Publisher: Square Enix
What an odd duck of an RPG.
This was made by Japanese developers PlatinumGames in 2017. The company is known for titles like, Bayonetta, Vanquish, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengence.
Designed as a sequel to the 2010 game “Nier”, you play as android 2B whose goal, surprise, is to save humanity from evil robots.
In the beginning stages, you are thrust into a flying robot and the game plays like one of those old-school, top-down, air-battle games, where you basically go left and right and shoot whatever is coming down from the top and sides of the screen.
Then it turns into a Japanese styled, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, robot-infested RPG.
Most of the time it is ‘open world’, but sometimes the perspective changes and now you are playing a side scrolling plat-former, and others, you work with a top-down view. Often, these perspective shifts flow in and out with the game-play. It adds a visual and control surprise that does well to keep the experience fresh. RPG’s can often get weighed down with their own repetitive grinding for levels.
Most of the combat system revolves around a ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ weapon, along with your ever-present ‘pod’ that adds a ‘shooter’ element to the combat. It’s a rather unique set-up that I haven’t seen in other games, and in the case of Nier Automata, it works well.
The core of the game is your typical RPG grind of fetch quests and elimination missions. Weapons and gear are, of course, up-gradable (with the right parts, which you find… obviously… by grinding through the world and scavenging from defeated enemies).
Ever-present is 9S, your male android counter-part and plucky companion. He also has swords and a pod that fires. Which makes the fighting essentially a NPC-co-op game, as you can tailor 9S’s combat style to fit the situation. While he is never as deadly as you, he does do a good job of keeping enemies busy and eliminates his fare share along the way. The dialog is a bit cheesy, like most anime is to my ears. 9S flirts with 2B (you), 2B coldly rebukes his clumsy attempts at friendship, and that is their ‘dynamic’.
The story is often as eccentric and weird as the characters encountered. The world is populated by autonomous machines, brought to life long ago by aliens, that caused mankind to flee the planet. But the aliens are (supposedly) long gone, and the machines have evolved into their own species. Some are benevolent to the human cause, others, not so much. This allows the game to play with the users feelings of empathy as numerous stories personify the very enemy with which you are constantly at war.
The developers made some curious choices around the access to side-missions and the players ability to ‘finish’ the game with much left to do on the table. (SPOILER ALERT FOLLOWS, SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU ARE A PURIST). I beat the main mission, and a grip of side-missions that I could access, by level 27, which took about 20 hours. Story-wise, it felt complete, if not mired down in the tropes of fighting ego-maniacal boss battles to save humanity. But I knew there was a lot of the games side-missions that hadn’t been attempted, or I was too weak to attempt, still remaining. After watching the credit roll for the ‘ending’, the game informs the player that they have reached ‘Ending A’, and suggests to continue playing. The second play-through sees the player now controlling 9S and re-living all the battles, experiences, and story-lines from the game you just played, but now from his perspective. Admittedly, there was some clever surprises woven into this approach, so the experience isn’t EXACTLY a mirror play-through, but it does follow the timeline of events and quests as the first play-through. Curiously, your characters experience level is a continuation from where 2B ended her game.
While interesting, the idea seemed a bit much. I had already slogged through all these conversations and done all these fetch and elimination quests. It’s like if you just watched a movie, and liked the movie, but then had to immediately watch a re-make of that movie. I had to bail on that. Perhaps I might revisit just to see how the other ending plays out. **It actually takes THREE play-throughs to see all the endings and experience the full story arc. That is A LOT to ask out of a player, and a rather cheap way to re-use your game assets to fluff out the game. That being said, Nier: Automata is clever enough that I’m sure you are rewarded with plenty of unique tweaks and spins on the story that it’s probably worth the grind.
For some people.
I am not those people.
Complaints: The “Robot Parade” mission. For some unfathomable reason, the devs decided to toss a seemingly innocent side quest mission in a part of the game that is easily accessible very early on. EVERY other mission you undertake throughout the game, is balanced (somewhat) to what your character might be able to accomplish with their current skill set (or comes with a warning of a suggested player level). But not this mission. No. The devs thought it would be funny (read: incompetent and disrespectful as hell to players) to throw a mission that will most certainly either fail, or more likely, result in the players death. Its too lengthy with WAY too high of level enemies thrown at the player in waves. I had poured HOURS into this game, with an (intentional) perfect no death play-through. I was carefully grinding and upgrading my character and approaching every situation with both caution and skill. And then I accepted this stupid side quest to protect a robot parade. Seriously. And the devs got their wish. I died. Quickly. For the first time. It was disappointing to say the least. Realizing I was only level 12 and they were throwing level 35 enemies at me… I wisely left the mission alone until later. Several hours (and no deaths later)… a now level 25 me happened to be in the same area. Not knowing just how LONG the mission truly is… I accepted again. Only to once again suffer my SECOND death as waves of higher level enemies appeared and appeared and appeared and appeared. It pissed me off so much I quit mid-game/mid-stream. WHY DO DEVELOPERS PULL THIS CRAP?!! Even the wiki on this game suggests you should be level 40 to undertake this mission. LEVEL 40! SO WHY IN THE HELL DO I HAVE ACCESS TO IT WHEN I’M LEVEL 12????? I ‘beat’ the first ending story-line and my character was only level 27. In what is an other-wise incredibly smart and balanced game… this one side-quest is a giant middle finger from the developers to the players. Way to smear a giant black smudge of bullshit across your otherwise clever game. **After realizing you have to play through the game THREE times (with all your experience leveling carrying over from game to game), I understand how one could eventually grind to a level 40 to undertake the mission. But it was still a not-so-fun trick.
Verdict: This is a different animal. Visually, story-wise, mechanics, atmosphere, graphics… this game is unlike most any other RPG I’ve played. It’s interesting, challenging (sometimes unfairly), and offered many surprises. But the 3-playthrough grind and sometimes questionable balancing issues makes Nier Automata a game that isn’t for everyone. If you have a built in appreciation for Japanese gaming culture, and are looking for something unique in the RPG genre, then this might be a good fit. I’m glad I played it, and would go as far as recommending it to a certain breed of RPG player, but after 20 hours (which is relatively short for an RPG), I was ready for the end and wasn’t real excited about doing it all over again… and then ONE MORE time to get the complete story arc.