NieR Replicant Xbox and PC review: The definitive version of NieR: Automata's prequel

This is a remake you can't miss, though it isn't without issues.

NieR Replicant
(Image: © Windows Central)

Windows Central Must Play Award

If you've ever heard of the NieR series, chances are it's because of 2017's critically-acclaimed hit NieR: Automata. The game wowed players and critics alike with its beautifully animated free-flowing combat systems, extraordinary soundtrack, and storytelling that, while unconventional, was nevertheless some of the best of what the video game medium has to offer. Something a lot of players don't know, though, is that Automata has a prequel — 2010's NieR Replicant.

Replicant, like its sequel, was often praised for its writing and music. However, the game failed to reach mainstream audiences due to its disappointing visuals, middling combat, and a collection of side missions saturated with fetch quests. Despite this, though, the game has gained a cult following since its release, and its fans have been hoping for a remake for years.

These wishes have now been granted. Developers from Cavia, the game's original development studio, have collaborated with developer Toylogic to modernize and improve upon NieR Replicant in a remake. By performing an overhaul to the combat, adding new visuals, including new dialogue, and more, the developers aimed to offer fans the definitive version of the game. After playing through it, I can confidently say that the remake is one of the best games I've played in recent years, although it isn't without a few disappointing faults.

NieR Replicant: Story and setting

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CategoryNieR Replicant
TitleNieR Replicant
PublisherSquare Enix
GenreAction RPG
PlatformsXbox, PC
Minimum RequirementsOS: Windows 10, Processor: AMD Ryzen 3 1300X or Intel Core i5-6400, Memory: 8 GB RAM, Graphics: AMD Radeon R9 270X or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960
Game Size24.3 GB
Launch DateApril 23, 2021
Launch Price$60

Without a doubt, the best thing about NieR Replicant is its incredible writing. Set thousands of years before the events of NieR: Automata, Replicant focuses on a young adult Nier as he struggles to find a cure for the Black Scrawl, a mysterious disease that has afflicted many people — including his little sister, Yonah — around the world. Along the way, he's helped by several allies, including the sharp-tongued magical book Grimoire Weiss, a crude and vulgar woman named Kainé who is often shunned by others due to how half of her body is possessed by a dark Shade creature, and Emil, a young boy who suffers from a condition that causes anyone who makes eye contact with him to turn to stone.

NieR Replicant is an emotional rollercoaster that's overflowing with heart and soul.

Replicant, much like Automata, is undeniably a weird game. That being said, people who are able to overlook its abstract nature will find a narrative overflowing with heart and soul, especially when it comes to the game's cast. Every character in the story has rich, wonderful depth, and the way that they interact with each other and the world around them feels believable. New lines of dialogue added in the remake enhance these interactions (and the meaning behind them) further.

The game's plot is rather confusing at times, but I believe this is actually to the narrative's benefit since players will be driven to pay close attention to various worldbuilding elements for clues. This makes the process of drawing conclusions about the story intimately engaging in a way that few games are.

NieR Replicant: Gameplay and features

When it comes to NieR Replicant's overhauled gameplay, there's a lot to love. The combat system has been completely redesigned to play more like NieR: Automata's so players can fluidly perform numerous different combos as they hack and slash through enemies with swords, spears, and more. Well-timed blocks and dodges will also give players opportunities to land critical hits or get around the defenses of their opponent. Actions performed by both you and your adversaries are animated with beautiful detail and precise clarity, resulting in action that not only excels on a technical level but also in terms of style. Compared to the original game's combat, which was sometimes sluggish and didn't always feel responsive, the new system is an incredible step up.

In addition to the swordplay, Replicant also offers players several different magical powers that they can employ in battle. Some of these abilities include rapidly firing bolts of dark energy at enemies, impaling them on magical spears that jut out from the ground, absorbing magic attacks with a powerful defensive shield, and more. These powers combo excellently with your weapons, and players who master both the melee and magic sides of NieR Replicant's combat will become unstoppable.

On top of hack-and-slash combat, NieR Replicant also briefly dips into various other genres several times throughout your 30-40 hour journey. Players can expect platforming to overcome, dungeon puzzles to solve, the occasional isometric top-down perspective, intense bullet hell sections, and even some Choose Your Own Adventure-style text stories. All of these elements are done incredibly well (there was only one puzzle I didn't like) and help keep the experience fresh.

As great as the gameplay is overall, though, the remake misses out on some opportunities to improve the weaker aspects of the original game. Firstly, there's a lack of modern quality-of-life features. For example, you can only save the game at predetermined save points, which is quite annoying if you die after not saving for a while or need to quit the game before you reach the next checkpoint. You also only get a waypoint for main quests; if you forget how to get to a location you need to visit to complete a sidequest, you're pretty much screwed.

Speaking of sidequests, they're just as disappointing as they were in the original. Most of them are just fetch quest missions, and while some of them do ultimately result in some good worldbuilding and character dialogue, completing them is nevertheless a chore. I wish that the developers had looked into ways that they could make these quests more enjoyable and interesting to do.

NieR Replicant: Presentation and performance

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When it comes to presentation, NieR Replicant is a triumph. The remake has received a complete visual overhaul, and while the game isn't cutting edge by any stretch of the imagination — it's about on par with NieR: Automata — it's still a great looking title that manages to elevate the tone and style of the original game to modern standards. The visual effects of combat, in particular, look incredible, to the point where I actually took damage several times in fights because I was distracted by the game's gorgeous magic effects and smooth animations.

When it comes to presentation, NieR Replicant is a triumph.

NieR Replicant truly shines in the audio department. The soundtrack of the original game was already nothing short of phenomenal, but new enhancements to the score that lengthen the tracks and add more depth to them make the remake's soundtrack truly perfect. It also includes completely rerecorded dialogue, and after listening to the script in both the original and the remake, it's clear that the voice actors' later performance is their best work. Then, there's NieR Replicant's superb sound effects, which sell the power and impact of every strike performed by you and your foes. It's all simply excellent.

In terms of performance, NieR Replicant is good overall. On my RTX 3070-powered gaming rig on max settings at 1440p, the game maintained a stable 60 FPS the vast majority of the time. Notably, however, the game tended to drop down to 45 FPS during several cutscenes, but thankfully rarely during combat. These drops were a bit jarring, but they're not a huge issue. Hopefully the developers are able to rectify it post-launch.

NieR Replicant: Should you buy it?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While the abstract nature of the game's story won't be for everyone, and while it's disappointing that more beneficial changes and quality-of-life features weren't added, I still can't recommend playing the remake of NieR Replicant enough. It's a phenomenal game even with its flaws, and the new visuals and dialogue, enhanced soundtrack, and improved voice acting are all fantastic.

With its phenomenal writing, wonderful combat, creative implementation of other genres, and incredible presentation, the remake of NieR Replicant is an action RPG that you can't miss, even if it does suffer from some issues. It, like its sequel, is one of the best RPGs out there.

NieR Replicant is available for $60 on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One consoles, and Windows 10 PCs. If it doesn't sound like the game for you, make sure to check out our roundup of the Best Xbox One Role-Playing Games for other great titles to play.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.