Yoko Taro, the brain behind NieR: Automata, can be easily described as one of the more eccentric personalities you may meet in the game industry. And he’s completely fine with that. He even plays up the role quite well, wearing an Emil mask wherever he goes. He likes to challenge conventional ways of portraying stories or game design to get a stronger reaction out of you, especially in terms of emotion. Square-Enix gets him to partner up with Platinum Games, a brand well-known to produce great high-paced action games. This turns out to be the makings of a ‘perfect storm’ that I had been longing to experience again since probably the PS2 era.
NieR: Automata opens up with some monologue about how somebody wants to murder the god of the world they live in, should they ever exist. And we are quickly brought into the action, first with flight units playing side-scrolling shooter and not too long after we’re brought to the slashy-slashy parts. It is soon revealed that you and your partner are part of an elite army of androids made by what’s left of the human race who are currently hiding on the moon. Your task is to destroy the army of ‘Machine Lifeforms’ as well as the alien race who made them and take back Earth. After being deployed to the surface a second time, you set to locate the nearby resistance camp and start figuring out what you need to do from there.
Production (4 / 5)
The character models for NieR are pretty impressive as they have quite a lot of detail put into them and animate with a real sense of weight and movement, reinforcing how the responsive the controls are. They also perform great for cutscenes and they never animate awkwardly. Beyond that though, there’s not really too much to write home about with its visuals.
The world map feels unified while it is expansive, and designed in a way that you won’t really feel lost unless that’s what they intend for you. But it doesn’t really stand out visually because of how it reuses assets not only for maps but for enemies as well. But on the flipside the game runs at a constant 60 fps ensuring that you’ll get smooth gameplay all day. And this is recognized as a conscious decision by Platinum Games, to make sure combat is a challenging rush during its most hectic sections rather than a frustrating experience due to technical issues. A decision that’s hard to argue given the nature of combat.
It would be a crime to not talk about the music of NieR:Automata. By the time of this writing many would have called it the star of this show, and I would understand that sentiment. How it behaves during gameplay and how it brings you to feel something during the moment to moment gameplay is phenomenal. The haunting vocals are certain to bring you back to the game’s strongest scenes every time you hear it, my personal favorite being the amusement park theme. I don’t think you’ll get tired of the music unless you actively try to do so.
Oh and the voice-acting is great, being able to pick both Japanese and English for voices is a pleasure to have as a feature but I’m more partial to English because I don’t want to read subtitles while dodging bullets and I actually like English 9S better.
Mechanics (4.5 / 5)
NieR: Automata continues to deliver on what it promised based on its demo, showing us a solid bullet-hell style action game. Something that Platinum has proven to be effective at making based on my experience with Vanquish. Also having a pretty tight control scheme that not only adapts well to the various game modes but also gives great feedback and response to whatever you want to do, which is almost a fault, considering how easy it is to land a perfect dodge.
Now, when I mentioned various game modes of NieR: Automata, some may think ‘oh he’s talking about the hacking mini-game right?’ Well, that’s true in a way, but not completely. NieR’s missions and areas will mix up the simple task of dodging enemy fire and shooting them down or cutting them up by simply changing the camera angle. This simple action along with some adjustments to how your controls work, changes how you will be playing the next few minutes entirely. Does that sound like a mini-game? Well, no, that’s the general way combat works in NieR: Automata. The ‘hacking mini-game’ is just part of it, exclusive to one character’s attack. Another thing of note I’d like to point out is how there’s no real loading time between these segments, it’s a seamless experience of doing the same thing in many different ways. And that’s kind of amazing.
All this action gets a bit watered down when you realize you can always completely pause the game to heal or even change builds at any point during combat. You can change weapons to better suit your preference or even your built-in power-ups to the point that dodging seems pointless and attacking is all that matters. You can of course choose to challenge yourself more you can always just avoid exploiting these options. Though whether or not you choose to abuse the strongest abilities in this game, NieR: Automata will sometimes think of a way to rig the game against you even harder.
For all the genius they have behind how this game works, though, they could certainly have improved their map and quick travel browsing. Getting lost in it was easy, one could argue that it was to encourage actual map exploration, but it caused too much trouble to justify that.
While NieR: Automata’s gameplay was great, the stories written in its layers of storytelling was excellent. You can divide up the general parts of the game in three parts, each being the respective ‘route’ of a character. Where in general, 2B’s route helps you get settled into the world, and 9S’ route sets you up for the other half of the game, the third route.
I was honestly surprised when I realized that the game would be an open world type of action-RPG complete side-quests and plots to match them. All of which remain consistent with the title’s themes and serves to foreshadow what’s to come in the game. There’s also a series of weapons that can all work well together for dual-wielding, though all you’ll really need to clear the game are the basic katanas as they do well enough so long as you upgrade them. There’s also plenty to find and discover around the map, but mostly finds that really matter are the Pods and quest line NPCs, both of which can get difficult to find even with the aid of the map. If you are interested in learning about all the stories woven into NieR: Automata, doing each of them would be a rewarding experience in their own right, I never felt like I wasted time on any of the quests specifically because of the story they unfold. There’s also the giant amount of experience points at the end that helps make final bosses easy but hey there’s other ways to do that.
NieR: Automata thrives in the various game modes it has it seems to fall short of actually satisfying boss fights. Encountering bosses for the first time feels special and have some real drama to them but having them reused with rather uncreative setups makes it feel like there’s only maybe 3 actual boss fights in the game. Others tend to be just annoying or generally tougher armored enemy robots. It’s not really the selling point in the game, so if you can live with that it has so much more to offer you. For starters it has 5 main endings and 22 joke endings, care to find them all?
Whenever I look into a game’s extra features there’s a tendency to look at it can do in terms of online offerings and that comes off as a very limited experience, where you can find the bodies left behind by other fallen players and either retrieve their parts or repair them to temporarily have it AI controlled and fight for you. But does make for a bit of surprising experience along the end.
It also has a recently added Arena DLC where you fight the biggest boss Square-Enix can come up with at the present time, it’s amazing.
The game also has a Chapter Select and Debug Mode once you clear all 5 main endings, allowing you to backtrack to any point of the game’s story allowing you to access any quest you failed to finish, making collecting endings, exploring content and completing quests that much more convenient to do once you’ve finished the main story. Debug mode is there to generally play with what the game can make, basically a free sandbox.
Finally, it also has a very unique feature of deleting your save file (with your consent) and never auto-saving. Not the first time Yoko Taro pulled off something like this, especially when he decides to make that part of the tools he uses for storytelling. If that’s enough to pique your interest do check it out.
I don’t think any sort of numerical rating I produce here would convince me to not recommend it for anybody to play. The game is indeed not perfect and at times feels borderline pretentious in what it tries to portray, but it’s a game that has dared to become a title to stand on its own instead of bending to more popular conventional practices in terms of game writing and design, and does it wonderfully. It also makes creative use of game elements to effectively let you experience a story that any other medium can’t do.
NieR: Automata is a game about tragedy but that can change when you let yourself be immersed in the experience and invest into completing it. It attempts to trivialize everything you’ve witnessed and done, but if you’re willing to pay the price, becomes a story of hope. It has made me realize just how aware its creators are about who its players would be, and in its own little way, makes all the seemingly transient struggles we all went through be meaningful.
At the end of the day, NieR: Autoamta is a weird little game with a weird way of telling you something, and it’s completely fine the way it is.
NieR: Automata on the PlayStation 4 brings glory to mankind with a 4.6 / 5.
Play it on PS4 and PC.