In 2010 Square Enix released Nier: an action RPG with a mysterious story involving some weird book. Its combat looked a bit clunky and the PS2 presentation didn’t help sell it. Not to mention all eyes were on FF 13 which at the time was the most hyped JRPG ever. It seemed the new IP was a bust but years on, even up until today, the name keeps getting brought up in game discussions. It’s weird yet engaging narrative, multiple endings, and a gorgeous soundtrack have helped keep the it afloat. Seven years later, Nier comes back in what could arguably be considered Square Enix’s new killer franchise.
The word Automata means machine that imitates humans. Unlike its predecessor this game focuses on two androids centuries into the future. An alien invasion that uses machines has forced most of humanity to retreat to the moon. To retaliate, humans created YoRHa (an organization of androids) to fend off the threat. You play as the sassy 2B along with a timid boy called 9S who at first is sent in to do various missions until something eventually happens that sets the story in motion. Expect lots of weird plot twists throughout.
Nier is a product of Yoko Taro, ever since Drakengard his stories have had a sense of mystery that on one side feels jarring and confusing and the other feels sophisticated with a dash of WTF. Either way his ideas feel genuinely intriguing enough to get you sucked in and invested. The best I could describe the feeling is similar to watching a film like Donnie Darko—where a lot of it doesn’t seem to make sense until you dig deep.
Even if you’re not a fan of complicated plots Nier: Automata does enough to make you enjoy it without knowing what’s going on. Yes, of course I’m referring to the stellar gameplay that’s been handled by beautifully by Platinum Games. Anyone who’s played Nier 1 would tell you that dealing with the clunky hank ‘n’ slash mechanics was worth it for the plot alone but here it can be said the other way around. While it’s easy to point and say this is a Bayonetta reskin, it manages to retain enough elements from Nier 1 to make it stand out. Holding the right bumper will let you shoot projectiles while face buttons deals melee damage. The right trigger does the parry dodge which is very similar to Bayonetta’s witch time minus the slow-mo. The more you dodge the more damage you deal.
While all this screams hack ‘n’ slash Nier Automata is more of an action RPG. There’s a level up system, equipment stats, and even towns. The last part threw me off as I expected this to be a level based title but instead it actually has explorations with towns and regions. At first I thought these locations were minor but later the game opens up to being something way bigger than I anticipated. Another quirky thing I noticed is how Nier Automata handles its cameras. At times it feels you’re playing a side scroller with dodging projectiles that makes you scream Ikaruga. It’s those little things that make it feel distinct and nostalgic for retro action games. As my friend put it, this game feels like something out of the PS2 age in a very good way.
Sadly this does bring some archaic elements such as how the game handles it saves. There are no checkpoints and instead uses save points. It may not be a major issue but when you’re married and have to unexpectedly stop playing it can be inconvenient. Another gripe I have is some of the bigger boss battles. They can feel a bit annoying as you feel your chipping away their health meter while also constantly dodging projectiles.
The presentation is further amplified by the gorgeous dynamic soundtrack. Its hauntingly beautiful melodies really put you in the mood when roaming around. One area in particular is the desert where even after days of beating it I still hum its theme song.
This is also the first Nier title to come to PC. Platinum’s previous PC efforts ranged from pretty good (Transformers Devastation) to decent (Metal Gear Rising). Nier sadly falls in the latter category. Not that it runs terrible but certain features such as 60 FPS lock or not properly supporting ultra wide is a bit of a letdown. Also cutscenes are brought down to 30 with certain slowdowns that just look out of place in what can arguably be one of the best looking games to come out this year. Thankfully a fanmade fix was released that addresses most of these issues. But that shouldn’t be a substitute for lazy work.
Regardless of what platform you play it on, Nier Automata is one heck of a game. It seemingly came out of nowhere in an age where new IPs struggle to find their foothold. With its whopping 26 endings, Yoko Taro and the team poured their heart and soul into this project. The result pays off with flying colors that has managed to place Nier as one of the top tier actions RPG’s.