I’m going to forewarn you a bit with this review, there are going to be some spoilers that are unfortunately unavoidable. I need to setup the plot for Automata as there is a lot that happens before the events of the game that need to set some kind of basis for the story synopsis. If you don’t want to read any spoilers just skip all the way down to the overall and score.
Nier Automata is hands down one of the best gaming experience I have gotten to experience in my life. Its got just about everything that makes it a perfect game. I should preface this with there were however issues with the port to PC. AMD 4xx cards had white screen issues that would crop up every once in a while for some users and Nvidia 7xx cards could straight up not play the game as it would freeze within 10-15 minutes because the Nvidia drivers would crash. I have a 780TI and this was happening to me but luckily I was able to use my wife’s desktop with a 1060 and it ran great with all the graphics settings on. I’m sure these issues will be fixed with driver and patch support in the future however I felt like it was important to note those issues first before you read nothing but praise from me.
Nier:Automata is the sequel to the cult game Nier however instead of being developed by Cavia it was developed by Platinum Games who took Yoko Taro’s vision of Nier and made a damn fine game out of it. Automata is an action RPG hack and slash with various elements of shoot’em up thrown in as that is just Taro’s MO. Automata operates as a somewhat open world game with a main quest line and various side quests that are well written and have a lot of the hidden lore of the world told through them. That in of itself is one of the reasons that this game is so spectacular. Though the side quests aren’t by any means required they tell a much larger story and paint a beautiful picture of the world that allow you to appreciate even the minor character. I’ll get into the themes of existentialism later during my discussion of the story however at the very beginning one of the android NPCs talks about how he is afraid of replacing his broken leg with the fear of not being himself anymore. That NPC had fixed everything else about his body except that broken leg, so he was unsure whether or not he would be the real him or not after he replaced that leg. It just sets up the world in a way that really makes you think and appreciate each and every dialogue and side quest you can do.
Nier:Automata’s combat is absolutely a blast to play. Each of the 40 different weapons (short and long swords, spears and combat bracers) have their own style of combo’s with the heavier weapons having shorter but more devastating combos. 2B (one of the main characters) has a combo of 2 different weapons which you can alternate between to make some really unique combos. This is where I feel like Platinum Games teaming up with Yoko Taro made this game really shine. Taro’s Drakengard series and original Nier games were great, albeit fucked up, stories but the games themselves lacked in a really solid gameplay to take it to the next level. Platinum is known for that in Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising so them teaming up was a match made in heaven. On top of the weapons you also have with you a small robot called a POD that fires various bullets at enemies both range and close in order to add more to the gameplay. The PODs also have programs that give them special powers that have to recharge after a certain period of time. My favorite was the one I used most of the game called laser that shoots a very powerful beam at either locked on enemies or in the direction your camera is pointing. If you have more than 1 POD, the longer you charge it the more PODs that pop out and do the same attack with the current one setting up some really powerful attacks. Along with the combos there is also an evade (I highly recommend controller as evade is double tab on keyboard) which has this cool phase shift kind of dodge and you can perform a quick counter right after and go right back into your combo. The combat is highly satisfying and with the various enemy types it changes enough that combat is never the same. It’s oh so fun to slaughter groups of machines by crazy combos.
A major staple of Yoko Taro is his ability to thrown in various gameplay changing mechanics that are by no means random but actually a part of the narrative he is trying to tell. One of those is the shoot’em up or bullet hell mechanics. Whether you are shooting in your flight suit at massive enemy machines or on the ground fighting against a machine that is firing bullets like crazy at you, the bullet hell mechanics are a ton of fun and really add to the feeling of being small versus such massive firepower. Another mechanic is the way the camera angle changes seamlessly between different areas to give different perspectives as you are fighting. At one moment you are in 3rd person behind your character and as you walk into another room just like that you are now playing a 2d side scroller. There is even a top down viewpoint that allows for twin-stick combat. A 3rd mechanic is during hacking minigames you turn into a small Asteroids like ship and you have to shoot up the cores of levels in order to succeed in the hacking event. Hell for various game mechanics Taro also put in a text adventure at some point during the game just to emphasize the narrative more than the gameplay itself, essentially make that plot point very important to the player. There is also a little treat for players that grinded to 100% in the original Nier by having a small relaxing fishing mechanic at any body of water…. even the sewers.
A main part of your character style you can equip chips to the memory (limit of 128 bits) that give various stat boosts and even show/hide UI elements. So if you don’t want a minimap, HP bar, damage numbers, etc. and instead you what an attack damage boost you can remove those former chips for the latter allowing you to truly customize a lot of gameplay. Hell if you really don’t want to have to play the combat and just want to watch your character attack on its own you can play on easy and then install auto-attack, auto-dodge, auto-heal chips so that you can just sit back and enjoy the combat yourself. The game has a style for just about everyone where the hard and very hard modes even do a lot to change the way you play. Kudos to Platinum and Taro for making a fantastic gaming experience.
Video from Square showing various weapons and their combos:
In order to setup the story for Nier:Automata I need to go all the way back to the first Drakengard. Like all of Yoko Taro’s games, Drakengard has multiple endings with different label endings that lead to different games in the series. Ending E is the important one that eventually leads to the events of Nier. In that one Caim (the main antagonist) fighting Queen Beast after she eats all of her babies (yes this series is absolutely fucked up) and they break dimensions and are transported to modern day Tokyo in where the Queen Beast is defeated and dissolves into a particle that was not from that universe. This in turn causes what is called the White Chlorination Syndrome in which humans form a pact with the gods where if they reject the pact then the humans die but if they accept it they become mindless monsters called Legion. In order to combat this the world governments form to come up with what is called the Gesalt Project. This project was a way to separate the human soul from their bodies allowing them to live as spirit beings while their replicants on Earth monitored the disease and killed the Legion so that they could return their bodies. The Gesalt Project went into full effect in the year 2049 and the events of Nier happen about 1300 years later where replicants, who were supposed to just follow orders and not have conscious thoughts of their own follow their own will and have made medieval cities where they are held up as small communities to survive against whats called shadows. During this time the main character’s (Nier) daughter, Yonah, comes down with a similar illness that effected humans 1300 years prior and was taken away by the shadow lord who you come to find out later that it is actually Nier’s Gesalt who just wanted to be reunited with his daughter who’s replicant body was the body of the Gesalt Yonah. During this time also Androids were built to help the replicants out and be a safer way for a fight against the shadows. In the end there are also 4 endings for Nier in which ending D leads to the events (8000 years later) of Nier:Automata. This is where Nier sacrifices his entire existence (your save file is completely deleted) to save Kaine and destroys all of the Gesalts.
Some 8000 years after the events of Nier, aliens have invaded earth with their machine life forms and what remained of the humans (replicants at this point) left Earth to live on the moon where they built various android models used to combat the machine life forms and take back earth “For the Glory of Humanity”. This is where the events of Nier:Automata take place. You play as 2B, a combat type android who’s task is to infiltrate the tight air defense of earth and create a staging ground for an all out YoRHa (android task force) invasion. This is when you meet up with a scanner (scout) type android called 9S who ends up being your companion through most of the game. All during this time both 2B and 9S struggle with not having emotion and whether or not they exist all the while they are noticing a strange behavior in the machines themselves where they might have emotions themselves and are not just mindless. There are a lot of themes here that I don’t want to reveal too much detail in but needless to say the story is absolutely incredible and really has you questioning a lot of things in life. Automata also has 3 different Routes, A through C in which have five Endings A through E. A main feature of this is not to think of new game + as just that, think of it as continue game + as each route opens new stories and events that reveal more and more story. Nier:Automata has what I feel is the best ending of any game I’ve played. There is an overarching theme that those who keep to themselves, who stay offline, go no where in the world and only when you work together with others do you make progress, this is VERY evident in Ending E which was so beautifully done. So as a very important recap: play the game 3 times to experience the game in its entirety!
Aside from the video card issues mentioned above the port is very solid albeit a locked 60 fps during gameplay and 30 fps during cut scenes. The graphics are noticeable of that being a console game however what really makes the visual presentation stand out is the aesthetics of the world itself. Each area in the game has its own special looks about it that add to the whole design. On top of that the camera angle changes just add that much more to the looks of the game. I’ll be deducting a few points for the less than stellar graphics pop-ins and the port issues but this is a very pretty game that has a lot to its looks aesthetically.
I want to go over the sound effects and voice acting before I get into the soundtrack because I feel like that should get a special mention of its own. The sound effects of the world are well done especially when there is no music playing and its just the ambiance. On top of that despite you cutting up metal robots they made it sound pleasant enough that it doesn’t sound like a knife cutting hard through steel. The voice acting is really well done as well both English and Japanese with the Japanese voice acting taking the cake though the English voice actors were no slouches either in their portrayal of their characters.
I’ll just put it out there, Nier:Automata’s soundtrack is the best soundtrack in games. Somehow they took the god-tier like soundtrack in Nier and eclipsed it in Automata. There are very few games where I will listen to the OST over and over again but this is one of those. I was even listening to it before the game released and after playing it the emotion of each song hits me as I know where the song fits in what part of the game. On top of that they created various versions of the song to make different impacts during play. There is an instrumental, a vocal and a chip tune during hacking minigames. This makes the soundtrack even more impressive. One of the really cool things I thought they did for one of the songs called ‘Weight of the World’ is that the choir in the song is actually the voices of the devs themselves and Yoko Taro singing. Its an absolutely incredible song (you can listen to it below). The events of the games coupled with these songs made me the most emotional I have felt in a game since Clannad. If you take anything from this review please listen to the soundtrack, its amazing.
Overall this is one of my favorite games of all time if not my favorite. The experience I got playing this filled me with joy, sadness, excitement, anger, anxiousness and lifted spirits. You grow to appreciate the trouble of the character’s and the world they are in. The narrative telling by Yoko Taro is absolutely incredible and can only be accomplished in gaming medium. You want proof that games are art here is exhibit A. Everything about this game is incredible, the world, the character’s, the story, the gameplay, the soundtrack, the visual aesthetics. This will go down as one of the best games of 2017 and even possibly on the best games of all time.