Nier: Automata review
I’m actually not too familiar with Yoko Taro’s work. I played a little bit of the first Nier but the beginning was boring so I gave up on it before getting to anything interesting (maybe I need to give it another chance, I may have not given it enough time to impress me). I have Drag-on Dragoon 2 (Japanese version of Drakengard 2) though that was a bit tough to play without having some context (and Japanese knowledge) so I didn’t get too far in that. And that’s about it. So I didn’t really know what to expect from this.
Despite me not liking the first Nier (in my short playtime with it), I was really hyped for this one, for one simple reason: Platinum Games. I played the demo and really enjoyed it, so I was very much looking forward to it.
I’ll say it this way, but this game… it sure is really weird. I’m not entirely sure how to review it, but let’s try this. I did something different with the Zelda review, and I actually like the way that review went, so I’m trying this again. I will go as spoiler-free as I can though, because there’s a LOT to spoil and I’d really hate to spoil it for anyone.
Read on and see if it’s good!
Publisher: Square Enix
Date of Release: March 17th 2017
Platform: PC, PS4 (PC version played)
Genre: Action RPG
Rated M for Mature
Nier: Automata is… weird. On the gameplay side it starts as a Platinum-style badass action game but slowly the combat itself, while still important to do correctly, becomes more about leveling up and character customization, so it feels more like an RPG at some point… That is, unless you play at higher difficulties. Unless you play on hard, the game becomes really easy for the most part (with a few segments that are a bit tougher). On hard it’s really there to kick your ass. There’s lots of customization options, and weapons, and gameplay styles so there’s lots to do.
The game starts up as a vertical scrolling shooter, then becomes a twin-stick shooter, then becomes a horizontal scrolling shooter before you get to finally playing anything that the actual game is like (with a few extra styles during the rest of the game). Then when you finish the mostly-linear prologue level, it becomes an open-world action RPG. You can find materials, do side-quests (lots and lots of side-quests), level up, buy and upgrade equipment… it’s really weird how much gameplay variety there is in here.
The presentation is pretty strong. I mean, technically it won’t blow your mind, but the character design is great, there’s some really wacky and weird areas, the world attempts to make some sense as far as open worlds go. The music has singing in it. It’s really weird. I don’t really like that usually but they make it work here. Not sure how, maybe it’s because it’s usually in a language I don’t understand, who knows. The voice acting, even in English, is really good. And the story… well, more on that later.
The game as a whole though… it’s something else. Remember how people freaked out over Undertale? Somehow, this does the same kind of things, but at a different level. Depending on how many sidequests and endings you get, this should last you around 25 hours. At the end of those 25 hours, this game poses a question of you that I can’t think of a game off the top of my head that ever has. It’s not plot-related like Undertale, it’s literally talking to you directly. It asks you to do something no game ever has (while goading you into not doing it). And at the end of it I wasn’t even really sure what to think of it. This game is weird.
So overall I found it really enjoyable, and might play it again in hard mode eventually. It’s a really good game and I recommend it! Also it’s fucked up. It does very much have moments that scream Platinum though. And YES, after a year of duds Platinum produced a winner with this one.
Note that there’s 3 playthroughs, that will get you 5 main endings. There’s also 21 more endings you can get depending on what you do in the game. Mostly joke endings.
So this is the year 11000-ish. Long ago aliens came to earth, and unleashed robots to kill humanity. Humanity fled to the moon, and sent androids to fight the robots so that eventually they could come back. It seems simple enough; fight robots, save humanity. Buuuuut this game has all sorts of weird shit going on and surprising plot twists. It’s pretty interesting, I did end up liking some of the characters.
It’s a story not really about saving the world, but rather more about 2 main themes: humanity and emotion. And the fact that I’m saying something like this in a review should tell you that it’s something that stays with you. It’s not amazing, but the story and overall presentation is a big part of why this game is worth playing.
This game fucks with you
But more than the story, it’s partly about how weird this game is in general. The ending of the 3 playthroughs is something I never really saw in a game. It’s pretty fucked up. But even outside of that, this game is fucking weird. The plot itself has some crazy enough plot twists, but that’s not the half of it. The characters are weird too. The writing is just plain bizarre at points. There’s some endings that come at a moment you might not expect (save a lot, btw). There’s so much weird imagery and events that are just… really fucking weird. I couldn’t begin to describe some of this stuff. I don’t know if Yoko Taro is a genius, or just messed up in the head. Either way he ended up making something memorable, so it works out for everyone.
Multiple gameplay styles
I just want to say it’s just really cool that they have multiple gameplay styles here. It really adds to the variety of the game to get different kinds of levels instead of just doing the same thing all the time. The shooter levels aren’t great as far as shooters go (I could go into that one day), but they’re a nice break from the action and RPGing.
The combat is pretty much as you’d expect from a Platinum title. Weak attacks on one button, heavy attack on the other. This game lets you equip one weapon on each button, and you can equip 2 weapon sets at once so you can switch between up to 4 weapons on-the-fly. You can jump and dash as your normal movement options. The dash button can be used as a dodge, and if you dodge attacks just at the right time you do a special dodge which lets you do a special attack combo.
2B also has access to a pod, which is a small flying robot that provides support. Said support comes in the form of bullets and big ass laser beams. The pod can be equipped with different things… but seriously why would you not pick the laser beam? You can lock on to targets and the pod will automatically aim at them. Locking-on being as useful as it is in any other game of the genre.
In general the combat is pretty fun, but because of the next point, it’s a bit on the easy side, at least in normal mode. More on difficulties later. Some people commented, back in the demo, that shooting was too strong, but while it’s still solid damage overall, it never becomes the go-to way to deal damage, because melee attacks are pretty much always stronger (except for the laser beam, but that has recharge time).
So this is an RPG. You fight things, get experience points and level up. You travel in a mostly-open world (it’s quite small) fight enemies, do sidequests (which tend to yield pretty decent rewards, if only for the cash and EXP). You also get weapons which you can find materials to upgrade (and there’s a secret (not too well hidden) blacksmith that can upgrade them further than other weapon merchants).
But the biggest thing here is plug-in chips. You have a limited amount of slots to put chips in. There’s one chip that’s required (remove it and die… seriously, save if you want to try), the rest can be removed and customized. Some of them put in standard HUD elements like health bars and damage values, but the more important ones do things like buff HP, attack power, add shockwaves to attacks, defense and a variety of effects. You can fuse chip together to make stronger chips, but stronger chips tend to require more slots. This is what… not really breaks, but makes this game a lot easier at least. Get a strong Offensive Heal chip and a strong Auto Heal chip and you’re basically never dying unless you stop hitting stuff (or stop hiding long enough to heal).
Overall it’s fun to customize, but a bit easy to cheese.
Speaking of easy to cheese, because of healing chips the normal difficulty is extremely easy. HOWEVER, I can’t say I really enjoy how difficulty is handled. Sure it makes enemies tougher, but it does something I’m really don’t like: it removed the lock-on feature from you completely… Why? Enemies already deal, like, 10 times the damage they do on normal (that’s not really an exaggeration, I tried it a few times in the game and normal enemies were killing me in 2-3 hits), so is there really a need to remove a core feature of the genre? I’m sure it works out okay, but I really don’t like playing this kind of game without being able to lock-on.
On my computer (FX-8350, R9 290X) it gets a lot of really small frame drops, especially when lots of stuff is going on at once. It is to the point of annoyance from time to time, but then again I just kept the default settings so maybe I could have changed some things around to improve performance.. In general I don’t have an issue with it, the controller support is solid (note: if you’re using a PS4 controller it might stop working randomly, you’ll need to go in Steam Big Picture mode and there’s an option specifically in there for PS4 controller support… weird), so on a surface level the PC port is fine. I’m not one to do in-depth analysis of this shit. It’s playable and doesn’t crash every other second so I’m fine with it, frame drops and all. There’s a reason I’m planning on getting a new PC this year.