I’ll start this review by stating quite clearly that I’m not a fan of the visual novel genre, nor do I really care much for “walking simulators,” though I’m not really a fan of that term either. So it’s quite a surprise that not only did I enjoy my playthrough of N.E.R.O – Nothing Ever Remains Obscure, I actually loved it.
After the initial sequence where I watched my unnamed character – some weird-looking guy in a hood with no visible facial features other than neon eyes – I was left a bit stumped. What do I do? Where do I go? Who am I? What am I? You could say I was having a bit of an existential crisis at that point.
Thankfully my many years of playing video games kicked in and I instinctively pushed the left stick forward, and lo and behold, I began my journey. You can’t teach that, it’s instinct. OK, let’s push my obvious gaming prowess to the side and really get stuck into what N.E.R.O is.
I continued to push the left stick forward and move through the weird and fantastical world that N.E.R.O presents. It’s quite a pretty world, too, with bright neon lights illuminating the environment as you make your way to the great unknown. Now, obviously, being a visual novel and all that, don’t expect to get given a great big arsenal of weapons, nor should you expect the story to be set out in front of you in one blob.
N.E.R.O cleverly paces the story, or should I say, stories, by offering little passages that hang in the depressing yet fascinating air. You’ll come across text that’s in blue which tells a different story to the text that’s in purple. I know, I know, I’m not doing it justice with my words, but the two stories interweave and come together nicely, albeit I saw the end before it begun but that’s because I’m something of an arse; I’ll sit and watch a movie for the first time and already have the ending figured out before it’s reached its second third.
It’s still a really nice and at times, quite a moving tale about family, life, and death. I don’t know if this’ll be for everyone, especially the younger audience, but I genuinely had to cowboy up and kick back the waterworks, even pretty early on in the game when I saw what was going to unfold. Maybe it’s because I’m a new father, maybe it’s because I’m getting old, or maybe I’m just not the big man I thought I was, but the story really hit me in the gut.
I won’t speak any more on the story for fear of ruining it – if I ruin it, there’s not really much point in you playing it, is there? All I’ll say is that it’s wonderfully written and presented in its own little way that makes it stand out from the crowd. Bravo to the developers, I say.
So, we’ve established that I’m a bit of a pansy and that the story is worth your time, but what about the rest of it? Unlike an actual novel, an interactive visual novel needs to have a bit more going for it. Thankfully it does, though it’s far from perfect.
The presentation of the world is at first glance really something special but once you delve a bit deeper and get closer you notice the shortcomings: textures load in strangely as you walk along and the lighting is a little disappointing, and what I mean by that is that you’ll be walking along a magical underground forest that’s lit up by bio-luminescent lights on the trees, giant caterpillars and all other things, but it’s not constant. Lights come into play as walk forward and fade away when you walk away. It’s not a deal breaker by any means but it was enough to distract me on occasion.
Thankfully, I’m not a graphics fiend who demands 1080p 60fps for every game, so a few hiccups here and there can be overlooked, but if you’re particularly sensitive to these kinds of things then it’s best you know ahead of time.
Performance-wise, N.E.R.O runs like clockwork on PS4, though it’s not the smooth 60fps experience that you’d find on PC, but at the same time, it doesn’t really need to be. You’re spending most of your time walking around (or running if you so choose) so the need for 60fps just isn’t there.
You won’t spend all of your time walking around looking at the pretty lights and reading the story as it unfolds – there’s a little more to it. You’ll be solving some relatively simple puzzles that, at least for me, weren’t all that difficult, although I did get in a spot of bother quite early on in the game. I’d gained my companion (who is quite important!) and didn’t realise that I could command him to step on pressure pads to help with the puzzles. The cloaked guy follows you around, so I had to go through the first puzzle by lining myself up with the pressure pad, then timing it just right so that when my companion stepped on it while following me, I could move forward through the gate. Yeah, sounds harder than it really was. My tip is: make sure you take the on-screen tips seriously and don’t leave the game unpaused while you go and make potty.
All in all, N.E.R.O comes together in a solid offering. The story is well told and makes good use of music to invoke fear, dread, happiness, and sadness that is just as much a character as the game’s world. I wouldn’t recommend it for kids whose idea of a game is to shoot things, but if you’ve got a little maturity about you and you’re alright with a game that’s only around 4 hours long (that’s with exploration) then you’ll find some peaceful joy with N.E.R.O.
N.E.R.O: Nothing Ever Remains Obscure
Overall - 8.0/10
N.E.R.O: Nothing Ever Remains Obscure isn’t your typical game but is instead an experience worthy of your time, provided you’ve got a bit of maturity about you.
The story is excellent, if a little predicatable, and it moves along nicely thanks to the expertly deployed music, creepy yet fantastical world, and strong controls that keep you in the moment.
The only real downside I can think of is that its running time is just a couple hours too short for my greedy self.
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