Review: NieR Automata
This review is based off the Japanese release of NieR Automata which includes full English voice/text options.
The original NieR released nearly seven years ago to poor sales and mixed reviews. In the time since, it’s garnered quite the cult following due to its unique method of storytelling, characters, and the soundtrack. For myself, it’s a game that has stuck with me more than just about anything else I’ve played. It’s a powerful story that’s supported by characters I grew very attached to and set to a score that’s worthy of every ounce of praise it gets. I still have a difficult time believing that Yoko Taro and Platinum Games were paired together to create a sequel to NieR, it just seems too good (and crazy) to be true, and yet here we are and not only is NieR Automata real, but it surpasses the original game in nearly every way.
NieR Automata is set thousands of years after the events of the original and, aside from a handful of references, is completely accessible for anyone new to the series. The basic premise follows a world inhabited by machines after an alien invasion caused the few remaining fragments of humanity to flee to the Moon. In response, mankind created YoRHa, an organization of androids that would descend upon Earth to fight a proxy war against the machines in hopes of one day taking it back. NieR Automata follows 2B, a stoic combat android, as she’s partnered up with 9S, a reconnaissance android who is typically chastised for exhibiting emotions that androids aren’t allowed to have. To say much more about Automata’s story or characters would be treading dangerously into spoiler territory, so instead, here’s what you need to know going in. NieR Automata, like the original, follows a pretty unique method of storytelling. This means that the first time you see credits, and even the second time, don’t assume that the game is over by any means. Multiple playthroughs is absolutely necessary to see the full picture that NieR Automata is attempting to present, it’s also best not to think of these as typical playthroughs. You aren’t going to necessarily trudge through the exact same scenarios multiple times just to get a slightly different ending. Instead, each ‘route’ in NieR Automata always offers something new that will change how you perceive certain events or characters. This is one of the many reasons why the original game developed the following that it did and I’m really happy to say that NieR Automata handles this method of storytelling masterfully.
The other piece of this crazy puzzle is of course the inclusion of Platinum Games. NieR Automata is actually quite different from their other games up to this point. Whereas Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising Revengeance are very technical character action games, NieR Automata retains their trademark flashy combat while also implementing a stronger focus on the RPG portion of Action RPG. None of this will be all that surprising, considering Platinum’s pedigree, but it is so much fun just moving around as 2B. Dodging around enemy bullet hell patterns, chaining together attacks, switching weapon sets on the fly, and making use of your ranged fire all feels really great. There’s a significant weight to 2B’s moves and it’s super satisfying to counter enemy attacks and watch them go flying backwards. There’s not a wide range of combos to remember, instead, much of the depth comes in the customization that’s available to you. First, there are two weapon sets that can each have a weapon equipped to the light or heavy attack button. What’s really cool about this is that each weapon type has a completely different move-set depending on which slot they’re equipped to. Allowing for a decent range of possibilities within your two weapon sets. Next, there’s the plug-in chips that can be installed to manipulate certain attributes as well as the HUD. Plug-in chips can be acquired as enemy drops or found in chests hidden throughout the world, these can provide a small boost to Max HP, increase EXP gained, or even activate certain elements of the game’s HUD. (Making the HUD completely customizable to your liking while also freeing up more slots for plug-in chips.) On top of this is the ability to fuse chips of the same type together for a greater boost at the cost of higher storage requirements. Max plugin chip storage can be increased and, by the end of the initial playthrough, you should have a lot of room to work with. The game also offers up to three presets that can be saved and switched between depending on the situation. I also enjoy that one of the plugin chips, labeled OS, will just straight up kill 2B if it’s removed. It’s a small inclusion, but there’s a number of these little details that’s included in NieR that really adds a lot of personality to the game as a whole. For as serious as the general tone of the game can get, it’s never afraid of being goofy – or just straight up weird.
On that note, the original NieR was perfectly comfortable in changing camera perspectives and even genres without much warning. That game became a text adventure at one point and acted like that was totally normal – I loved it. Once again, NieR Automata follows suit and still manages to make those changes surprising. There are the consistent camera perspective shifts to side-scrolling and top-down that you may have seen in the demo, but Automata still has a number of surprises in store that’s best left as just that – a surprise. These sudden shifts are part of NieR’s DNA and it’s done with such confidence that I can’t help but grin ear-to-ear when it happens.
NieR Automata features an open hub area based around the ruins of a city that then branches off in a number of directions towards more linear areas. (I played NieR Automata on PS4 Pro. When exploring the world, specifically the main area, the game can sometimes drops frames for a brief moment, but it’s overall not very common. It holds up well in combat and didn’t really impact my overall enjoyment of the game.) Traversing the world can be done on foot or by mounting certain animals, like a moose or boar, that still remain in the city. As you explore, you’ll come across both androids and machines that are in need of assistance. These sub-quests usually ask pretty simple things of you (go gather this, find this person, etc.) but the writing and characters you’ll meet make each sub-quest worth doing. Without saying too much, the end of a sub-quest titled “Wandering Couple” really caught me off guard and left quite the impact on me. However, it should be noted that the game does have a cut off point for sub-quests that it gives no warning on. It’s really the only thing that I’d change about the game (that is, give a brief warning that sub-quests will auto-fail after a certain mission), but it’s luckily not a huge deal. The game’s setup is such that, eventually, you’ll be able to easily finish any remaining sub-quests that you might have missed.
To this day NieR’s OST still gives me chills. Since I first played NieR in 2010 I’ve listened to that soundtrack more times than is probably healthy. So, it feels good knowing that NieR Automata’s soundtrack easily meets my already unfair expectations. Automata’s soundtrack is excellent, Emi Evans is back to add vocals on a handful of tracks which certainly does not go unnoticed, there’s plenty of variety, and many tracks have a number of different versions that’ll play throughout key moments in the game. I love the music in this game, it really can’t be said enough just how amazing it is. I’m not sure how it compares to the original, and there’s no way I could make a definitive statement on that just yet, but I know this is a soundtrack that I’ll be listening to for years to come.
In the end, NieR Automata’s story is profound, at times heartbreaking, and in other instances you’ll spot tiny glimmers of hope. It’s an expertly crafted story that’s uniquely presented to toy with the way you perceive characters and the world surrounding them. It’s a crazy ride from beginning to end and one that completely blew me away, in spite of my own absurdly high expectations.
A copy of this game was purchased for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Fantastic story that really comes together in the final few hours.
- Great characters that are well written/voiced
- THE MUSIC
- Sub-quests are worth doing for the writing/characters
- Combat and all the customization options you have
- A lot of things I can't say that are big spoilers.
What I Dislike:
- No warning that sub-quests auto-fail after a specific mission.