Nier is an odd bit of gaming. There is a compelling and interesting storyline, with some interesting characters, even the worst winey character of the bunch, Emil, is likeable and something of the pathetic character that you feel for as he sacrifices his very humanity to help his companions. Nier proves that a game can have a great story, but still it fails on a certain level.
Nier is set in a post-apocalyptic future, where you play as one of the ugliest characters I've ever seen. He's a dad, his name is Nier, unless you change it something else, and he's got white hair and inviso brows. Sure he gets a great eye patch at around the half-way point, but essentially Nier looks like the missing link. Although I applaud the attempt to switch from the usual cry-baby main character with an undetermined sex. The game diverges from that usual JRPG story-line at some points and returns to old convention often.
As the father, Nier, the mission is protect and find a cure for the black scrawl that has infected his daughter. And as Nier travels the 'world' he finds new allies, like Grimoire Weiss, Kaine, and Emil. Weiss is a magical book, Kaine is an a bit of dude but mostly gal, and Emil is a weird kid that initially change enemies to stone, but later makes a big sacrifice to save the day. While the game has a good set of main characters it's everything else that would make this game really good that Nier fails.
Graphically the game looks very old, last generation old. I realize that the world has lost a great deal with this story-line, but it's still for a lack of things to see. Villages, all three of them, while different don't add that personality that cities can do with the right games. Although the sea-side city of Seafort looks nice. But the designers got lazy with characters that are nailed to one position the entire game. Some NPCs will age, some will remain the exact same way as they did previously. To explain without spoiling this game. Nier flashes forward five years, but seemingly just for the main characters, but not Emil when he's human nor Kaine because she's froozen in stone. All this is an indication of a rushed game. The Shades also prove this, although the backstory to the Shades are plain, plain, they are not substainal enemies, just black with hints of orange like they're there but not really, it's good for rationalizing the whole random battles premise.
Another issue with this game is the lack of locations to visit. Nier and the gang will re-visit locales and dungeons again and again and again, there's a definate lack of exploration and seeing new locations. The last dungeon is actually part of the first dungeon, only difference is, is that a new area gets unlocked. Also the level construction is re-used often. But not everything about this game is bad.
The music, although on repeat adds a good amount of tension and is really good, very airey and haunting I didn't mind the repeating. The magic is really the standout for this game as far as the combat goes. Nier is an action based game, with lots of hack and slash, but the controls are really bad. I initially hated this game for the way it did combat, with the action oriented battles and the clunky controls for the hack and slash toss in a few dozen little Shades that are faster than Nier. I was getting juggled until I learned that the magic is what's the most potent weapon in this game. With the aide of Grimoire Weiss, Nier has access to some pretty cool attacks. Also with boss fights at certain times with the magic charged at little a devasting attack can be unleashed. But sometimes the aiming will be off a little and the direction you're pointed at rather than the direction your aiming the attack will waste a move.
Nier is a decent game, with some potential that just doesn't happen. It's long and feels long and very repetitive, from the combat, to the re-visiting of the same locations multiple times, to the enemies. Nier adds nothing to the genre and it's kinda that take or leave title. I enjoyed it, but just couldn't get passed the many issue I've listed above. It's fun and worth a try, but overall it's nothing great and disappointing considering that Square Enix released this game, also why release this game at about the same time as Final Fantasy, that's another odd decision. Nier was set up for failure right from the start.