From above, an alien army of robots come to destroy humankind. In an attempt to survive humans retreat to the moon and in desperation to take back Earth, they create YORHA. Stationed on the Bunker, YoRHa Units are androids whose purpose is to reclaim Earth in battle. Equipped with a small AI Companion referred to as a pod, 2B charges […]
From above, an alien army of robots come to destroy humankind. In an attempt to survive humans retreat to the moon and in desperation to take back Earth, they create YORHA. Stationed on the Bunker, YoRHa Units are androids whose purpose is to reclaim Earth in battle. Equipped with a small AI Companion referred to as a pod, 2B charges into action. Meeting with 9S, a scout unit, the pair head into a fight they have been part of their entire lives.
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Steam, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation4
Release Date: 23 February 2017
“For the glory of mankind.”Council of Humanity
The attraction of Nier Automata is the narrative that it presents. One that has certainly been done before, but not quite as effective as Nier Automata. What does it mean to be human? What is the meaning of life? Through a lens of machines and androids, Nier Automata attempts to apply humanity to non-human life forms. Through that narrative, they as questions that have plagued humans and add their interpretation. Or do they?
The main focus of the game revolves around the Machine Wars, specifically the 14th war. The focus becomes whether or not the machines that you are fighting are sentient, or are they simply act out human behaviour? The game does nothing the hide this and begins the questions early as on we see 2B and 9S facing machineswho on the surface are acting human. Machines are striving to think for themselves. However, they are all linked through a giant network. As humans, we are connecting through our humanity our want to help and be kind to each other. Through their network, they attempt the same, to protect each other and help each other. The machines search for all forms of emotion and strive to find love and loyalty with some forming cults, groups and even kingdoms.
There is also the question of identity. Not just with the machines, but with our main characters 2B and 9S. Are they simply androids programmed to fight the Machine War? Or are they individuals with likes and dislikes? With hopes and dreams? There is a lot of food for thought offered within Nier Automata, that admittedly, kept me wanting to play more than the example did.
That is not to say that the gameplay is lacking far from it. The game is an action role-playing game that has hack and slash elements. You start as the Battle Unit 2B you are sent to Earth to fight a Goliath class machine. The fight goes pear-shaped, with 2B’s unit not surviving the journey to Earth. Now alone she joins with 9S, a scout unit that helps in any way he can.
We see the difference between 2B and 9S within the first moments of the game. 9S is full of personality and is happy that he is not alone as he states that being a scout unit means he has to be on his own a lot. 2B is a strict battle unit with a mission she must complete. Upon completing your task, in a rather unconventional way, the pair must return to Earth to help with the resistance.
The hack and slash gameplay is beautiful. Equipped with a sword that you can launch through the air for more range 2B is a destructive force. You can equip two weapons which you assign to two different attacks. I tended to use a lighter weapon and a heavy weapon to replicate a more traditional form of heavy and light attacks. But you can change this up any way you want. The game also offered many types of ranged attacks: You can use your weapons for attacks that have some range or, you can use your Pod (An AI companion). The Pod has a machine gun that does decent damage and can have a secondary attack/function. Usually, I would use the Pod to attack as I close the distance leaving my enemy vulnerable to my strike.
There are a few variations in enemies that require you to think before you attack. You have standard ground units and a few aerial units, mix in a few giant robots, and the situation becomes a mess. You can run from fights and only battle when you need too, but the game is so visually impressive and satisfying that you frequently fight out of pleasure. A weird statement but the style that you adopt quickly becomes second nature to you while fighting, and the satisfaction of the visuals and fighting is genuinely excellent.
The game was challenging. The machines are not just the rust buckets their appearance would have you believe; they pack quite the punch. When you die, you must collect your body to regain your cores, leaving you vulnerable after ever death. However, I found that once you started to rack up a lot of money within the game death becomes a non-factor. The ability to buy healing potions and the ease to use them during combat just meant that I would spam through healing every time I took damage, and I never saw any consequence. Leaving whatever boss I was fighting just struggling before death with their only option to kill me being a one-shot-KO, which does happen.
The core system allows you to customise your android unit. You can place in utility cores that will enable you to slow time when dodging an attack or heal when outside of combat. You can customise the way you fight too with the ability to place attacking or defensive cores within your unit. For myself, I tend to go more attacking, after-all a good defence is a great offence. I like to be relentless when fighting opponents by continually being in their face and not allowing them to attack.
Boss fights are fantastic within Nier Automata, and they never leave you feeling delighted with the outcome, you always leave wondering if killing them was correct. There are a few boss fights with Machines that have you wondering whether they deserved to die, or if there was a way to help them instead of simply killing them. One of my favourite bosses in the game is Simone, a Machine that has adopted a human ideology of beauty. Draping itself with beautiful things and shiny objects, it becomes corrupted by its need to find love through looking beautiful. The fight is both exciting and challenging, introducing a hacking mechanic and gameplay.
The main villains within the game Adam and Eve (Symbolism at its best) are two androids born from the collective machine life forms. They adapt quickly and become increasingly interested in the meaning of their life and the human species. The fights with them are incredible and thought-provoking in a way that made me pause the game after each battle to scribble into my notepad. The struggles with these two are emotionally challenging, as they throw questions about the meaning of life towards you that at first, you do not expect. Quickly throwing you from a reflective mood to an all-out attack that adds to the way this game subverts traditional gameplay through emotional connection.
There are a few gripes with the gameplay. The way the game switches between a 2D and 3D plane is irritating. The game, for the most part, is 3D and switches to 2D for things just as the hacking mini-games or the flying battles in which you control a flight suit in a Galaga style of gameplay. These switches are excellent and work very well. However, while running around, you will find areas that for some reason, change to a platformer style with 3D elements and these areas are just unnecessary. They don’t work and pull you out of an otherwise fantastic experience. My primary example of this is within the Forest Kingdom. When entering the castle the game becomes 2D and inherits platformer style gameplay, but the map and the way you move through it is so confusing and clunky. Switching into slightly 3D areas within it also adds to more of the confusion and it becomes easy to get lost.
That is not to say that the 2D mechanics throughout are bad at all! The mini-games, for example, are amazing and challenging. If it weren’t for my upbringing playing The Binding of Isaac, I would have found these mini-games much more difficult. They become bullet hells, and the simple design means that it is easy to differentiate from a bullet and your character. I enjoyed the hacking mini-games for what they represented. It must be hard to create a mini-game to represent hacking that is fun and meaningful. But Nier Automata manages to portray the systems working to stop you as actual enemies and your hacking as a weapon.
The music and world
The music within Nier Automata is sublime. Simply put, it helps keep the player in check with the emotional cues that the game is trying to convey. Which within Nier Automata becomes quite intricate as the music helped me feel like I was the last hope for humanity, like every battle I was entering was to further the survival of the race. Music to help a player feel angry or sad is something done every day, but when music helps the player feel hopeless or hopeful, then it becomes interesting to me.
This hopefulness translates to the map also. A city of sky scrappers that has been reclaimed by nature, with giant trees and roots growing through all the concrete, it leaves a beautiful scene. Roaming around you see giant boars and moose that have been allowed to grow in peace, after-all the machines have no real use for them. Birds fly through the sky, and this is a focal point for the characters as they enter Earth, its a beautiful and natural sight that they would not have seen on the industrial and metallic bunker.
What is more interesting about the map is the way it evolves. Without spoiling anything within the story, the events that happen within the map effect the landscape itself. Signs of past battles scatter the streets and destruction is present as you traverse it. I loved this, instead of being introduced to different locations constantly, the map changes with your actions. The map changes with the events within the story, not that you have any psychical impact.
Personally, unless I am committed to a series, I’m not too bothered with multiple endings. I enjoy them, but I am not a person that will strive to replay something to get a second ending or a secret ending. I am as my experience, be it good or bad, it reflects my choices. Nier Automata is different in that the endings are more like extensions of the story. There are five, which sounds like a lot, but they don’t take too long to complete, I think my entire playthrough was close to 20 hours.
If you don’t want to play through the multiple endings, then you don’t have to. You are not under any obligation to, instead, the game only thanks you for playing and suggests that you may want to complete the net chapter. Plus the beautiful thing about ending A is that it is a nicely contained story and you would be happy at just that (I certainly was). BUT I would highly recommend staying and playing through the entirety of Nier Automata as each ending only adds more fuel to the fire and will have you living the game more and more.
Nier Automata is a game that I wished I had played before we made our top ten of the decade. This game is utterly and impossibly fantastic; it would have been effortlessly on the high side of my list. Possibly heading its way into my top five games I’ve ever played, the story is fantastic, and the gameplay only keeps you wanting to play more. True, the 3D to 2D elements at times irked me, but I was willing to accept them. I even made sure to play through all five of the endings, it was worth it, well worth it.
If you usually read my reviews, you know that story is something that I tend to focus on, and it is slightly missing in this review. Simply put, I don’t want to spoil too much within this review, and I do have a two-part essay in the works, explicitly talking through Humanity/identity and its role within Nier: Automata. So if that interests you Follow me on my twitter for an update as to when that goes live! @UnCaptSquigz