GAME REVIEW: NieR: Reincarnation

By | August 24, 2021

I will admit from the outset that I am not typically a fan of mobile games. In my experience, mobile games often tend to be more interested in making money for publishers than offering a fun gaming experience for players. So when I heard that there would be a NieR game coming to mobile, my first reaction was skepticism. That having been said, there are certainly exceptions to the rule when it comes to mobile games. If there’s any game designer who could craft a worthwhile exception, that person is Yoko Taro, who created the fan-favorite NieR: Automata as well as this year’s NieR: Replicant (an excellent remake of an earlier title for the PlayStation 3). The question is whether a mobile NieR game can measure up to Taro’s previous games on console, and whether it can avoid the usual problems that often plague the mobile scene.

The answers are somewhat mixed, though so far, the results with NieR: Reincarnation are generally favorable. There is no shortage of talent on this game, including Akihiko Yoshida, best known for his work on the Final Fantasy series as well as Bravely Default. Moreover, Yoko Taro’s collaborators on his previous NieR games have returned here, including art designer Kazuma Koda and musical composer Keiichi Okabe. These contributions have helped to create a consistent look and feel to Reincarnation that makes it recognizable as a NieR game. It also shows an effort on Square Enix’s part to make NieR: Reincarnation into a serious game project. Stylistically, Reincarnation looks and sounds like it belongs in the series, with its perspective and stylistic shifts, the haunting musical score, and offbeat ideas that define the world of NieR. At the same time, you’re not required to play the other games to understand this one.

Despite the mobile aspect to the game, NieR: Reincarnation has lost none of the bizarre storytelling approach that Yoko Taro is known for. The central premise centers around a young girl who is exploring a set of ruins known as The Cage. She is accompanied by a ghostlike being called “Mama”, who serves as the nonhuman companion, much like Grimoire Weiss does for NieR: Replicant. It’s an interesting choice of main character, though it ultimately makes sense once it becomes clear what Yoko Taro is doing with this game. This game takes a strong fairy tale approach, with the idea of “repairing” broken stories and damaged memories buried within the ancient weapons found within The Cage. When the young girl finds an artifact, the story takes a 2D side-scrolling approach with stylized backgrounds, reflecting the fairy tale aesthetic. However, these are fairy tales in the earlier, darker sense, with many of them ending in tragedy or horrific violence. Yoko Taro has a talent for making sad and terrible events look beautiful and sometimes even poetic, and that is true here as well. Aside from the graphics and the musical score, the writing is easily the strongest aspect of the game, drawing the player into the world and these characters through the side stories.

The gameplay may end up being divisive for NieR fans, depending on whether you enjoy mobile gameplay or turn-based encounters. The exploration side is the most consistent with Automata and Replicant, as the protagonist navigates through the levels of The Cage. Mostly, the navigation works well enough, though there may be locations where the touch controls may make walking a little tricky. Where the gameplay takes adjustment is with the combat, which mostly flows without much input from the user. To the extent the player is involved at all with the battles, it’s usually in activating special attacks, which is mostly a game of timing. Some battles will finish decisively without the player being involved in the process at all, especially if the battle party is overleveled beyond the enemies they’re facing. Players who want a challenge will likely end up being disappointed, especially for those used to the fluid and stylistic combat from the other NieR games. Leveling up characters is quite easy in this system, especially once you start accumulating XP boosters to speed the process along. The only problem is the characters, which have level limits depending on how many stars the characters have.

At this point, the weakest aspects of the game become apparent, because they are tied to the game’s monetization system. To be fair, the game is not overly greedy in its approach, at least at the time of this review. It’s entirely possible to play NieR: Reincarnation without investing any money into the microtransactions, at least for a while. You do get a steady supply of gems (the main monetary system) from battles and giveaways. That said, the game does nudge the player towards purchasing gems in the in-app store, especially with the special summons that require gems to be purchased. However, if you want to have top-quality characters that will reach the highest levels, you will generally need to be lucky with the random summons, grind long enough to buy special characters (which takes time), or spend the money on microtransactions. This can especially make popular characters like 2B or 9S (only available as part of a limited event) time-consuming to acquire. Weapons also are tiered in the same way, and they also have a separate leveling system, meaning that finding quality weapons is dependent on the in-game store as well if you don’t want to depend on luck or grinding. While it is possible to get 4-star weapons and characters randomly, the frequency is low enough to make buying them a tempting option if you have the money to spend. Still, it is possible to play the game without spending real money if you’re patient enough, making it a reasonable balance in what is otherwise a free-to-play game.

The other aspect of this is that the menu system is sometimes overcomplicated and a bit inefficient. Characters are acquired by summoning random cards by spending gems, which you get by either paying for them, grinding for them, or receiving them as gifts. You can then set up a battle party of three, complete with primary and secondary weapons for each character. While not a bad idea in theory, in practice the menu system isn’t the easiest to navigate. Weapons are assigned to the party as a whole, not to specific characters, making it a bit counter-intuitive to set up and manage your party. It can also be easy to misremember where certain menu features are, making it time-consuming to set up your party for the next battle. This is generally an inconvenience rather than a serious hindrance, but it can slow you down, and time can be a premium when dealing with timed features and events. Still, once you learn the system and adjust to it, it becomes relatively manageable.

All in all, NieR: Reincarnation is a generally enjoyable game that does its best to live up to its console predecessors, even if it doesn’t quite get there. While the game is held back somewhat by its mobile and gacha elements, the monetization isn’t too intrusive or excessive for a free-to-play game. Moreover, the high quality of the writing, graphics, and music successfully compensate for any gameplay flaws. Beneath those issues, there is a legitimately good game that is struggling to get out, and where the game works, it works beautifully. If you’re interested in the NieR series and the gameplay and monetization aren’t an obstacle for you, this game is at least worth looking into, especially since it costs nothing to try. If nothing else, experiencing the bizarre and unique vision of Yoko Taro is worth the low admission price.

Score: 3.7/5

Publisher: Square Enix

Platform: Mobile (Android, iOS)