best of them, it’s true, but farming and fishing are also an integral part of the game. NIER is not a linear “action” game, it’s definitely more in line with the open-ended RPGs gamers have become familiar with. You aren’t FORCED into moving the main story along according to a predetermined pace or path, you can actually take time and explore the world, learn more about the back story, and find and accept tons of side quests from NPCs in the various villages and towns around the world. Because of this, Nier has a home life, beyond fighting monsters to find a cure for his daughter.
Nier will be able to manage a garden outside of his home, planting flowers, vegetables and fruits that he can grow and harvest. This will require the player to pay attention to their gardens and make sure they are getting what they need to grow and produce. In a more functional description, by growing these items, the player will gain access to seeds and other products that can be taken to town and sold for money, which could then in turn be taken to purchase a new weapon, or a new upgrade, for example. So while, yes, it’s a nice diversion, there is obviously a gameplay initiative here – the player that grows more and sells more will have an advantage over one that ignores this gameplay.
Fishing works in much the same way – you will travel to the Seaside and learn how to fish as part of a quest chain. You can then catch fish at lakes and beaches in the world. As you increase your skill, you will catch eve more and more rare creatures, which can be sold at markets in the world for money.
Both Fishing and Cultivating will help Nier on his main quest. They also are part of several side quests. And if you get really good at them, you will be able to grow and catch super rare items which will not only bring in lots of cash, but will be an Achievement in and of themselves.
Nier is being marketed in North America with trailers just of Kaine swearing. Why is the game being marketed in such an unusual way?
The Kaine teaser trailer in December certainly grabbed attention. A couple things on that right up front: first, this video was a “teaser” trailer, meant to generate interest in the updates that followed. Second, NIER is a game that doesn’t hold back. Some people have been surprised at the content and attitude of this Square Enix game, but it is right in line with the Company’s commitment to deep storylines and fascinating characters. This “video” got that point across pretty quickly.
From a more marketing/PR strategy point of view, this video did the one thing it was supposed to do – get people talking — really well. A character (known to be a hermaphrodite) screaming at a book (yes, an actual book) with obscenities and fury about a “Shadowlord” and being the Shadowlord’s “bitch”… well let’s just say gamers didn’t know what to think. And that idea – not knowing what to think — is a core concept within NIER and one of the most interesting aspects of this title – you just don’t know what to think about anything, ever. The game challenges you with its twisting storyline, its unusual characters and even its constantly switching gameplay perspective to continuously rethink what you think you know about it. You might think you have an idea of what’s happening, but until you finish the game, it’s unlikely you’re right. So that Kaine teaser was meant to start those questions, get people wondering what was happening, and it did a great job with that. We’re more than happy to have fans guessing.
Whether people loved or hated it – and we definitely had both sides of the reaction represented wholeheartedly – the teaser made a lot of people take a look at NIER for maybe the first time and wonder if it was something they would be interested in. Those who were somewhat familiar took a second look and were somewhat confused.
Speaking of Kaine, she received a lot of attention for being a hermaphrodite. How did that idea come about?
Yes, Kaine is a hermaphrodite. And no, it is not as big of a deal overseas as it is here in the States. The development team spent a lot of time putting deep back stories into each and every character. Kaine’s history is full of pain and suffering, of division and conflict. The fact that she is a hermaphrodite fit into her character naturally and played a role in who she becomes when this game takes place. The team didn’t intend for this to become a “salacious” detail that forums and message boards would discuss endlessly, but instead to be a key piece of who she is and why she is the why she is.
Nier himself is an interesting character because there are two Niers. Was the Nier in Nier Gestalt was designed with the West in mind?
In some ways, yes. Certainly an older, more gruff hero character fits in with the Western archetype for a hero, both in action games and in RPGs. A father saving his daughter is a very compelling story that will draw in gamers, no matter where they are from and how old they are. I think in terms of gameplay, as well, there are a lot of things in there that will make Western gamers say, “This isn’t what I expected from an RPG developed in Japan… this reminds me of Fable or Oblivion…” Appealing to a wider audience is always a good decision.
Our NIER in North America for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is exactly the same game as Nier Gestalt for Xbox 360 in Japan. The only other version of the game is Nier Replicant only for PlayStation 3 and ONLY in Japan. The only difference between these two versions is the main character. In NIER and Nier Gestalt Nier is a father saving his daughter while in Nier Replicant a much younger Nier is a brother saving his sister.
How different are the storylines? Do they intersect at all?
The stories are exactly the same, other than the main character Nier who is younger in Replicant. There are obviously some minor script alterations to make the dialogue work, but aside from that, the story, characters, gameplay and experience are exactly the same.
Are there any plans to bring Nier: Replicant to North America?
Not at this time. As I said, the games are essentially the same.
Do you view Nier as a new Square Enix series?
Of course! WE would love for people to think of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest for RPG’s, and Kingdom Hearts and Nier for Action RPG’s. We would love to have that type of support from the fans out there!