thelastsavepoint recommendations – NIER

Arguably the best HD J-RPG of this generation, I’d recommend NIER to any player interested in deep characterization, unusual and well written story, and fresh, ever changing gameplay.

When most gamers talk about the best stories in video games, they usually name blockbusters like Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted. This is weird to me, as these games are obviously pale derivative of some of the most overused movie tropes (Conspiracy Theory Sci-Fi for the former, Indiana Jones and the like for the latter) and don’t bring much to the table in that regard – I don’t know who argues that these games have better stories than the movies they took inspiration from. But NIER is nothing like that. It’s a story you’ve never heard before, a story which makes more sense in a video game that in any other medium – a story that actually takes advantage of the fact it is an RPG – and, more importantly, a great tale that’s intelligently told. NIER is, simply put, one of the best examples of what a story-driven game can be.

As this article is more a recommendation than a review, it feel like I should first remind my readers that this high opinion of NIER is not solely my own. PS3 RPG of the Year for RPGFan, one of the the top 10 RPGs of the decade according to the guys at RPGSite, NIER has become what is called a cult hit, that is a game with moderate commercial success, that most will either love or hate, and that managed to create a strong fan following. If you don’t believe it, see how many people on Siliconera where willing to offer 100, 200$ at Yoko Taro for any new IP in the same vein, in a matter of hours and without any organization or PR, or this board of fans on NeoGAF that’s been going on for two years.

NIER basically plays like a dozen different games mashed together (from Resident Evil to Diablo), although the core mechanics could best be described as Zelda with a Bullet Hell twist. You’ve got your open world, your towns, your dungeons, your fetch quests and your gigantic bosses. You’ve got four unusual (to say the least) main characters and well-written, mature, dialog that feels real. The gameplay is not particularly deep or difficult, but it is refreshing and varied. It obviously comes second next to the fantastic art direction, writing and music, which, as you might have heard, is deemed one of the best, if not the best, OST of all time.

Its not to say that there is nothing remarkable about NIER‘s gameplay. One part that comes together particularly well is the boss battles. Epic, challenging, communicating a sense of urgency and empowerment, NIER‘s boss battles are on par with masters of the art like Demon’s Souls. Much more satisfying in my opinion than those of a Zelda or of a God of War, these battles manage to be an extension of regular gameplay mechanics instead of QTEs and hidden puzzles, and also avoid the pitfall of the too common uninspired mimicking of Shadow of the Colossus.

NIER was pretty much panned by mainstream critics but most of the so-called faults that were pointed out by IGN and the like are nothing compared to how much risks this title takes, and to what it brings to the table. Sure, the production values are not astounding, but, having played this game on PS3 an hour after I was done with Dragon Age, I thought that it actually looked much better. Still, it’s not the same level as, say, Dark Souls and some of the basic monsters design is pretty ugly. The other issue that will always divide critics and fans is backtracking and reuse of assets. If you’d rather power through the game, you’ll be disappointed that, like Resonance of Fate, NIER forces you to the revisit dungeons (albeit, with modifications of course). This is obviously due to budget concerns and it inflates play time while infuriating reviewers who play on a deadline. But NIER has so much to offer story-wise that I’d rather go back to those places to see and hear more story than have these parts altogether cut from the game.

This recommendation will be kept short, as I’d rather not spoil anything about the best parts of the game. You should know where you stand about NIER right now. If you like J-RPGs or story-driven games, then not having played NIER (or Radiata Stories, another game produced by Yosuke Saito) is a crime, as it might become one of your favorite titles. If you’re looking for a great story, great characters, great art direction or music, this game might also be for you depending on your tastes. If you hate backtracking, shoot ’em ups, talking books or female leads who swears like a sailor, then NIER is not for you.

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thelastsavepoint recommandations – Resonance of Fate

I’d recommend Resonance of Fate to anyone looking for a solid turn-based RPG with great character development, a very unique world and precise, innovative combat.

2010 was a great year for J-RPGs,especially for the experimental kinds. Between Nier, FF XIII and Resonance of Fate everybody tried to do something different  with a genre that obviously still has a lot of untapped potential.

Resonance of Fate is made by Tri-Ace, the developper behind Radiata Stories and Valkyrie Profile, and it draws elements from both games. From Radiata Stories, it keeps the light-hearted humor, lovable characters, living (albeit small) world where each NPC has his own evolving routine around the different towns. From Valkyrie Profile 2 : Silmeria, it mainly keeps the strategic combat and the advanced character/weapon customization. Everything is thrown out in a gray postapocaliptic steampunk world to offer a very particular take on the gun-rpg genre.

The combat system may seem at first to contain a lot of action, but it is actually mainly turn-based and asks for very little reflexes. Much more complex than a mere Valkyrie Profile with guns, the game does unfortunately a pretty bad job at explaining the controls. While Radiata Stories introduced each feature of the combat system progressively as you advanced through the story, Resonance of Fate (like Star Ocean : the last hope) throws everything at you right from the beginning – just like the critics wanted – and it does not work at all. If you add to this that the game seems to boast no exploration and to have no story whatsoever (especially during the first chapters) , it would be easy to dismiss Resonance of Fate after a few hours of play. But as soon as you take the game on its own terms and understand how the combat really works you may just start to have the most fun you ever had in recent years during your random encounters.

One thing that is very unique about the battles in Resonance of Fate is that if played right most can be ended in a few turns (even against the biggest bosses) and, in turn, a single mistake will generally mean the battle’s over for you. Conveniently, there is a restart combat option (like FF XIII) that you will probably use a lot. While in Valkyrie Profile endgame battles could last forever with enemies boasting millions of HP, Resonance of Fate does a great job at representing, in turn-based form, fast action-paced gun battles. The fact that the combat system is very complex is now an upside, as it helps you not get bored by doing a hundred battles. The game is very challenging and demands nothing but perfect mastery – you will have a lot of “Eureka” moments when you find a new strategy that works particularly well against a new monster. And that sensation of learning and mastery is very rewarding.

Resonance of Fate also takes a very unique approach to storytelling.The story itself is pretty simple and could easily be summed up in a paragraph or two. It is not your typical “young hero saves the World from a gigantic power hungry demon”, and its casual, non-epic nature is refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, some pretty serious stuff happens (most of the time in flashbacks) but nobody becomes too emotional about it – and the overall plot is not really predictable.

The strength of Resonance of Fate‘s story lies in its characters. A small party of three, that you will learn to intimately know as they try to survive in the dystopian city-tower of Basel. Always laughing, never complaining even when faced with their tragic past, Vashyron, Zephyr and Leanne make for a lovable cast. Like in Deadly Premonition and Xenosaga, casual scenes such as eating breakfast and jaw dropping plot twists go hand in hand.

Now the game is far from being perfect, but in my experience the pros exceeded the cons. As a disclaimer, I’m not particularly bothered by reused assets and, like Nier (another great J-RPG of 2010), Resonance of Fate was obviously built on a budget and reuses a lot of enemies and environments. Reused assets are kind of a deal breaker for critics who would rather power through the twenty games they have to review each month, but for me that just means more way I can spend more time enjoying a game I enjoy. Granted, optional missions sometimes ask you to battle the same enemy three or four times in a row but if you like the combat system then you don’ t mind spending a lot of time in it – especially when battle is an opportunity to hear more dialog between the characters. It also helps that the game has a very non linear structure so you can keep a mission for later if you’re tired of a particular boss. Apart from the tutorial that could have been much better, one can also regret the game’s deemphasis on exploration – a part Valkyrie Profile had really nailed with its 2D dungeons. The unlocking system of the World Map (yes, there is a World Map !) is pretty addictive and replaces the traditional exploration of dungeons and other battle areas. But it’s certainly not the same. Finally, the postgame is pretty disappointing especially coming from Tri-Ace who practically invented post game dungeons.

If you like turn based, highly strategic and precise combat, and are not afraid of a 18 pages tutorial, Resonance of Fate could keep you entertained for 80+ hours easily. Tri-Ace made a really unique, inventive and experimental RPG that manages to create a very special atmosphere while leaving a lasting impression.