Content Type: Gaming Reviews
Date: March 4, 2017
What do you fight for?
Nier Automata shouldn’t exist. From all logical standpoints the chances of a sequel to the 2010 cult classic seem absurd, with its parent developer Cavia gone and the series for the most part reaching a definitive end come the games final ending, hopes for a sequel seemed like a pipe dream. But apparently, we live in a world as crazy as the ones Yoko Taro creates because not only does Nier Automata exist, it also comes to us with renewed life and award-winning studio Platinum Games at the helm. Nier Automata restores my faith that despite all the doom and gloom people like to put around games these days, genuine passion projects do exist. With a considerably bigger marketing push and the involvement of Platinum Games, more eyes will be on the series than ever before, so I thought it important to give my opinion as a long time fan of both the Nier and Drakengard series and from the perspective of someone accustom to Yoko Taro’s unique and sometimes confusing design and storytelling methods.
Nier Automata is a completely uncompromising vision. In a console generation that has been characterised by low risk releases and repetitive sequels, Automata is completely Yoko Taro’s work, polished up to a refined level. It instills a level of trust in the player you’ll rarely find in a video game narrative, asking the player deep questions about both the actions they take in-game and the actions they take as a person. Set thousands of years after the events of the original Nier, the planet has been invaded by aliens and their machine forces, bordering on extinction, the remaining humans take refuge on the moon, sending out their specially created android units named Yorha to fight the machines and reclaim earth (FOR THE GLORY OF MANKIND).
You play as androids 2B and 9S, as you fight desperately to push back the machine forces and reclaim the planet. And that’s as much as I’ll be giving away of Automata’s plot. Going in knowing virtually nothing, makes uncovering the games mysteries and reveals one of the most narratively satisfying and enriching experiences you can have this console generation, there’s truly nothing like it both in structure and scope. Automata wants to make you think, it wants you to ask questions and yet it has no problem leaving you in the dark for large portions of its run. When you reach the games first ending only about 10% of your questions will be answered and almost half of the game’s content will be seen past this point. (to put it into perspective, the games third ending is essentially a sequel to the first two and adds nearly 10 hours to the overall play time).
I truly cannot stress enough, how important playing through all the games 5 main endings is, to truly understand and appreciate the narrative. Its an unprecedented level of trust in the player and a completely uniquely Yoko Taro way of delivering a narrative. The game makes you work for the reveals, it makes you dig deep for its secrets and it makes the final pay off that much more impactful, that much more important, Automata’s narrative is a gut punch of misdirection and big ideas, that has had me endlessly pondering on its meanings and implications for days since. As with all Yoko Taro’s games, Automata deconstructs and analysis’s the very core of video games, in both their portrayal of violence and the act of consequence. There’s nothing quite like it in the medium, nothing quite willing to go the places Automata does, nothing quite willing to push what narratives can say about us and our interactions with them.
Like Nier before it Automata feels like a work of art, a story with something meaningful and impactful to say, wrapped up in the perfect amount of humor and personally. It works perfectly as both a sequel to Nier and an entry point for newcomers. As a sequel it has subtle hints and cameos from the previous game, without stepping on the originals toes and cheapening that games impact. Though these hints and cameos don’t once get in the way of new players being able to jump in and enjoy Automata’s narrative. (though it should be noted through data logs and archives, Automata will give away a lot of the original games plot).
Being a fan of the series, recommending previous entries in the series to others always came with a big asterix “look, the gameplay is average and graphics are a certain kind of ugly but trust me its worth it for the story”. It feels great to say, that with Platinum’s involvement both has been unquestionably rectified. Automata has one of the most in-depth and enjoyable combat systems I’ve experienced in a long time, coupled with some incredible boss fights and weapon/ability unlocks made the game almost impossible to put down. The system has the perfect amount of risk reward and learning how to dodge and combine projectile abilities with melee is the key to success. It’s telling that enemies I felt were cheap and unfair in the beginning I was dispatching with incredible fines later on, it really is a system you learn as you play and by the end you’ll find yourself doing literal finger gymnastics, as you juggle projectile fire with well-timed dodge rolls and weapon set switching for longer combos.
The gameplay is just flat out fun and couple this with incredibly satisfying animations and physicals, that make every hit feel weighty. The variety in weapons and fire-modes is also greatly appreciated, spears and heavy swords play completely different, with heavy swords taking long slow hits and spears giving a straight point of damage and yet with the weapon sets can be combined into stylish flurries, as you masterfully dodge an enemies attack, counter with an air-juggle and then smash down to the remaining enemies, with a heavy ground pound.
Add on top of all the main weapon combinations and types, you also have projectiles from your pod (these work pretty much the same as Grimoire Weiss’s magic abilities from the original). You’ll start out with the basic but ever useful machine gun but eventually unlock missiles and electrical strikes, further more you’ll also have access to abilities, such as a laser strike, giant hammer strike, a bubble that slows down time and a good selection more. There’s so much depth and experimentation to be had with these and each one feels viable. Adding onto this even further are character specific abilities, you’ll unlock on subsequent playthroughs and the system is a dense and varied one that despite all the moving pieces, manages to be simple and easy to grasp. It’s just a lot of fun to play overall and I was surprised how well the combat worked in the semi open world environment the game has.
It feels like a perfect mix of deep combat and rpg design. Despite a lack of enemy variety, with most enemies just being variation of the main 4 or 5, the main story keeps the objectives varied and puts the player is new environments frequently enough to stave off any repetition. Though this is slightly less true of the side quests, which are mostly just different spins on the same pool of objectives, though they always felt worthwhile to do, both for the content loot you obtain and the world building they add. A simple find x number of fetch quest, ended with me learning valuable backstory on one of the main characters I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Nier Automata is simply a blast to play, I’d lose hours upon hours to the game just completing side quests and advancing the story. (Three sleepless nights in a row was enough to realise the game’s doing something right).
Graphically, Automata is a technically decent looking game raised to great due to some excellent art direction. The environments definitely aren’t giving games like Horizon: Zero Dawn a run for their money, however the environments are consistently varied and when the game starts to go into the more bizarre architectural structures it’s downright stunning. Character models (especially the main cast) are incredibly unique and striking (and no I’m not just talking about 2B’s “clothing”). Though npc’s lack the same level of care, being variations of the same few character assets, boss fights look incredible and the scale of the stages is impressive. The way the game uses perspective is also cool, like in the previous game, you can be playing in third person one minute and top down the next. The game is much bigger on the bullet hell sections now and even feeling like it borrows from Drakengard 3’s dragonback missions with the flight suits. The use of colour, such as certain areas or events being completely grey is a cool graphical addition and overall while the game isn’t a technical powerhouse, the designs and environments are consistently unique. It is a huge step up from previous entries in the series (You’ll no longer get the “dude is this a ps2 game?”)
Of course, a point that will come as no surprise to anyone, is that music and sound are exceptional. Keiichi Okabe delivers yet another beautiful and haunting soundtrack that fits and enriches the game’s atmosphere and tone perfectly. It’s one of the first soundtracks since … well his last soundtrack on Drakengard 3, where I have stopped and waited in an area just to enjoy the music. Every song feels perfectly made for the events that transpire. Songs like Birth of a Wish incorporate the game perfectly, creating a song that is beautiful and poignant to the events of the game and songs like City of Ruin are instant classics next to the songs of the original. While I don’t know if it’s quite on the original Nier’s level, its undoubtedly a close second and just a beautiful collection of music overall.
English voice acting is incredible across the board (I did download the Japanese version but chose to go with the dub over sub), with major props going to Kira Buckland and Kyle McCarley as 2B and 9S, who deliver many heavy lines well and believably. The entire cast even down to side characters, do an excellent job at sucking you into and believing in the world around you. Nier was also known for its exceptional cast and the same is definitely true here. Sound effects are all top quality too, with sword swings and blast fire sounding exactly how it should. Sound is expectly a complete high point here, with a beautiful, memorable score, excellent voice acting and great sound design.
Production values and design this time around are of course high above previous entries. Menu’s are clean and simple to navigate and the game controls perfectly. Platinum gives the player numerous control options to pick from, and the game thankfully makes keeping track of side quests far easier than in the original. Cut scenes look incredible throughout, navigation is made easier than before and everything just comes together to make Nier Automata a completely engrossing and enjoyable experience all around. There’s very little to criticize here because it works so well, while enemy variety and a few frame rate drops in some of the games crazier moments are present, mentioning them feels like nitpicking.
Automata had me glued to my console over the 40 hours it took for me to see it through its 5 endings and I’ve been thinking about the experience ever since. Even as I write this review I’m eager to go back and finish all the side quests and secret joke endings (one for each letter of the alphabet). As someone who considers Nier and to a letter degree the Drakengard games, misjudged pieces of art (at least in story telling) It feels incredible to have a game be just as beautiful and twisted as the previous entries while also being a truly incredible game. Yoko Taro’s games are ones I love in spite of their flaws, with Automata there is no compromise, it’s just a phenomenal piece of work.
Nier Automata is something truly special. A testament to what can happen when a director with truly unique and important vision is finally given the team and budget to make something new. As with previous entries, Automata deconstructs and questions the very actions we take in video games but its sights go even further than that. Diving into the ideas of consciousness and what it means to be alive. Yoko Taro understands the immense potential video games have as an art form and as with previous entries is a story that can only exist as video game. We’re only three months into 2017 but you can be assured that Automata will be one of the most unique experiences you have this year.
If you have any love for games that dare to be different and story’s that demand your attention, I cannot recommend Nier Automata enough and thanks to Platinum games I can say the game is a blast to play throughout. Automata is a look into what games can be when they harness the power of their medium and will likely be one of the most important games you play this year.