Do androids dream of electic sheep?
Jennifer will be satisfied that I included that quote.
Long ago I resolved that this game really wasn’t something I’d be interested in. The product of a Japanese studio that produces many titles I had no interest in at all, NieR: Automata didn’t make much of a case for itself in my eyes.
To qualify this all, I’d like to note that I don’t enjoy anime or most Japanese games. I don’t think they’re all bad, just that they don’t appeal to my tastes. Even though it achieved a good deal of critical acclaim and has a sizeable fan base, I couldn’t shake the sentiment that I just wouldn’t like it.
Of course, the fact that I played it and now have written a review of it should be a testament to my wavering. Several of the folks I converse with on Twitter (including some of you fine readers) forced me to submit to playing it.
For those that aren’t as interested in reading through the review, I have a TL;DR-ish version in video format!
NieR: Automata definitely fits in the category of an action RPG. Its fast paced combat and heavy emphasis on movement and evasion over more traditional defensive techniques makes fighting extremely intense. Leave your notions of slowly navigating around enemies stealthily, but finesse is still a perfectly viable option.
You attack, dodge, utilize special attacks, whittle down enemies from afar with your pod, and launch yourself into the air, sometimes gracefully and sometimes quite oddly; at least in my case considering that I flail wildly around above my enemies before realizing that I’m not hitting anything. Surely, more advanced players won’t find themselves in that particular predicament.
Thankfully, for those that are less skilled (like myself), NieR: Automata offers the option to play on Easy mode. However, like many other aspects of the game, it defied my expectations. Easy mode doesn’t just make combat more forgiving by increasing player damage and lowering the health of enemies, it lets players scale the difficulty by allowing them to install different chips which automate various actions, like evading or attacking. It’s a welcome change from the usual method that games employ to handle difficulty. In a way, it’s rather similar to the Forza Motorsport titles since you’re able to dictate what assists you’d like to have on.
Difficulty scales up rather well too, Normal removes the training wheels, but still gives the player a lock-on mechanic to assist in combat, which helps train your ranged and melee attacks on specific enemies. Hard and Very Hard ramp up the challenge drastically though, removing the option to lock onto enemies and changing enemy damage to melt-your-face-off levels. I didn’t try my hand at anything higher than Normal.
Ranged attacks are of particular benefit. Your character sports the option to utilize their “pod” robot to bombard baddies with lasers and missiles. It’s not the most effective means of combat, but it does allow you to take part in moose-mounted combat, so that’s a win in my book.
NieR: Automata is what I’d consider to be muted in appearance. It can be rather beautiful on occasion, but I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as breathtaking. The city ruins don’t do the game justice, unlike the amusement park or the forest zone. There are quite a few reused textures on the buildings in the city, and the designs aren’t exactly inspiring, but thankfully there’s more to NieR: Automata than the city areas.
Interestingly, the color palette changes based on the location. Travelling to the Bunker puts a black and white filter over everything, lending to the idea that the Bunker is a sterile environment. The forest zone appears to have a mild green filter (seen above), and the city areas have more browns and greys. It can be pretty at times at least, especially on the dunes of the desert area, and the effects from swinging about your weapons and blowing things up look awesome.
I also found my self appreciating the way the developer used both 3D and 2D space for NieR: Automata. While it can sometimes be jarring switching perspectives, I felt that this design fit rather well. I only found there to be an issue with limitations when running around in 3D spaces, where it isn’t always clear where you can and can’t go.
The music though… I have to say that the soundtrack is perfect. Not exactly the kind of music that I usually enjoy, but good nonetheless. It’s hard to pin down, but the most accurate comparison I can think of would be that NieR: Automata has a soundtrack composed almost entirely of anime intro songs. The vocals and instruments are wonderfully utilized and fit the action and settings remarkably well.
If NieR: Automata were to end as expected, I’d firmly believe that it’s a mediocre game. However, NieR: Automata just keeps on trucking. I don’t want to spoil anything in the event that some reading this haven’t already played it, but I will say that you aren’t finished when the credits roll. It is imperative that you continue on using your previous save.
What’s lovely is that continuing the game doesn’t just deliver a New Game + experience, as The Witcher III and The Last of Us do. Your consecutive playthroughs are very different, making it less of a retread of previous events, and more of seeing things through a different lens.
Also interesting and thoroughly welcome is the fact that NieR: Automata doesn’t attempt to explain game mechanics or the method of amping up your abilities. Upgrades come in the form of chips which can be installed and removed at will. Instead of being rewarded with points each level that you can spend on different ability buffs, you buy or find chips, and upgrade them by fusing them together. It’s refreshing to see a different approach for once.
The afforementioned difficulty mode flexibility factors in here, with different assists being chips that must be installed to function. There’s a bit of a trade-off considering that if you want many of the assists enabled, you have to sacrifice your limited capacity for chips to do so. Furthermore, it’s possible to dig into your system level features, like parts of your HUD, and turn them off too. That can give you a bit of wiggle room if you need to enable a chip and only need a tad bit more room.
Speaking of room, you’ll need to arrange your installed chips to fit together, as each takes up a certain number of blocks, though taking care of that is as simple as selecting Optimize. For those that are less inclined to dig into the details, there are multiple options to automatically assign chips that will maximize offensive, defensive, or support.
Even the pause menu is part of the game itself. Pausing the game brings you to your characters internal settings menu, like a Windows computer’s Control Panel.
That all comes with a condition to it, of course. You can uninstall your OS chip after all…
Death isn’t the end either. Since you play as an android, your consciousness can be transferred to a new body in the event that you get crushed like an insect. How much progress you lose depends on when you last uploaded your android’s memories to the Bunker though, so it’s wise to save every once in a while.
NieR: Automata really stands on its own as a game that clearly came from outside-the-box thinking without diving into the types of issues that games like Star Fox Zero fell prey to.
Androids obviously play a major role in the story, as machines have taken over the Earth and the YoRHa androids function as the primary defense of the the planet. The machines themselves we’re a tool utilized by an alien race which laid siege to Earth a long time ago, and had forced the opposing forces into a stalemate.
NieR: Automata‘s plot begins with the android 2B being deployed for a military strike against the automaton menace, which promptly ends rather poorly for just about everyone involved. 2B then pairs up with a support android, 9S, to scout out some of the recent activity and deal with the problem.
I won’t get too into the details because the story deserves to be experienced as blindly as possible, but I feel it’s safe to say that the story itself is the main attraction here. The underlying plot involved also touches on topics similar to Blade Runner, which is definitely not a bad thing. The notion of what living is, and can machines ever be truly alive crops up.
It’s a sci-fi story that deserves to be experienced, to say the least. Additionally, I’d say it’s a requirement to play it more than two times at the very least. Any less doesn’t do the game justice.
WILDCARD: DEFYING EXPECTATIONS
After sitting down with NieR: Automata for three playthrough (and likely more to come), I’ve come to the realization that I severely underestimated how good the game could possibly be. Sure, there are many moments where I thought to myself that something was out of place, fell flat, or was completely unnecessary (2B’s costume is groan-worthy in my opinion). However, I’ve found myself enjoying my time with it very much.
That’s something I didn’t expect at all. I bought it as a gamble; it was cheap at the time and I had money burning a hole in my pocket. In fact, I almost didn’t buy it at all, nearly resolving to change my mind at the register.
I’m glad I didn’t. The underlying plot and lore of NieR: Automata is exceptional, and I find myself wondering if I was just trying to find a reason to not be interested in it.
NieR: Automata is a bit of an oddity in my book. I’ve confessed before that I didn’t believe I would enjoy it, given that I’m not generally interested in games from Japanese studios. However, I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and experienced NieR: Automata.
I do feel that this is something that most should consider playing, though I still feel it’s a bit of a niche title. I don’t feel that NieR: Automata is for everyone. Its eccentricities won’t appeal to all, so I would say that if you’re on the fence about playing it, play it safe unless you’re like me and just want to branch out… or you’re just looking for something new to play.
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