More than ten years after its original release, cult classic JRPG Nier Replicant is being rebuilt for modern hardware. Debuting on PS3, Nier originally followed a father's quest to cure his ailing young daughter Yonah. Now Nier returns reimagined as a previously Japan-exclusive teen protagonist and his journey to heal Yonah – now his sister – has been extensively retooled.
Nier Replicant producer, Yosuke Saito, tells us, "The base of the story is the same, but the differences in setting change the style and content of dialogue, so I think that the biggest appeal is the difference in emotional experiences."
As for the other changes, Saito says, "I believe that [original director] Yoko Taro was being modest when he decided to call it a Version Up." He elaborates, "Character and background designs were all revamped. […] Some scenarios cut from the original have been added. Character dialogue is now fully voiced, and the popular music has all been given new arrangements and rerecorded… To be honest, I think that it has evolved into so much more than a simple Version Up."
The beautiful, potty-mouthed warrior Kainé gives Nier a lead in his search for a cure. The ruler of the desert kingdom of Façade has been struck down by the same ailment as Yonah, with strange black runes creeping across both sufferers' skin. However when Nier and company arrive in Façade, the first obstacle they face is a language barrier. While attempting to curry favour with the locals and gain an audience with their monarch, the gang trip over their second barrier – the kingdom's thousands upon thousands of rules. These decrees have driven the country's people to inaction in the face of a final third obstacle: their king is dead and the prince has gone missing. Taking off in search of the royal mask in order to claim the throne, the young prince has disappeared into the convoluted and puzzling corridors of the Barren temple.
In the latest in-game demo, the sword-wielding Nier tears around a desertified battlefield, running sharp rings around enemies. As well as Kainé, Nier is accompanied in combat by a wryly chatty book, Grimoire Weiss, who packs a punch from his pages by firing magical projectiles. As various bosses also hurl magical projectiles, Weiss can get hits in while you duck and weave out of harm's way. If the ebb and flow of combat sounds familiar, then you won't be surprised to hear that Replicant and Automata take place in the same universe.
"We have completely redesigned [the combat system], based on the stylish action that was popular in Nier: Automata," Saito tells us. Separated by hundreds of years, each game tells its own story but the two share similar eternal themes. Saito attempts to sum it up in a word, musing, "Love, perhaps? It is expressed in a different way, of course."
Reflecting more generally, he tells us, "We have made as many alterations and refinements as we could think of [to Replicant], so that both players who discovered Nier through Nier: Automata and those who have played the [original game on PlayStation 3] can enjoy it with a fresh mindset."
Replicant was originally intended to be released in time to celebrate the original's ten-year anniversary, but the team overshot this important date in order to make it the very best it could be.
Saito considers, "It is difficult to play the original game nowadays, so we started development because we wanted people to play it. I personally welcome development of titles with this kind of concept," though he adds, "I do not condone the overproduction of [remakes and remasters] just because they cannot be bothered to think of new ideas, however."
Like the thematic threads running through Replicant and Automata, it's clear that a lot of love has gone into this expanded rerelease – well, 'Version Up' … sorry, we mean 'more than a mere Version Up.' (Phew, got there in the end.) We'll fall in love with Replicant in late April this year.