I’m genuinely surprised there hasn’t been an announcement of a remastered Nier yet. With Nier Automata on the way, I can’t be the only person with renewed interest in finally playing the original, and Square Enix hasn’t exactly shied away from remasters to date.
Nier was, by almost any metric, a dismal failure. It was met with lukewarm response by reviewers, and holds a Metacritic average of 68, a score that, by modern usage of Metacritic, may as well read as “absolute trash”. The video game industry is painfully opaque when it comes to sales figures, but by all accounts, Nier sold poorly and there are questions as to whether it even managed to break even on its development budget. Either way, it’s developer, Cavia, folded just months after Nier’s release, though I doubt that would come solely down to performance of this one game.
This could be an argument against remastering Nier, but if anything, I’d say it’s an argument for it. Poor performance meant a low print run, and it’s become a fairly difficult game to find, especially outside America and Japan. More important, it’s picked up a cult following, and has been praised retrospectively as a potent work of art – not necessarily a “good game” by whatever pseudo-objective measure you want to use for reviews, but as a powerful, insightful, and important game.
According to Digitally Downloaded’s Matt Sainsbury: “Nier is a true masterpiece because it explores, in a very meaningful manner, how we play games and the assumptions that we make as we play them.”
“Nier is the rare game that looked archaic upon release, yet somehow remains fresh half a decade later. It was always more interesting than it was ‘good’. … Nier may not be perfect, but it’s one-of-a-kind and the world needs more big publisher-backed experiments like it.”, said Eurogamer’s Jeffrey Matulef.
And then there’s USGamer’s Pete Davison: “What’s interesting about the interplay between gameplay and narrative in Nier is that it frequently subverts expectations — specifically, the expectation that if you do everything the game tells you to, everything will end up just fine.”
In many ways, Nier spotlights the failures of the capitalist driving of video games: the focus on being easily-digestible pieces of entertainment at the expense of being art; the punishment, through critical and commercial failure, of any game that dares push the boundaries; the struggles to get anything other than focus-tested blockbuster hits greenlit, especially outside the indie scene.
It’s a similar problem that was faced by Beyond Good and Evil way back in 2003. That was a game that flopped (through poor marketing, more than anything else), but picked up a cult following, and some 10 years later, we got Beyond Good and Evil HD. A sought-after game, and an important piece of gaming history, suddenly became widely available, and the world was better for it.
It’s time for Nier to get the same second shot at life. Remaster it for the current crop of consoles – hell, don’t even remaster it, just port it across. At the very least, give it a digital release on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. As time goes on, it’s just going to get harder and harder to track down physical copies, and the install bases for PS3 and Xbox 360 will fall in favour of newer systems. From what the likes of Matt Sainsbury, Jeffrey Matulef, Pete Davison, and so many others are saying, Nier is too important a game to let it fade away in haze of technological iteration.