I've got to say, that was one of the most original and exciting titles I've played in a while, mostly thanks to the wide variety of ideas and approaches the developers managed to cram onto one disc. I especially appreciated the time and effort put into fleshing out each of the characters, and I have no doubt that I will be able to clearly remember them years from now. Nier, especially… it's not often that games star a late-middle-aged father who is basically an ugly bastard doing odd jobs to support his family, but that's exactly what's going on here—and I loved it.
I suppose that I was probably a little more inclined to like the story since I am approaching middle age myself, as well as being a father of two. Many of the themes within the game resonated quite strongly, and it was incredibly refreshing to play something that I felt spoke to something other than the spiky-haired-emo-teen-saves-the-world demographic. If developers branched out like this more often, the entire industry would be in a better place.
I've been discussing the game with a few other critics who've finished it, and it seems that at least one more playthrough will be required before fully grasping the depth of the developers' vision. As a result, I started a second run last night. This re-start lets players keep their levels and equipment and begins halfway through the game, so I imagine that it will be a pretty rapid completion… ripping through bosses with my upped Axe of Decapitation is like running a hot knife through butter. I'm glad that the developers didn't ask players to start from scratch, though. As interested and as willing as I am to see what else they have to say about the characters, I don't think I would be up for multiple twenty-hour playthroughs.
As much as I enjoyed the game (and really, I did enjoy it—Nier is absolutely going to be on my year-end Top 10) I didn't feel that the second half was quite as strong as the first half. Without trying to spoil anything, the game is clearly split into two parts—the first part is full of homages and references to other games, and is certainly the more "experimental" section. The second section is still good, but relaxes into a more recognizable JRPG format. I still enjoyed it, but it didn't have the same intense level of creativity and originality that the first half did.
The ending was especially disappointing… it felt very traditional in terms of what I would expect from a "concept" JRPG, and wasn't nearly up to the same standard as some of the other parts. I'm hoping that will change after I see the other three endings, but at this point it seems as though Nier is one of those games that's all about the journey rather than the destination.
FYI: there is no such thing as "hurrying up" to finish a game like Etrian Odyssey III. The review is due in another day or so, and I haven't finished it yet. I've certainly played more than enough to give it a very fair evaluation (over 30 hours so far) but as much as I want to get it wrapped up, this game moves at its own pace and there is simply no changing that. Any shortcuts taken by the player are guaranteed to end in a Game Over, and progress comes in small, hard-won increments. In this particular case, patience is a virtue.