Yoko Taro is undeniably a genius when it comes to crafting a narrative and world. Though his previous attempts with the Drakengard series may have failed to capture the attention of the gaming world, it was the original NieR that really became a cult classic with many gamers and some critics. Released back in 2010 on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, NieR was an action roleplaying game at heart, much like its sequel that we’re about to discuss. But it was the way that combat was presented and the mixing of many different genres that made NieR unique. With a killer soundtrack behind it, it caught people (myself included) completely off guard with just how good it really was. Unfortunately, that didn’t resonate into sales, and all hopes of a sequel to NieR were quickly dissipating as the years went on. Fast forward to E3 2015 at the Square Enix press conference and a bombshell was dropped when a new project involving NieR was announced. A little under two years later, and we finally have this gorgeous and groundbreaking game in our hands. This is a special game, guys and gals. I’m so very happy for PlatinumGames, and thankful to Square Enix that they gave them a chance with this one. This is by far the studio at its absolute best, and I encourage everyone to give it a chance. Read on for our full NieR: Automata review.
Title: NieR: Automata
Publisher: Square Enix
Available On: PlayStation 4, PC
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Copy Purchased for the sake of this review
As previously mentioned, NieR: Automata is an action roleplaying game set in a semi-open world. Before you get any ideas, this is not an open world as in Horizon Zero Dawn, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or Far Cry. The areas consisting of the world in NieR are all connected, and you can freely explore this world as much as you physically want. But you aren’t forced to do anything that you don’t really care for, and it’s actually encouraged to just go at things on your own pace and not worry about completing everything right away or feel like you’re missing something. Why is this? Because you’re going to want to play through the game multiple times. Three, at least. Let me explain why.
The story in NieR: Automata is one of the standouts for being so damn good and engaging players in a world that is interesting and begs to be explored and secrets to be uncovered. Taking place on a post-Apocalyptic Earth thousands of years into the future after the first game, you’re playing as one of three combat androids from the YoRHa division ‘For the Glory of Mankind!’ One of the reasons Yoko Taro is one of my all-time favorite developers in the industry is because of the way he utilizes multiple playthroughs in order to tell one complete picture. The first time you go through the story, you’ll get a small glimpse as to what’s really happening. The second time, you’re playing as the other character in this duo and seeing things from an entirely different perspective. The third time (and definitely the best route by far) you’re playing as a mixture of two different characters, but this time, the events taking place are actually occurring after the events of the first two playthroughs. So in a sense, you’re only able to see the complete game if you do three separate runs.
I know what you’re thinking. Won’t that take forever? No, actually. Doing a mixture of side quests throughout each run, I clocked in just under twenty-five hours to get everything done. I’m not going to spoil anything from the narrative for you, as it is absolutely worth experiencing without knowing much at all as to what is going to occur. How the game is able to take players on a journey through this often-times dark and grim story, but still make us love everything about it is a testament to how great it all ties together and keeps leading the narrative forward in interesting and unique ways.
2B is the android you’ll begin playing with in NieR: Automata. She’s also the easiest of the three in regards to learning the mechanics and the combat system, so this makes perfect sense. A female unit, her main characteristics are that she is always calm, cool, and collected when faced with most situations. She also doesn’t take crap from anyone or anything, and has a tough time showcasing her emotions and being social. Her development throughout the story is quite endearing, especially when it comes to her partner-in-crime, 9S.
He’s the android you’ll play as throughout playthrough number two. 9S is very likeable and quite chatty, as he is often told by 2B. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and seems like he just wants to be liked by all and friendly to everyone that he meets. As a scout model android, combat is not his first thought, but he eventually becomes quite useful thanks to his hacking mechanic, which works wonders on certain enemies. Scouts typically are sent in well before the combat androids (like 2B) are in order to get a glimpse of the area and the threats that will be encountered ahead of important missions. His getting partnered up with 2B meant the world to him, as he finally was able to work side-by-side with someone, and the relationship that develops between these two is very heartwarming.
A2 is the third and final android you’ll play as during parts of playthrough number three. She is a model that was once thought to be no longer in existence, and initially comes off as the enemy during a part of the first two playthroughs. You eventually find out why she is perhaps the best character in NieR: Automata though as you begin to control her and understand her motives for everything. Her style is a mixture of the other two characters, so you’ll feel right at home by the time you reach this portion of the story. All three androids have their pros and cons when it comes to combat and exploration, but since you’ll be in control of them for lengthy parts of the game, they all feel relatively similar with minor differences.
Another aspect of NieR that stands out is the continued switching between different genres and perspectives when playing through the story. The original game also did this, but I feel like it was handled way better in the sequel and also felt more unique at the same time. Since it is a semi-open world action roleplaying game, a majority of the time will be spent in a third-person over-the-shoulder view just as you’d expect. From time to time, the game will shift to an overhead view at key points when enemies are rushing in from all sides, or it’ll go to a side-scrolling view when traversing across lengthy bridges or moving up and down various walkways requiring a bit of platforming as well.
There are portions of the story that take on a more “bullet-hell” approach, especially the hacking mechanic. When hacking things as either 9S or A2, you’ll be in control of a small spaceship reminiscent of the one from the classic Asteroids, as you maneuver and dodge around incoming orbs in order to destroy the main object in each sequence. Orange orbs can be shot and eliminated, whilst the purple ones are immune and will hurt you if you come into contact with them. Take too many hits and you’ll have to start over from the beginning. The challenge is real with this mechanic, especially the further you get into the story or depending on how tough the individual enemies are that you’re attempting to hack into. It was also a really nice touch to include an arcade in the menu options to allow those that really enjoy this portion to go back and play through different scenarios of the hacking game.
Two additional genres and types of gameplay find themselves baked into NieR: Automata. The first is a flight simulator, as you pilot around a mech and take out enemies in the sky. Two different viewpoints also are used during these portions, as you’ll be again looking overheard or a more over-the-shoulder vantage once again. The final genre used is a basic text adventure. This doesn’t happen often (only a few times), but when it does, prepare to be hit with a wall of text that is at least interesting to read. The way PlatinumGames was able to capture the shifting in and out of different gaming genres that was made famous from the first NieR was really well done, and I don’t think the game would have been as special or memorable without this. I know some people don’t appreciate this mechanic as much as I do, but it’s one of the things that really makes the game.
Traditional combat feels very rewarding and fun to participate in. Enemy machines are scattered about throughout the world, and simply running up to them and attacking is how you’ll engage in combat. Each character has a light attack and a strong attack that can be used, with different weapons being able to be equipped for each one. You also have a Pod at your disposal that can fire projectiles toward enemies, helping in combat even more. You’ll get used to locking onto an enemy, firing away with the Pod, and executing beautiful combos and evading attacks all at the same time. The way actions flow seamlessly from one to the next is magical, and it is made even more so thanks to the way NieR: Automata handles evading.
In a very generous way, the player-controlled androids can evade almost any attack from enemies and bosses and take minimal to no damage in the long run. Timing plays a key part, but the window of opportunity felt very wide, as going for an evasive move a bit early or a bit late would often wind up in the mechanic still working properly. You are also able to dodge and rush away from battles in order to regain composure and use healing items if at all necessary. Be sure to always have an ample supply of healing items on you! Some of the battles later in the story proved to be quite challenging yet fun, but did require the usage of healing items in order to make it through without dying.
The level of customization granted to the player is quite impressive as well. Throughout the game, you’ll be able to not only pick and choose which weapons you are using and upgrading to make stronger, but by continuing to upgrade your core capacity, you’ll be able to equip different and better chips onto your android that will change the way in which you play the game at times. From offering better drop rates of items off of enemies, to providing more experience per battle, to allowing the androids to move faster across the world and in battles, and to doing more damage with melee and ranged attacks, the ways you can customize your play style and fighting style are seamlessly endless. Having a completely unlocked core will allow for quite a few chips to be equipped at once, so this is highly recommended, especially if you find yourself struggling with one specific mechanic or area. There’s probably a way to overcome it using chips if need be.
All of this gets wrapped up into a tight little ball of emotion and explores themes and topics that I was not physically expecting. I went in anticipating something insane and crazy that only the mind of Yoko Taro could produce, and while that does happen on a level that I wasn’t even ready for, the exploration of things like humanity, what makes us human, emotions, relationships, and deeper philosophical questions will really deliver a punch to your gut and actually make you think and ponder things differently. This is one of the main things I took away from my journey with NieR: Automata. What really does make us all human?
The soundtrack is once again nothing short of a masterpiece from the creative bones of Keiichi Okabe, who has worked on Drakengard 3 and the original NieR. Coming off of the excellent Horizon Zero Dawn soundtrack from Guerrilla Games and Joris de Man, I wasn’t expecting another soundtrack to affect me as much and blow me away quite like NieR: Automata managed to do. Each and every song packs a certain level of emotion and feeling that is rare in our industry and can only be captured by folks like this. The album is available for purchase on places like Amazon. Go buy it and support these guys. It’s that good.
On a technical level, I didn’t really experience any major hiccups or slowdowns when playing through the game. Brief moments of slowdown or stutters quickly disappeared before they even became an issue to influence our ultimate scoring of the game. It runs beautifully on a PlayStation 4 Pro. The graphics are also a nice mixture of tones that paint the grim and dreary picture NieR aims for time and time again. Automata also has the pleasure of having one of my all time favorite moments and areas in gaming to date. You’ll know what it is as soon as you get there yourself. The way the music is used, the art style, the aesthetic it puts off… the general vibes… man it’s glorious.
Square Enix and PlatinumGames really knocked one out of the park with NieR: Automata. Do not let this franchise die and fade away! It deserves to be one of the main staples right up there alongside Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, especially if it continues to have as big of an impact as this one did over the original. When we set out with Level Down Games, never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we’d have three masterpieces release in the span of one week. But that’s exactly what happened. Rather than rob any of them from a score that is anything less than a ten, all three have clawed and scratched their way to the top and are deserving of all the praise and high remarks they each have received. Here’s to more adventures with Yoko Taro and the Drakengard/NieR series!