Last updateThu, 20 Apr 2017 10am


Nier Automata is Nier-ly Perfect

Nier Automata Nier ly PerfectNier Automata earns every bit of high praise that it receives. Honestly, Nier Automata was a game I expected nothing from, being an indirect sequel of Square Enix’s unsuccessful Nier. There are many standout features, all of which work together to make it a great game, but let’s start with my personal favorite: the plot.

The setting is a post-apocalyptic Earth, which was invaded by aliens and their machine soldiers several millennia before the events of the game. In that time, humans fled to the moon and created a space bunker in Earth’s orbit. This houses their own mechanical soldiers and androids who fight the machines on Earth’s surface. Basically, the whole thing starts off as a proxy war; you play as the human’s androids and fight against the alien’s machines, and neither the humans or the aliens are anywhere to be seen. Over the course of this massive, 60-hour plus game, deep philosophical questions are explored such as what humanity, sentience, and free will are.

One of the more important aspects of any plot is characters, and, again, Nier Automata nails this. The game’s initial protagonist, 2B – as in, “to be or not to be” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet – is notable for being a female. This might not sound important to non-gamers, but there aren’t a lot female protagonists in video games, and those that are often receive criticism for their portrayal of females.

However, I don’t foresee 2B receiving such criticism. She is a strong protagonist, something of a realist, but with a bit of a vicious streak. The game opens with her pondering over her existence, specifically the ‘gods’ who created her, and wondering if she’ll ever get the chance to kill them. “Nines” (9S) is a secondary protagonist; he’s an idealist and a competent enough character, but lacks the depth of 2B.

At times, Nier Automata’s plot can get downright disturbing, and has no problem making you feel like the bad guy. There was one mission where I had to infiltrate a castle and destroy the machines occupying it. Most of them were preaching about laying down their lives to “protect their king.” When I made it to the king, he was not at all what I expected, and I ended up questioning how justifiable killing his followers to reach him was. Even though they’re machines, many of the beings you’re fighting against clearly have complicated emotions.

One machine upon seeing me flew into a rage, screaming that I had killed his “brother” and that I was true evil, another attacked me for fear that I would hurt his pet moose. Perhaps most disturbing of all, I came across a group of machines using a canyon to commit suicide because they couldn’t take any more fighting.

Graphics, while certainly competent, aren’t something I see as a standout feature. Nier Automata’s open world/characters are well-designed, with beautiful landscapes and detailed facial features. The soundtrack is an absolute homerun though; it features multiple tracks with vocals, and does an excellent job of underscoring the emotions, which Nier Automata tries to evoke in its audience. I remember one sidequest where a character’s mentor had died, and she asked me to recover some sort of a memento from her body. I found out that the mentor had attempted to desert our faction just prior to her death, and chose to tell the quest giver that.

Her reaction was not what I expected, considering that prior she had seemed troubled by her mentor’s death. When informed of the desertion attempt, she laughed and said that she deserved to die like a coward. While this was going on, a music track started playing, which seemed to effectively support the narrative’s themes of despair and insanity. Voice acting/dialogue is also solid across the board, many times when I finished a quest, 2B and 9S would take a break to talk about it. This is something great that many games don’t do.

Finally, we make it to the gameplay, and in my 15+ years of gaming, I’ve never seen gameplay quite like what Nier Automata offers. Most readers are probably unfamiliar with the term “bullet-hell,” which refers to an older subgenre of arcade game, with a vast number of projectiles – created by enemies – fill the screen, and players would have to avoid/destroy the bullets and enemies both.

The game mixes elements of arcade game play with modern third-person action combat, at time the perspective will be an arcade-ish top-down (no verticality), at others it will be a side-scroller (can only move sideways/vertically), but most often it will be standard third-person (with three-dimensional movement). This might seem confusing to some, but eventually you develop a feel for it and the transitions between gameplay style helps to keep things fresh.

Also worth mention is that Nier Automata offers some incredibly challenging gameplay at higher difficulty. Hard mode removes your ability to lock on to enemies, and lunatic makes it so you always die in one-hit. Also, if you die, you drop your plugin chips, which are responsible for most of your power, and you need to make it back to your body without dying to pick them up. I typically like to play games on at least the hard difficulty, but with Nier Automata, I found normal to be plenty challenging.

Quick disclaimer, Nier Automata is M-rated, and with good reason. In terms of portrayal, it deals with a number of mature subjects, such as suicide, reproduction, and the nature of life/death. Beyond that, it has language, nudity, and blood. If how-ever such content isn’t a problem, then this game gets my highest recommendation. I wasn’t expecting much from it, but I can already tell that it is going to be in my top-five games list for this year. In terms of rating, I consider it a 9.5/10.


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