Note: Spoilers ARE present. I played a total of 40 hours, finishing the game three times and experiencing the three main endings of the game (including the two big choices that are made at the very end of the third playthrough). I also completed about 90% of the game’s sidequests, and plan to finish the rest of them soon.
Before I start this review, I should note that I have not played the entirety of the first Nier game. I own the PlayStation 3 copy of the game, and have booted it up once, but decided to watch my favorite group of people on YouTube play through the game instead. Why did I do this? I believe it was during a deluge of other game releases that had me preoccupied, and it saddens me that I didn’t play through the first Nier myself. However, after watching the entirety of the first game (yes, multiple endings and all!) I believe I have a good grasp of the story and gameplay. Because of this, I felt prepared to give game director Yoko Taro’s latest installment in the Nier franchise Nier: Automata a shot, especially after hearing the positive press that the game has received.
From my understanding, the gameplay systems present in Drakengard and Nier are not usually the reason people are so fond of these niche titles. Instead, it is the beautiful and unique stories told that capture fans’ hearts and keep them wanting to play.
When it was announced that the world-renowned Japanese game developers at Platinum Games would be creating a new Nier title with Yoko Taro at the helm, many fans of the first game, myself included, were enthralled. The brilliant storytelling from Yoko Taro’s pen and paper, brought to life with the advanced game systems that Platinum is known for, could combine to create a truly remarkable new entry. Thankfully, these expectations have been met, and dare I say it, surpassed. Nier: Automata is a beautiful game with likeable characters, an unforgettable story, and an engrossing gameplay hook that fans of the action genre have come to expect.
The plug-in chip system used to tailor the player’s gameplay style, both in combat and out of combat, is satisfying and flexible. Players collect a variety of skills, called electronic chips, that can be applied to their character to enhance a multitude of abilities. A custom chip set can be crafted, or the game can be told to create a balanced chip set – regardless, the system is well thought out and a fun place to craft your own unique playstyle. Whether you specialize in mid-air combos, ranged attacks, or hacking your opponents, there are a decent variety of choices for the player to take down enemies that keep things from getting stale.
Do I need to say anything about the game’s soundtrack? It’s phenomenal. I’m listening to it as I write this review, and will probably be listening to it six months from now, as I did with the first Nier game. If nothing else, the soundtrack needs to be heard and appreciated even by those who do not plan to play Nier: Automata. There are a few remixed tracks that crop up in the sequel from the first game, and they are interwoven in a smooth way that I appreciated.
Actually, I do have one more thing to say about the soundtrack. There is a fair amount of the hacking minigame present in Nier: Automata, and it is almost exclusively present in the game’s second playthrough. Players will probably notice that any background music perfectly transitions into a chip-tune sound when the change from combat to hacking minigame occurs. Every time this musical transition happened, I was impressed. The way this is implemented at any point of gameplay is satisfying, but the way this transition occurs within the game’s final moments during the credits sequence is absolutely amazing. Some of Nier: Automata’s vocal tracks are sung in both English and Japanese, and feature a bit-tune version of these songs as well. The end credits sequence had my jaw hung open when there were transitions between not just the bit-tune and vocal versions of the same song, but also the multiple languages being sung. For example, a few lines of a track were sung in English, and then a few lines would be sung in the Japanese track, all in a seamless transition. To say it is breathtaking would be an understatement. This game has one of my favorite soundtracks not just for games, but to anything. The game features truly marvelous music that should not be missed.
Oh, and on that credits sequence – it’s one of my favorites in any game. Wonderful way to wrap up the story and feature an intense battle before the final cutscene.
To be completely honest, I’m rather intimidated to write about the story that is present in Nier: Automata. Similar to its predecessor, the story is engaging, complex, and features multiple likeable characters that have plenty of screentime. I am afraid that I cannot give the multiple narratives at play enough credit where the credit is due. With this in mind, I will do my best to provide a short write-up of my favorite bits of the story. Perhaps my favorite moments in the game’s story are the real-world questions that the game asks. What is the meaning of our existence? Do we have desires worth fighting for, and are those goals ultimately worth the sacrifices we make? These questions are addressed by the main characters as well as side quest characters that bring the world in Nier: Automata to life. Both friendly and hostile machines show a startling level of humanity that I did not at first expect from the game’s characters, and the fact that this is accomplished with zero humans present in the story is a remarkable feat in my eyes. For a better look at the themes that I most appreciated in this game’s story, I think George from SuperBunnyHop can provide a more detailed explanation. I’ll link his Nier: Automata video right here.
Now, I’ve done enough gushing about all of the game’s good. Although I think Nier: Automata is a simply astounding game that should not be missed, I think a lack of intricate combos like those present in other Platinum games like Bayonetta is a missed opportunity. The combat is more than serviceable, but I found it to be on the more simple side. As a big fan of seeing vast button combinations that can be executed in battle, I could see a list of unique combo attacks being a positive addition to the game. Something akin to Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s combo system would add a great deal to the game’s already satisfactory battle system.
Another criticism I can provide is the over-reliance on fetch quests in the game’s side quests. Although most of the side quests provide an interesting narrative to accompany them, some of the quests feel to rest a bit too much on collecting a certain resource for an NPC, or going off to slay the machines they ask you to kill. These issues are not as big a problem as they would be in other games, thanks to Nier: Automata’s satisfying movement, but they are still worth noting.
To wrap this review up, I think that if you own a PS4, and have either played Nier or are okay with doing research in that game’s story to better understand Nier: Automata’s universe, you owe it to yourself to play this game. Yoko Taro and the wonderful folks at Platinum have crafted an experience that I will not forget anytime soon, featuring extremely engaging characters, a gripping storyline, and some of the best music in today’s modern world. Yes, I just said that. True, it is a bold claim, but I believe that Nier and Nier: Automata’s soundtracks offer music that rivals the best of the best, both within and outside of video games.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you greatly for reading my review of Nier: Automata. I had a good deal of fun writing this review, with the game’s soundtrack accompanying my writing. If you’re interested in seeing my other work, feel free to follow me on Twitter or here on WordPress. Have a great Memorial Day, all.