NieR: Automata Review — Planet of the Machines

Those damn dirty androids.

  • While slipping under the radar during its initial release, the original Nier has gotten quite a cult following over the last few years to the point that a follow-up game with better gameplay was released seven years later under the title, Nier: Automata. I’ve always been interested in playing this game, but I really underestimated how much my anime-loving friends were hyped for it, because within days of its release, it was flooding my Twitter timeline like the reaction that occurs when Sean Spicer says something stupid.
  • Not really sure where this Yoko Taro love comes from since the original Nier wasn’t exactly a masterpiece due to some problems with the gameplay, and his recent Drakengard game was about as well received as a spoiler from that shitty Eureka Seven sequel. But let’s ignore the fanbase for now and concentrate on the product itself.

Now this fight doesn’t look fair, does it?

  • Nier: Automata takes played many years (understatement) after one of the endings to its predecessors and focuses on a war between androids and machines as they battle each other to determine whether the mysteriously unseen human masters or the yet-to-be discovered alien lords can rule the Earth. The main character of this story is 2B (as in that one quote from Hamlet in case the symbolism flew over your head), a professional female combat android who doesn’t let her badass moniker prevent her from going into battle whilst wearing French lolita getup and having more fan art drawn of her than the number of doujins that erupted when Amagi Brilliant Park became a thing.
  • Accompanied by a male reconnaissance android and surprisingly emotional mama’s boy, 9S, 2B is sent on a mission to explore the machine-infested Earth and take care of a few tasks, which leads to a series of revelations that the fanboys go nuts over, hence the high user Metacritic score. Most of said twists are kind of predictable, but the game’s story mostly avoids being about them, and it leads to some good emotional moments, so that’s not really much of a strike against the game.
  • What is a bit of a strike is that the gameplay suffers from a lack of inspiration at times. It’s the usual Platinum-style fast-paced action gameplay found in Devil May Cry/Bayonetta/Metal Gear Rising with no real surprises to it. Except when the game suddenly makes you play a bullet-hell shooter or a hacking mini game that’s also a bullet-hell shooter, which kept screwing me over until I realized how the right analog stick works. And trust me, you’re going to want to get used to the hacking stuff quickly, because there’s a lot of in the second half of the game.

Remember how the first Uncharted made people sick of green jungles? Nier: Automata does not fare much better.

  • There’s also the open-world aspect, which has moments of awe like the run-down amusement park and the plant-infested shopping mall, but quickly wears out its welcome when you’re forced to revisit the same locations over and over again. And the areas between said locations are a bunch of repetitive ruined building scenery of low-to-average texture that made me think I was being too harsh to Breath of the Wild when I complained how it overplayed the open-world aspect at times.
  • Don’t even get me started on the sidequests. I did like three of them, discovered I couldn’t be assed to go on another repetitive fetch quest, and just ignored learning more about Jackass entirely. Nier: Automata’s own main story wasn’t exactly blowing me away as is, and having to characterize a bunch of machines who aren’t important to the plot like we were in a Peter Jackson film wasn’t exactly an endearing prospect.
  • I played the game on normal difficulty because hard mode ramps up the difficulty considerably and easy mode basically makes the game play for you, and once I discovered a place to grind experience, upgraded my memory, and put on so many healing chips to the point that they may as well be called cheat codes, enemy attacks might as well have been mosquito bites to me. The only places I ever died were near the end game when enemies came with one-hit kill attacks that can be hard to dodge when you’re fighting twenty other bots in order to drain their health and more importantly leave you alone.
  • Oh, and there’s also some Dark Souls-esque mechanic where if you die, you go back to a save point (which can be annoying because there’s no auto-save in this game and save points can be quite a ways away from major fights, unless it’s a boss) and you must collect your body in order to get back all the experience you lost. But if you die beforehand, you lose it forever. However, for story-related reasons, you can’t recover your body in the second half of the game. So if you die there, goodbye four levels of grinding.

Haunted amusement parks sure make their way into Japanese games a lot, don’t they?

  • Now about that story, because that’s what’s apparently getting the newfound Yoko Taro fanbase into a frenzy. It’s pretty much your typical “can machines have feelings” plot with a lot of angst and swords thrown into the formula. There are twenty-six endings with five of them being story-related and the rest of them being smarmy jokes, plus once you get the true ending, you’re prompted to delete your save file, which I refused to do because I’m not one to just throw away progress like that for the sake of someone else.
  • In order to get to the second half of the game, you have to get the first two endings. Ending A is achieved by beating the first half with 2B. Ending B is achieved by doing the same with 9S, who was accompanying 2B for most of her route, so the differences are minimal. And because enemies level up depending on what route of the story you’re playing, you can’t just rush through segments you’ve already played, although the ability to carry over chips and upgraded weapons, along with 9S’s hacking abilities once you master it make it less of a pain than it should.
  • The rest of the endings are achieved by picking one character to fight as in the climactic showdown, and you get access to the chapter select screen after that, which allows you to get the other endings so much easier. Although I must say, while the idea is sound, making me play a bullet hell shooter during the credits was not fun.

This one’s for you, fangirls

  • Since the story is best experienced first-hand, I can’t spoil it for you, but do you guys know the anime, TexhnolyzeNier: Automata isn’t quite like that, especially at the end, but its plot reminds me a lot of it. And while both products have good stories with effective emotional payoffs, I can’t say the end result was particularly mind-blowing.
  • A good chunk of the characters are underdeveloped. There’s an android named A2 who suddenly trusts a friendly machine named Pascal to the point that she’s willing to risk her life for him after a simple exchange despite her machine prejudice to the point that I feel like we skipped scenes. Like I’ve said, I’d been told that a good chunk of the development for the side characters are on their missions, but since they’re not important to the plot, I’m not sure why I should give a shit.

Why have one set of tragic twins in your game when you can have two?

  • And at the end of the day, there’s not really much about this “are machines alive” story that you haven’t seen before. Without strong characterization, let alone strong gameplay, I can’t say I’m particularly inclined to call this my favorite Platinum Games experience. Metal Gear Rising Revengeance still boasts that with its crazy and surprisingly timely take on American politics. Tell me you can’t see the final boss in that game as Donald Trump with superpowers.

Minor Quips

  • Actually, I’ve been informed that the Armstrong thing is a very popular Trump meme now, and good for it.
  • Am I the only one who thinks 2B looks less attractive when you blow up her skirt completely?

7 responses to “NieR: Automata Review — Planet of the Machines

  1. I think the combat is fun in this game; it’s simple and easy to get into, and the shmup sections make it interesting. I think another big plus is the fact that exploring is rewarded with weapons and story related rewards that actually mean something, unlike other “open-world” games that give you trifling rewards. Also, I think parts of the game look quite pretty; it just looks bad when you have all that gray smoke from the goliaths.

    The checkpoints and lack of autosave are the main problems with the game; never play the prologue on hard or very hard. And that dark souls body collection mechanic is completely unnecessary in an action game (at least you can reload to get your chips back).

    Altogether a fun experience though, if you play on normal. It’s just really evident that Yoko Taro’s main focus was getting his staff to give 2B a perfectly shaped ass.

    • My biggest frustration with the game were the last few sections when enemies could kill you in one hit and the checkpoints were sparse. Also the hacking until I realized you could use the right analog stick to turn. Once I discovered that, I never died again.

      • My problem is more with the lack of checkpoints than with being killed in one hit (although I don’t like that either). It’s just that lack of checkpoints/ autosave isn’t good difficulty. You can make a boss or section hard while still having good checkpoints, but making someone replay 40 minutes because they made one mistake just breeds tedium.

  2. The story is absolutely not “machines have feelings, too”. At least, it’s not the main message. It’s more about finding purpose when faced with the futility of your existence. In this case, the situation all the characters find themselves in(including the machines). The ending has the big payoff for that.

    As for the characters: I found them wonderfully fleshed out. 2B, 9S, and A2 all have multiple aspects to themselves and have their own solid motivations.

    The gameplay is definitely not Platinum’s best, per se, but it’s pretty good.

    Those are my opinions, at least.

    • I’m not disagreeing with you on any of your points (apologies if I made it seem like I thought the characterization was bad), but I was hoping for the journey to be more than a solid time. I couldn’t find anything I particularly loved about Automata like I did with Rising both in gameplay and unique takes on a familiar philosophy.

      • It’s fine if you don’t like it as much. I only really took issue with what you said the plot’s message was, and maybe the iffy characterization one. The game takes no time to establish that machines are emotive and have their own thoughts, though they aren’t quite up to “human” standards for the most part. Since it’s not the actual message of the game, it presents it as a very matter of fact thing.

        I did like the examination of some of the darker parts of human nature, when presented by the machines. It didn’t feel preachy or anything. The part of the game with the cult is a good example of how to show that, while the machines are trying to become like humanity, they haven’t figured out the meaning of what they are trying to emulate. Yet others, like Pascal, have succeeded in finding a purpose as well as becoming very sure of themselves. It ties into the motivation of both sides of the war at the end. I found it very unique, in fact. But, to each their own.

    • I didn’t mean to say that the “machines are alive” plot was the MAIN message. I meant to say it was the jumping off point, because I can’t spoil the actual story in my review.

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