NieR Re[in]carnation Review – The Past Life Was Probably Better

    Title: NieR Re[in]carnation
    Developer: Applibot
    Release Date: July 28, 2021
    Reviewed On: Android
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Genre: Mobile, Gacha, RPG

It’s fair to say that Yoko Taro has long since acquired the attention of a massive fanbase in 2021. Going from developing extremely niche, broken games for over a decade to creating NieR:Automata (and selling six million copies) was already an impressive, lightning-in-a-bottle feat.

Automata appeared on several Game of the Year lists and finally established its creator as a noteworthy figure in the Japanese game development sphere. So, when we found out that we were getting two NieR titles this year – a remaster of the original game, Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139, and a brand-new mobile title, NieR Re[in]carnation – I think many fans took one look at the latter and went, “huh, I wonder what that’ll be like?”.

And the answer to that question is, unfortunately, a mixed one. Starting with the positives, Re[in]carnation looks gorgeous for a mobile game. The title actually contains adjustable graphics settings so that it can be played on more than just high-end devices. Still, it manages to genuinely look like a PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 era game in the palm of your hand.

NieR Reincarnation 5

And thankfully, the distinct visual stylings of Automata were carried over here – an intentionally dry, monochrome interface, a color scheme that goes largely neutral to make standout colors pop more, and a very gloomy, solitary atmosphere. The soundtrack in battles is excellent and also sounds very much like Automata. However, the music used for the 3-D field sequences is pretty repetitive and doesn’t change often enough for my liking. It’s quiet, but the loop is not particularly long.

Unfortunately, the presentation is pretty much where purely positive observations about this title end. The gameplay is nice visually but completely uninspired on pretty much all fronts. Re[in]carnation is an auto-battler in the sense that standard attacks are performed automatically, and the player has input over the timing of special commands. However, fights are made much worse by a combination of other design decisions.

NieR Reincarnation 1

The most pronounced factor is, of course, the gachapon. While I’m not categorically opposed to gachapon titles, NieR Re[in]carnation is irritatingly stingy – as of Chapter 8 of the main story, I have pulled over a hundred times without spending money, and I have yet to gain a single four-star character at a point where my team of three-stars is collectively at max level and about to be overtaken by the artificially-increasing difficulty.

The character progression is simple to the extent of feeling unsatisfying – while your characters get experience points from combat, it’s an exceedingly negligible amount, and almost all of the points they get are going to be from you pumping hundreds of booster items into them. Moreover, though the boosters are plentiful, this system quickly devolved to an extremity where I felt like I was just trying to make numbers go up alongside not feeling particularly attached to any of the characters I was using.

NieR Reincarnation 3

And the reason I wasn’t attached is that the scenario writing is rather hit-and-miss. Most of the main story chapters don’t actually advance the plot meaningfully. Instead, they utilize the 3-D environments as literal hallways between fights and short stories about the characters found in the gachapon. These narratives have the potential to be engaging, but they’re so brief (and bug out so frequently) that even though I was occasionally emotionally affected by these grim tales, the fact that the characters aren’t even explicitly named in them made it difficult to like any individual cast member.

And by the halfway mark, those 3-D environments become nothing more than padding between fights of ever-increasing difficulty. The vast, open spaces from the first few chapters start being replaced by elevators that stop several times before their destination to force you into more meaningless battles, and the environments become stale and monotonous. By Chapter 7, I was just hitting the auto-move button every time a fight was over because I didn’t care enough to keep looking at the aforementioned dull setting.

NieR Reincarnation 2

There is prospective success in this game as an evolving creation of its writer. Taro has never handled a story that continued beyond launch day, and what little plot is in Re[in]carnation so far is basic but has plenty of room to grow and expand into a weird yet wonderful experience. Still, it’s going to need to evolve past the extremely standard auto-battler it currently exists as. Admittedly, it’s just difficult to admit that a game I still kind of like at the end of the day might have been better as a “walking simulator.”

Review copy purchased by outlet or reviewer

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