Movie Review: The Advent Calendar, 2021 - ★★★★★
Previous Authors in Isolation: Interview with Dominic Watson
Welcome one and welcome all to the second part of my top ten list for 2021, counting down through some of the best and brightest games to have come out during the past year, all whilst trying to explain why each one of them became a personal favourite of mine! In my first article, we looked at some truly spectacular experiences, from Housemarque’s AAA gem Returnal to KitFox Games’ indie masterpiece Boyfriend Dungeon. You can get caught up and read all about both of those games —and more— right *here* if you’d like to, but rest assured that we’ve got plenty more games to talk about here in part 2, so be sure to stick around!
As I stated last time: It honestly blows my mind that 2021 turned out to be such an incredible year for high-quality game releases in spite of the pandemic, which continues to cause so many problems for development teams worldwide. I think it really demonstrates just how much passion has been put into each and every one of these projects, for them to still end up so heartfelt and polished in the face of all these setbacks.
Me personally? I genuinely couldn’t be more grateful; If it weren’t for this level of developer enthusiasm, none of the SassyGamers writing team would be here today, getting to talk about these incredible projects, nor would we be getting the opportunity to indulge in our favourite pastime of gaming at all! I feel well and truly blessed to be able to put Covid out of my mind from time to time and just game the day away.
There is one thing however that I’d really like to point out before we get back into the swing of things. Whether it’s an honourable mention or my number one Game of the Year, all of these experiences meant so much to me. Putting them into any distinct order was an intensely difficult endeavour and it just wouldn’t be fair to say that certain games on the list are simply better than others. They’re all amazing games and whilst I did enjoy some more than others, (it couldn’t be an ordered list otherwise), I still recommend you check out each and every one of these titles if they appeal to you, regardless of where they may have placed for me personally.
Now, whilst we may only have five games to talk about today, I do intend to discuss them in far greater detail than our first article, so I shall not delay any longer; Let’s get straight to it!
#5 – The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes
Who here remembers Until Dawn? I know I do! 2015 was a big year for Supermassive Games as it saw this relatively inconsequential development team move away from the smaller projects that they were known for. Up until then, they’d worked on such games as LittleBigPlanet spin-off title “SackBoy’s Prehistoric Moves”, the licensed game “Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock” and the PS3 port of “Killzone HD”, but 2015 saw them head towards the spotlight with a new high budget horror IP —backed by Sony, no less— in the form of Until Dawn.
As most of you will already be aware thanks to my Ominous October Spookathon event, I’ve been a die-hard fan of horror games ever since I played Eternal Darkness on the Nintendo GameCube as a child, with Resident Evil: Deadly Silence further solidifying my love of the genre only a few years later. Well, I think it’s time to stress exactly how far down the rabbit hole of horror I’ve gotten over the years since then.
Survival Horror games are some of my favourite experiences in the world. Supernatural horror movies like the Japanese Ju-On: The Curse / The Grudge series? Love them! Horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead? Perfect! Even horror-themed books and manga such as the many works of Junji Ito appeal to me, as I truly cannot think of a single medium of horror that fails to satiate my appetite for scares. 80’s Slasher flicks in particular have always held a special place in my heart though, thanks to so many examples of the subgenre managing to perfectly hit that “so bad it’s good” sweet spot between corniness and perfection.
Upon learning that Until Dawn would lean heavily into that special Slasher flick theming, I was extremely excited. To discover that they’d also be trying to evolve upon the decision-based storytelling that Telltale Games had been wowing audiences with at the time; Well that was just an extra added bonus that bolstered my excitement even more. Thankfully, none of that enthusiasm was misplaced; Though some critics found the QTE-focused core gameplay to be rather uninspired, I adored Until Dawn and everything it had to offer, especially its well-developed and lovable teen cast of overly dramatic characters.
Then… Nothing. I held out hope for a second game in the style of Until Dawn for a couple of years but nothing really came up. There was an on-rails shooter spin-off a year later in the form of Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, with an official prequel called The Inpatient a couple of years after that, but with both titles being PSVR exclusive I had no way to experience them.
From the playthroughs I watched online, both of these PSVR titles were very different from Until Dawn and they were rather lacking when it came to content, so I wasn’t overly sad that I’d missed out on them… Just a little disappointed. Supermassive put out a detective game in the same style as Until Dawn in 2017, known as Hidden Agenda, but an extreme lack of marketing lead the game to completely pass me by. It seemed like Until Dawn was just a diamond in the rough and that nothing else quite like it would be coming out anytime soon…
That was until 2019, with the release of The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan. It was everything I wanted out of a spiritual successor to Until Dawn. Amazing twists and turns, loud frightening jump scares, fun yet compelling characters, plenty of decisions that changed the story’s flow, and an in-depth second game mode that let you experience an alternative perspective of the story, placing you in the role of the second player from the game’s cooperative mode, but as singleplayer content instead! Better yet, it hinted at an overarching storyline that could be followed up on in sequels, told through effective use of its mysterious guiding character: The Curator.
Man of Medan was followed a year later by The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope, demonstrating once and for all that the quality of its predecessor was not just a fluke. Little Hope featured graphical enhancements, a refined camera control system, an even more elaborate cast of characters, and a story that completely caught me off-guard, bringing tears to my eyes towards the end of its tale. I consider it to be my unexpected Game of the Year for 2020, so my expectations were at an all-time high when House of Ashes was subtly announced within Little Hope’s end credits sequence.
Fast forward another year to 2021 and The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes was finally upon us. It’d been a long road of both disappointments and satisfactions ever since Until Dawn kick-started this journey, but I’m pleased to say that House of Ashes is an absolute triumph as both an immersive horror story and an impressively branching narrative. I don’t quite hold it to the same calibre as Little Hope, though I feel that’s exclusively due to my personal preference towards ghostly supernatural settings over visceral monster stories.
I’d certainly say there is room for improvement within House of Ashes. The camera controls felt a little floaty in this entry, although the weighty and well-animated movement of each character still left the game feeling good to control. I also encountered a couple of framerate issues in the more open environments towards the start of the game, which shouldn’t have occurred given the quality of my gaming rig… Yet again though, these were very fleeting issues which, (from what I’ve heard), were fixed quite quickly in some of the game’s earliest patches.
Initially, I must say that I found the story to be a bit too reminiscent of the gung-ho military attitudes found amidst the colonial marines of the movie ‘Aliens’, which felt particularly grating and inappropriate given that the game deals with the immoral real-world conflict found within the 2003 invasion of Iraq… Thankfully, as the story continued and each character grew, the military propaganda was hastily given the boot, with each playable character explicitly evolving past their racism. I can’t think of a single instance of pro-military propaganda or racism that wasn’t retroactively called out in clear-cut detail.
All in all, those are the only gripes I have about the entirety of House of Ashes. A slightly floaty camera, some minor framerate issues that have already been fixed, and an initially worrying story-beat that turned out to serve a very important purpose further into the experience. If that’s the full extent of what I can find to complain about, then it’s probably a pretty good sign!
Previously I would have recommended The Dark Pictures Anthology series to just about anybody interested in genuine scares, phenomenal stories, and decision-based gameplay, and it feels great that I can continue to do so, knowing that each entry to date has managed to hit such a high level of quality. I cannot wait to experience the fourth entry, “The Devil In Me”, towards October of next year!
#4 – DELTARUNE Chapter 2
Kinda feels like I’m cheating here, but… Here we go anyway. It’s pretty safe to say that just about everybody loves Undertale. It broke ground in 2015 for many reasons, not least of which was the fact that it was positively dripping with charisma. From Toriel to Papyrus, through Sans, Undyne, and Alphys, every single one of Undertale’s characters was lovable at the peaks of their humour and the depths of their solemnity.
Being as content-rich as it was, Undertale managed to be equal parts hilarious and hopeful in its completely pacifistic campaign, yet distressing and full of despair in its genocide route. Regardless of how you experienced it though: Undertale had a lot to offer with its unique blend of both Bullet Hell gameplay and traditional RPG exploration.
Then, on 2018’s most frightful of nights, Halloween, Undertale developer Toby Fox unexpectedly released an application that could be downloaded for free from his website, simply titled SURVEY_PROGRAM.exe. This mysterious survey application was marketed as having some sort of long-running implications on the future of Undertale’s sequel, but filling it all out led fans to a very pleasant surprise: DELTARUNE.
DELTARUNE was a 2 to 4-hour long spiritual successor / parallel universe story / potential sequel to Undertale, featuring a huge cast of characters both old and new. The RPG mechanics had been further developed to feature a far more traditional turn-based combat system whilst retaining all of the glory of Undertale’s Bullet Hell inspirations. Furthermore, the pacifist / genocidal alternate playthroughs were still in place, leading to a well rounded new experience that satisfied the desires of the entire fandom.
Only one problem stood in the way: A cliffhanger ending. For just under three years the audience waited with bated breath until —just as abruptly as the initial survey program— DELTARUNE Chapter 2 was released. So, okay… Technically speaking it isn’t a full game, but given that it offers a full six-hour experience for a single playthrough, I’d say it’s an acceptable entry for my top ten list. With that kind of length and a plentiful amount of side content to be found between its opening scene and its end credits, I’d happily argue that Chapter 2 definitely feels like a full game in and of itself, even if it may only be the second chapter of a larger experience.
DELTARUNE Chapter 2 is magnificent. Since we’ve got to start somewhere, let’s begin by talking about the game’s combat. Every single combat encounter in Chapter 2, much like Chapter 1 and Undertale before it, feels carefully handcrafted with a focus on variety being placed at the forefront. There are a lot of different enemy types to face here, each with its own distinct attack patterns which you can learn to avoid, (and even profit from!), through the process of trial and error.
Some of these fights challenge your dexterity through particularly difficult dodging sequences against singular enemies, whilst others play on your logic by having you deduce how best to act in the face of several enemies at once, as each of their different attacks mesh together and occur at the same time. Numerous different abilities are offered up to you depending on the enemy types you’re facing, meaning that encountering the same enemy combinations, (rare though it may be), never leads to the exact same fight.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of new equipment types to be found throughout the Dark World, heavily strengthening the RPG side of the experience and allowing you to customize your team in whichever ways you’d like. I’d argue that this is a pretty important feature given the number of new and unusual bosses that are on offer here. It’s a fun gameplay experience all around, granting you so many new options that prevent the journey from ever becoming stale.
With all that said, Undertale and DELTARUNE Chapter 1 were both defined by their narratives above all else, and that’s no different here, so let’s dive in with some spoiler-free discussion! The second leg of this adventure sees Kris, Susie, Lancer, and Ralsei all return to the Dark World, this time more determined than ever to seal a newly corrupted Dark Fountain… There are plenty of new side characters to encounter along the way but Chapter 2 shines best when it starts expanding upon some of Chapter 1’s more insignificant characters; Growing and shaping them into main characters in their own right.
Furthermore, the story is tonally positive at almost every turn thanks to its great sense of humour, which absolutely lives up to the expectations set by its forerunners. From secret dog jokes to unexpected dance-offs, DELTARUNE Chapter 2 knows exactly how to tickle your funny bone, particularly through the use of its wonderful new primary antagonist: Queen.
It may not all be positive vibes, laughter, and fun gameplay, given that the story does take itself seriously from time to time, in order to allude to a larger behind-the-scenes plot-line. But it’s important to mention that even when the going gets tough: DELTARUNE Chapter 2 does remain enjoyable. With seemingly 5 more chapters still to come, (if the chapter select screen is anything to go by), I’m very excited to see what the remainder of DELTARUNE has in store for us.
#3 – Life is Strange: True Colours + Wavelengths DLC
I adore Life is Strange. It may not be my favourite video game series of all time but I struggle to think of any other franchise that has moved me quite as much as this one… Come to think of it: I’m not talking exclusively about video games either. I feel that way across television shows, movies, books, and just about every other kind of media that springs to mind, too. No story has moved me quite as much as any given part of Life is Strange…
As an LGBTQ+ individual in more ways than one, who has a variety of mental health issues and a huge passion for all things geeky; Life is Strange has been consistently relatable for me personally, and I truly cannot voice my appreciation for it enough. The series on the whole has helped me through some extremely difficult parts of my life and I’d say it has served just as much as emotional therapy as it has as entertainment for me.
January 30th, 2015 marked the release of the very first episode of the original Life is Strange, and it wasn’t long after its launch that I began my first playthrough. I was going through an awful lot at the time between a failing long-term relationship and a constant internal debate over whether or not I should give up trying to attain an apprenticeship and enroll at college. I was also starting to see more and more differences between the ways that other people thought, felt, and acted when compared to myself, resulting in some basic understanding that I had autism.
Alongside all this, I was finally learning the terminology to express that I was, (and am), a transgender woman, which in turn led to me learning more and more about LGBTQ+ identities. Whilst this education helped me greatly and shaped my life forever, it also caused something of a personal crisis in me as I realized that the label of bisexuality —which I had related to for so long— had been inaccurate, as I related far more to the label of pansexuality, (romantic, emotional and sexual attraction to people regardless of their gender identity), and had been misunderstanding my own attractions for a long, long time.
Throw in a growing mix of mild depression and severe Social Anxiety Disorder and you’ve got yourself an extremely conflicted and damaged young woman. To make matters worse, I was keeping just about every single aspect of what I was struggling with bottled up inside of me… Avoiding talking about how I was feeling wasn’t a healthy way to deal with things at all, so when all of these emotions boiled over and couldn’t be contained any longer, I ended up being led down a very difficult path in terms of my mental health. Yet every step of the way, I had the Life is Strange series to fall back on —and relate to— in so many ways.
Max Caulfield of the original game helped me accept that who we are is something that we cannot control. The bullying she experienced was hard to stomach at times given how relatable it was when compared to my own experiences of the education system. Meanwhile, her bisexuality made me feel somewhat represented and less alone in a mainline gaming environment that usually only catered to heteronormative protagonists. Her time-traveling ability weaved both solutions and problems which, (along with Kate Marsh’s side-story), reminded me that sometimes our strengths cannot overcome every situation, but that it would be okay to accept help if and when I was struggling.
Chloe Price, (who was integral to the original game and became playable in its prequel: LiS: Before The Storm), taught me that words are just as advantageous as any given superpower. Regardless of her often reckless behaviour, she helped me understand the general difference between a healthy relationship and a toxic one, even as she helped me in far more specific ways by teaching me how to process grief, and have a good relationship with my step-parent.
Chris Eriksen from the tie-in game ‘The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit’ then dealt with some heavy topics in the form of child abuse and alcoholism. These issues may not have been relatable for me but this well-crafted miniature story still left a lasting impression between its creativity and its hard-hitting narrative, which is something that heavily carried over into the definitive sequel of Life is Strange 2…
The story of Sean and Daniel Diaz, two mixed ethnicity brothers from Seattle, was a long-winded road trip that felt like a truly colossal journey amidst a 432-day release from its first to its final episode. A tragic accident that occurs early in its narrative leads the game to be a detailed breakdown of loss, racism, poverty, homelessness, independence, brotherhood, and morality. I learned more from Life is Strange 2 than I could ever begin to list thanks to its deeply immersive and heart-breaking adventure.
It’s worth mentioning that this level of impact also extended to another of Dontnod’s games: Tell Me Why. Whilst not an installment of the Life is Strange franchise, it certainly still felt like one, as it followed the exact same decision-oriented gameplay and retained an identical narrative tone. Focusing on telepathic twins Tyler and Allison, this tale focused on the fallacy of long-term memory and the struggles of being transgender in the modern age, which was once again highly relatable and meant so much to me from start to finish.
But at long last, here we are with Life is Strange: True Colours. It feels odd to say but it’s the weakest entry of the entire series, whilst still managing to be a phenomenal experience through and through. The collectibles feel much less significant than prior games and the world has been scaled back significantly from the freeing road trip of LiS 2 to the confines of Haven Springs, a fairly small mountainside town in Colorado.
Some of the characters here don’t feel quite as fleshed out as others and Alex Chen’s empath powers don’t feel as interesting as time travel, weather manipulation, telekinesis or telepathy. I think that, realistically, the game would have delved heavily into character emotions with or without the empath ability being used as a gaming conceit. Yet despite all that, something about it just… Works.
Sure the world is smaller but Haven Springs is beautifully rendered, creating a truly mesmerizing and memorable location that consistently feels like home. Some characters may not feel as fleshed out as past games but the new motion-captured animations lead them to feel more emotive than ever! Plus, a select few characters, (particularly Stephanie Gingrich who has returned from Before the Storm, along with newcomer Ethan Lambert), may actually be some of the most well-developed characters in Life is Strange history!
Diving further into the story: True Colours returns to the topic of loss but from a new perspective that tackles the concept of feeling responsible for another person’s death. It deals with the harrowing nature of dementia, the awful reality of corporate corruption, and the horrible conditions that some children are subject to in institutional care. As a means to an end, Alex Chen’s empath ability touches upon numerous emotions in order to explore these topics in further detail, including anger, fear, and sadness.
But the game also deals with more positive topics than the series has ever touched upon before. It demonstrates the ways in which community can remedy isolation, along with exploring the concept of finding love where you least expect it. It talks about remembering the good times but not being afraid to move on towards a brighter future. Plus it interfaces directly with the most important of emotions: Joy.
Usually, True Colours has a lot to contend with due to the stark contrast between all of the above topics, but it always does an excellent job of pacing itself at each and every turn. When viewed as a standalone experience I’d happily call it a great game even if it doesn’t compare all that well to the other Life is Strange games. One thing that improves it dramatically, however, is the Wavelengths DLC. This takes True Colours to a whole other level.
Across the course of an in-game year, Wavelengths lets you take on the role of Haven Springs’ very own radio DJ, Stephanie Gingrich. The experience allows you to get to grips with your very first day at the job before going on to celebrate Pride month, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve. Amidst these events you’ll be trying to salvage Steph’s catastrophic dating life, arranging a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with an old friend, and reminiscing on the devastating side effects of the original game’s ending. It’s a lot to fit into a short runtime but it always manages to tug your emotions in just the right ways, in order to leave you feeling completely satisfied by the time the end credits have started to roll.
Without the Wavelengths DLC, Life is Strange: True Colours would be far lower on this list, perhaps not even qualifying for my top ten at all. It’s truly amazing how much Wavelengths elevates the quality of the core game, whilst still managing to tell a well-developed self-contained storyline. It’s also insane just how interactive every aspect of the DJ booth is, from putting on different songs for the radio show, (made even better thanks to True Colours’ outstanding OST), to taking calls from a widely varied cast of audience members! Wavelengths truly couldn’t be a better or more fitting addition to the Life is Strange universe, given the level of quality it so frequently manages to hit.
After all this time I didn’t end up learning all that much from Life is Strange: True Colours, given how much I’ve grown since the story first started. I’m a more stable and well-rounded individual than I was 7 years ago and although I still have plenty of mental health problems, I now know how to deal with them in far healthier ways.
I didn’t relate to True Colours as much as past entries either, though I certainly felt well represented by countless aspects of the story. The thing is though; Somewhere out there is a Chinese-Vietnamese orphan, or a newly out bi/pan/lesbian woman, or someone about to make a fresh start in a brand new part of the country, who will discover this game. They’ll play through it from start to finish and will relate to it and benefit from it every bit as much as I did from the original Life is Strange… And that thought feels very special and warms my heart completely.
#2 – Resident Evil: Village
Putting some distance between us and my serious talk about Life is Strange, let’s focus instead on something far sillier and more gameplay-oriented. Resident Evil: Village was a game I was exceptionally excited for after the incredibly high quality of RE7, the perfect remake of RE2, and the deeply entertaining —albeit a little short— remake of RE3. As I’ve mentioned countless times before, (even once in this article!), Resident Evil really helped kick-start my love of the horror genre, with the series having retained its position as my all-time favourite ever since the day I discovered it.
Of course, the mainline series isn’t without its faults. Resident Evil 0 threw a serious spanner into the works with its complete lack of item boxes, resulting in so much time being wasted with unnecessary additional inventory management. RE5’s mismarketing came across as horrifically racist, with its full release forgetting about the horror genre completely and opting instead to become a bland co-op shooter with an incomprehensibly absurd plot. RE6 was certainly an improvement on account of its co-op shooter action being significantly more entertaining, but it still didn’t manage to increase the fear-factor in any way, shape or form.
Then there are the spin-offs… The monotonous multiplayer travesties of Umbrella Corps, Operation Raccoon City, and RE: Resistance will forever be ingrained in my mind. The inconsistencies of the re-told plot in Umbrella Chronicles and Darkside Chronicles will always annoy me too, despite the fact that they’re otherwise fantastic light-gun games. The transphobic tropes used in Code: Veronica and Gun Survivor 2 speak for themselves in all their problematic fervour… And if you pile the awful live-action movies on top of all that, what you end up with is without a doubt one of the messiest video game series of all time.
Yet despite that, there are so many incredible Resident Evil games that completely eclipse the bad ones! RE1 through RE3 are terrifying examples of classic survival horror; Those simple beginnings brought a captivating cast of characters to life and established a plot that’s still going strong to this very day, 26 years later. RE4’s story also holds up as deeply amusing and it’s impossible to deny that the game featured some of the best shooting systems and gun upgrade mechanics in gaming history! RE7’s soft reboot to the franchise is still a very recent installment, but it was legitimately petrifying between its abrupt jumpscares and its ever-present ambience, meaning it’ll always be remembered as a series highlight. Then there’s also Revelations 1 and 2, which perfectly recaptured what made the originals work so well, whilst still managing to stand out as unique in more ways than one.
Suffice to say: The Resident Evil franchise is an absolute roller-coaster of quality… Yet I think that might play a major role in why I love it! The original games simply wouldn’t be the same without their awful voice acting, for example. RE4 wouldn’t be so enjoyable without its outlandish, wacky villains, nor would RE7 have felt so satisfying if the poor quality of RE5 and the mixed quality of RE6 hadn’t preceded it. Put simply, Resident Evil is a series that has been running for such a long time that the bad —whilst disappointing in the moment— has somehow managed to bolster the rest of the series, making it better on the whole than it otherwise would be. I don’t think I could confidently make this claim about any other franchise, but when it comes to Resident Evil, it just makes sense.
So yeah, Resident Evil: Village made me intensely excited because whether it was going to be good or bad, I’d likely still end up loving it in the long run. The most recent entries definitely made me anticipate it being good, however, and thankfully I was right to think so! Village is a masterpiece, combining the excellent story-telling and colourful villains of RE7 with the satisfying gunplay and upgrade systems of RE4, all whilst featuring plenty of RE2 and REmake 2’s great level design alongside it.
Countess Dimitrescu and her three daughters are as beautiful as they are horrifying. Lady Beneviento and her doll Angie are wickedly manipulative, with their mansion being one of the most atmospheric locations I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring. Salvatore Moreau is utterly disgusting and his secret mutations are unfathomable, while Lord Heisenberg and his engineered monstrosities serve as a nigh-undefeatable challenge that can only be faced head-on. Every one of these unique villains, along with their locales and their servants, help shape Village into a perfect blend of terror and action, which satiates the desires of every type of Resident Evil fan that the series has garnered to date.
Of course, none of this would work without a wide arsenal of weaponry to protect yourself. Whilst Ethan Winters had access to a fair few weapons in RE7, training with Chris Redfield has granted him the expertise required to use a far more varied armoury in the next step of his journey, giving him far better odds of enduring everything that the village can throw at him. Melee weapons, close-range shotguns, long-range rifles, and explosives; Village has it all between its ten base game weapons and the additional eight weapons that you can unlock upon beating the game. Each and every one of them feels sensational to use from the second one, but they just keep getting better as you tinker with them to add all sorts of upgrades and mods.
Admittedly, Village’s story may not be as much of a focus as its gameplay and general atmosphere, but it still manages to deliver a compelling tale between its enthralling cutscenes and numerous well-written lore documents. Each of the villains set a distinct tone for their respective areas and they set it well, leading Village to change styles frequently without ever encountering the tonal whiplash found in some prior RE games.
I’d argue that there certainly is some room for improvement here as I particularly enjoy the trope of backtracking in survival horror games in order to access new content; A feature that isn’t particularly prevalent here besides revisiting the village centre a couple of times. With that said, I’d also argue that this being such a minor gripe means that it’s hardly something I’m going to dock it points for. I’ve played through Resident Evil: Village twice since it came out and I’ll no doubt play it multiple times more before the next entry in the series comes out, so I can very confidently say that it’ll be sticking in my mind for a long time to come.
#1 – Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…
Have you ever enjoyed a game so much that you’ve replayed it four times, just to experience all of the extra content that the subsequent playthroughs had to offer? I certainly hadn’t; At least, not until the remake of Yoko Taro’s JRPG Nier Replicant came out last year… Nier Replicant was originally released in 2010 for the PS3 as an exclusive to Japan, whilst the West received an alternate release only a day later titled Nier Gestalt. Both versions followed the exact same storyline and content as one another, but Replicant’s young man protagonist, (who had a sister named Yonah), was swapped out in Gestalt for a middle-aged man, (who had a daughter named Yonah), in order to appeal more to Western audiences.
I can’t even begin to describe how much time I spent playing Nier Gestalt on my Xbox 360 as a teen. Back then I was much slower at playing RPGs; I would leave no stone unturned in my efforts to find every single side quest, gear piece, and secret that each game had to offer. Nowadays I’m every bit as much of a completionist, but exploring everything doesn’t tend to take me anywhere near as long as it used to, given how much I’ve grown over the years. I’ve learned a lot since then about how to find and recognize the content I’m searching for in any given game, but back then I was very, very, very slow.
So when it came to Nier Gestalt I would sit down, turn the absolutely gorgeous soundtrack up as loud as I could, (or, as loud as I could without annoying anybody), then I’d start playing for hours on end. I’d roam back and forth on the Northern Plains between the Junk Heap bridge and the tunnel to the Aerie, farming for items and grinding for XP and Word abilities again and again. I’d often head down to the town of Seafront and fish for hours too, eager to max out the amount of gold I had to the best of my abilities. Hell, sometimes I’d even load the game up just so that I could stand in my character’s village, doing nothing other than listening to Devola singing the Song of the Ancients over and over again on account of how meditative the experience was.
I was invested in the story too, of course. How could I not be? Every iteration of the original Nier grips you from second one with a remarkably mysterious scene, during which the protagonist fights for his life against hundreds of creatures made out of dark, floating text. He’s determined to defend Yonah no matter what amidst a war-torn and snowed over modern-day city, where combat causes you to level up over 30 times before a new cutscene quickly fades into those breathtakingly unexpected words; “1,412 Years Later…”
Suddenly you’re in a calm village at the height of Summer, playing as the same character —still the same age— with no references to the scene that preceded it. It doesn’t take long until you’re out in the open world, trying to cure Yonah of a puzzling illness as the Shade enemies keep growing in number throughout the region. There are lots of colourful characters to meet at your village and plenty of conversations consisting of both essential and filler information, which paint a detailed picture of the world around you; all whilst retaining the mystifying nature of the story’s set-up.
Before long you find yourself visiting some absolutely wondrous locations. A monolithic lost shrine of concrete built right in the centre of a colossal crater. A city of small tin buildings suspended on high-up mountain walls, with nothing but wooden bridges to link them. Plus a blocky desert town where the inhabitants live by the dictations of hundreds of thousands of rules… The world of Nier is simply magical and feels like such a genuinely grand adventure.
Then there’s your lovable party of quirky characters. Grimoire Weiss, a posh and eccentric magical tome who bestows out of this world abilities upon your character. Kainé, a scantily clad woman with a heart of gold, shouts more profanity than any given Grand Theft Auto protagonist. And Emil, an innocent young boy who can turn people to stone with the slightest glance. They’re all creative, well written, well-voiced, slightly surreal, and utterly delightful to spend time with.
After roughly 60 hours of playing Nier Gestalt, I finally felt that I was reaching its end as a significant narrative climax fast approached, yet I found myself astounded to see the game refuse to end, instead opting to gradually transition into a second act! I was so excited to continue playing but that most corrupt of curses, the Red Ring of Death, stopped me dead in my tracks… It was a console-breaking issue that plagued the Xbox 360, and it would be roughly a month and a half until Microsoft managed to repair and return my console. By that point though I’d mostly forgotten about Nier Gestalt; Swept up by an entirely different RPG as teen gamers often are.
Sinking my teeth into Replicant’s remake as soon as it came out, I started my journey over: Almost 11 years to the day since I first started Gestalt. I was a little freaked out by the different protagonists at first, though it was clearly a positive change on account of how much more fitting each interaction with Yonah and my fellow adventurers tended to be. It wasn’t long, (about twenty hours) before I’d reached the start of the second act once more, and by that point, I’d already been impressed by a number of the remake’s improvements.
The remastered soundtrack is euphonious, whilst the picturesque visual upgrades are very easy on the eyes. The simple yet intense combat feels more satisfying than ever before, as just about every spell in the game has been readjusted to suit the remake’s far smoother movement system. Pleased and thrilled, I gripped my controller tightly and headed into the second act with a significant amount of determination…
Once I had at long last reached the credits and finished wiping away my tears, I just couldn’t believe it was over. As I quickly learned, however: It wasn’t. Nier Replicant has more content than I thought, as loading a completed save file leads straight into a second playthrough in which additional cutscenes, side quests, and a whole new ending can all be accessed… Then there’s a third playthrough with two further endings to be experienced! Then there’s a final chunk of content —featuring the definitive end to the game— which was added exclusively for this remake!
I’m not going to lie: It did take me a long time to 100% complete this game, but every single second of that journey was worthwhile to me, particularly as each playthrough was more streamlined than the last, preventing the experience from ever getting dull. And you know what? It’s been eight months since I finished playing Nier Replicant and began my brief second playthrough of its sequel Automata, and I’ve been thinking all week about starting the series over again because it’s just that good.
Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is flawless. It’s an incredible story, an astounding combat experience, a deeply entertaining exploration game, and an intrinsically satisfying Role-Playing Game. The music, the visuals, the effects, the writing, and the mechanics all work in tandem to create a perfect experience that couldn’t have been more enjoyable no matter how hard they tried. I will never, ever forget Nier Replicant and I can’t think of a single person that I wouldn’t recommend it to. Enough said.
Welp: I’m afraid that’s all she wrote though because we’re actually done! Wow, 2021 was incredible, right? I mean, the year itself was really just awful but specifically, in regards to gaming, I’d say it was pretty darn good. Want more articles about the best games of 2021, either for some instant nostalgia or to discover some more great games that you might have missed out on? Well, be sure to check out TheThousandScar’s top 5 games of 2021 right here!
Until next time my fellow Sassy Gamers, stay sassy!