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Blast From The Past: NieR Gestalt

Photo Courtesy of secretcave.co

Photo Courtesy of secretcave.co

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Video games are a form of media that is rapidly growing in popularity with the rise of technology, but with such a booming industry many games come and go without their rightful time in the limelight.

One such game is NieR Gestalt (NIER); a niche action J-RPG published in April of 2010 for the Playstation 3 and XBOX 360. It’s the continuation of Ending E from the first Drakengard game, of which there are three of. That being said, playing the Drakengard games aren’t at all needed to experience Gestalt in it’s glory since it has a significant time jump between games, even a 1300 year jump within Gestalt itself.

A Basic Summary

In all honesty, a simple summary of Gestalt may make it seem a bit uninteresting or generic. As someone who has played the games and has met many different people who have as well, something we can all agree on is it takes a bit of a push to get into Gestalt and enjoy it. Regardless, the game makes sure to reward those to take the time and effort to see what it has to offer. If reading a summary makes you a bit hesitant to put in the time, it’s nothing to worry about; most Drakenier (Drakengard and NieR) fans felt the same.

The basic story will give you 20 hours of content. For “completionists” who want to make sure they have every ounce of the game explored, they’ll have around 70 hours of content. Although, with five possible endings, players could potentially have up to 55 hours of content to complete. Gestalt isn’t a game where you should focus on pushing through the story with all your might. All endings contribute to the impact of this title. Everyone who has played it will tell you the same: you want all endings.

Gameplay

The gameplay fits with the usual J-RPG standards. You travel from town to town, exploring and rehashing the areas given on the map, completing quests and battling the primary enemy type of the game – shades. Combat wise Gestalt is like other hack and slash games; you’ll have different skills, weapons and ability modifiers. Gestalt likes to mix up the camera types and game styles to mix up the gameplay so you may be faced with  2D fields or sudden block puzzles in dungeons to progress.

Plot

The basic plot can be broken up into two parts.

The start of the story is of a father, who you play as, and daughter (Yonah) struggling to survive. This is all a little over 1,300 years after some kind of world-ending event which is shown in the tutorial of the game. Life has transitioned into type of a fantasy or medieval society where the father, canonically named Nier, and Yonah live.

Yonah has a fatal disease known as the” Black Scrawl”. Because of this, Nier works as a body for hire, taking work of town members and elders for any sort of money or repayment. Though there is no known and confirmed cure for the Black Scrawl, the money from these quests allowed for medication and other methods of pain relief for Yonah. After all, a living is a living regardless of if it’s slaying monsters or carrying a package across towns without breaking it.

On one such quest, Nier is sent in search for someone (that I won’t mention the name of for spoiler reasons) and the audience is introduced to a talking book, Grimoire Weiss, that could lead to a cure for the Black Scrawl, this begins the first half of the story. Nier sets off on a quest to find a cure for his beloved daughter, and needless to say he is determined to do it.

After this journey, plot twists and tragic events start rushing over the player. The story suddenly speeds up and the second arc begins. The second arc is where you will be facing your endings and multiple playthroughs and is where most of those 55 hours will be spent. Buckle up, because at that point you’re in for a hell of a lot of sadness and shocks that will solidify this story into memory.

Gestalt Pros and Cons

Like any game out there, NieR Gestalt has its faults; considering the small team and immense lack of budget for this game it would make sense that it had a few more downsides than your average Halo, Far Cry, or Final Fantasy game. But even so, the gameplay flaws do not detract from the lavish story and characters. Regardless, let’s start with some of the usual cons that are placed on Gestalt’s shoulders.

The Cons

The graphics are ugly.

Gestalt is definitely not known for it’s mind blowing graphics. With a small budget and just barely adequate team, some say that Gestalt still didn’t do it’s best in visuals.  The setting can be seen as bland, with repetitive areas and a wild sun bleaching problem. Even Nier himself is one built and ugly man; especially ugly by usual Japanese protagonist standards. But, if graphics don’t bother you immensely, it’s nothing to worry about. Before Gestalt, graphics were very important in my enjoyment of a game. They still are. But I gave gestalt a chance because of my love for it’s sequel – low and behold I fell in love.

Side quests are overly tedious.

I will admit some side quests angered me beyond belief. Players are faced with an abundance of fetch, fishing, farming and delivery quests. Quests in the beginning of the game could make you feel as if you’re never going to finish the game. But personally, I think that’s what the game wants.

Nier is a single father in a medieval world, struggling to make enough money to make sure his daughter’s pain can be at least bearable since a cure for the Black Scrawl is out of his reach. The annoyingly tedious side quests make the player understand what Nier faces in his daily life: running back and forth, struggling every day, and doing anything for his daughter. The first 5-10 hours will set this tone for you, but I can promise the game changes pace and picks up after that. And it’s undeniably worth it.

The difficulty curve is too extreme.

Like any other J-RPG, stats matter, and they matter as the path between life and death, if you go against an enemy levels ahead of you, you will die. There’s no doubt about it. In the beginning of the game enemies and bosses (if you are progressing adequately) match the difficulty you have set. Whether it’s hard easy or normal, you’ll be faced with a decent fight if you level accordingly.

The difficulty curve isn’t what most people have an issue with. It’s in your second and third playthrough when all your stats carry over that you’re faced with two small of a difficulty curve. After your first playthrough bosses and enemies become too easy. So easy in fact that if you don’t pay close attention, you could kill a boss before the dialog of the battle is over. It’s a problem for sure, but it doesn’t get in the way of the game’s enjoyment. Especially if you just keep a lower level weapon on you for later playthroughs.

General J-RPG weirdness.

Japan has a track record of less than usual tropes and styles in their media overall. Personally, I think these sorts of quirks give J-RPG’s their character. Whether it is due to character design, bosses, or story line, you may encounter some odd things in any Japanese game and Gestalt is not immune to that. Some less than attractive bosses, books with a loud mouth, and a blind boy gone wrong are all featured front and center, but it only makes Gestalt more memorable and enjoyable.

The Pros

Not only is the story impactful, it’s memorable.

Gestalt’s director and writer, Yoko Taro (Taro Yoko), is a genius when it comes to his stories. Everything in game is calculated and means something, even if by accident. NieR Gestalt offers an experience that will truly move you. If you are familiar with Yoko Taro’s newest release (NieR: Automata), you may be familiar with how heart wrenching his stories are.

Games shine as a medium under his command. He knows how to write characters you will get attached to and feel for. Gestalt’s story has its humor, and it definitely isn’t all one big depressing muddle, but you can’t play a Yoko Taro game and except a ending that’s happy for everyone.

In Gestalt’s story, people die beautifully and horrifically. You will kill mercilessly, and then you will feel bad about everything you’ve done. You’ll establish friendships and see them be destroyed. Yoko Taro will create a reality for you, and then completely disintegrate everything you knew; and he does it amazingly.

Gestalt knows it’s a game, and it takes advantage of it.

Gestalt, and many of Yoko Taro’s works in general, are an amazing demonstration of how video games are an outstanding and interactive form of media. The Drakenier franchise is one of the best deserving titles of RPG. You do not play the characters, you’re not just viewing them. You have become the characters in this game, their choices are yours.

I’ve played many emotional games, games where a death happened and I’d go “awe” or the plot twist would happen and I’d nod my head to the writing and maybe mention a quick word of it to my friends, but Gestalt managed a pure reaction out of me. It managed tears and genuine surprise. One death has even been burned into my memory because of how heart wrenching it is.

You bond with and embody these characters. Members of your party will become part of you and the story is bound to get at least one pure reaction out of you, even if you think you’ve seen all there is.

 

Repetitive gameplay is eliminated by switching styles.

As I explained in the gameplay section of this article, Gestalt knows it’s a fairly long game, and if you’re anything like me, hack and slash combat can get tiring after binging for a couple hours. Gestalt tries its best to keep you interested by changing to a side scroller, bullet hell, giving you different styles of objectives, action RPG, and even offering magic in addition to physical attacks, the camera can even go from fixed perspective to over the shoulder, third person, top down, etc. The game even even sections of the game that switches playstyles to text adventure that reads like a novel. There is a variety that makes gameplay that much more fulfilling.

All of the characters are amazingly developed and written.

Your party will consist of Kaine, Emil, Nier, and Grimoire Weiss. You have Nier’s daughter Yonah, the town elders Popola and Devola, and a few others who make up your characters.

They are all strong well written characters, and there isn’t a single doubt about it. Your main party of course gets the most time being developed but even the “less important” (in quotes because really all the characters are valuable to the story) are calculated and written with purpose. Everything is explained. Everything plays a part.

There isn’t much I can say about this cast without spoiling a lot of the story, but each and every one have personality and background. It’s obvious that these characters were written by caring (and somewhat evil) hands. If nothing else, the characters are a reason to play the game in itself and taht’s something I will applaud Yoko Taro for endlessly.

Emotional impact is perfectly paced and has a strong effect.

As I’ve already mentioned death is prominent in Yoko Taro’s work, and heartfelt moments are sprinkled throughout the plot, but nothing is rushed, overbearing, or misplaced. Something you often see in media overall is the death of a character just to kill someone off. In games specifically, some deaths are just to try to get a reaction out of the audience; this isn’t the case for Gestalt.

Every moment seems natural, it seems real almost,  as silly as it sounds. Beautifully tragic is one of the best ways I have describe Gestalt. There are many moments that are less than joyful, but they’re all perfectly done.

The multiple playthroughs provide plot and context.

This isn’t a unfamiliar concept to anyone who’s played Yoko Taro’s works, but Gestalt has a tendency to create a story in the first playthrough and then slowly explain in the second. Certain background scenes are shown in the second playthrough, and how disgustingly easy it is to destroy everything in your path sets a tone of dismissing the context of the plot.

Gestalt knows how to take advantage of everything you know, and it knows how to completely destroy it. Characters, and even enemies, get context and background, and it is as sad as it is informational.

In Conclusion. . .

If I needed one sentence to describe NieR Gestalt it would be:

“NieR Gestalt has its flaws but it’s one of the most fulfilling and beautiful games I’ve ever been fortunate enough to play, and everyone should try it out.”

All Pictures Used From secretcave.co

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Blast From The Past: NieR Gestalt