NieR: Automata is a drop in the ocean when it comes to post-apocalyptic RPG games. In the current gaming climate, this theme is prevalent. The gaming landscape is littered with zombies, super mutants, and reapers, all vying to be the top dogs in their respective post-human civilised worlds. Platinum Games managed to nurture this little droplet, gave it some much-needed care and attention, and now it is the envy of the entire ocean.
How exactly does the game manage to achieve this? Well, that ladies, gentlemen, robots, and androids is the quintessential question I aim to answer for you. As the game does not just manage this through simple graphics and story. The game fills you with an ambient melancholy from the surreal environments, lore snippets, side quests, character interactions and such. But through its expertly crafted story and emotional voice acting, it also fills you with hope, determination, and a sense of overcoming the odds. So, strap into your flight unit, we are going for a ride.
The World of Nier…
The year is 11945 AD. Earth became inhospitable after an alien invasion that left humanity in tatters and the planet teeming with robot life forms over 6000 years ago. These robots were created by the alien race for the sole purpose of finishing the war, to eradicate the last remaining human populace. However, the war is not completely lost. Ever adaptable as humans are, they created androids to fight in their stead. Created in their image, they wage a seemingly never-ending war against the robots. Earth has become a constant battlefield of shifting balance. The last remaining humans have taken refuge in a single outpost. Its location is classified to all but a select few androids. They are hard at work devising ways to win the war to reclaim their lost home.
The newly created YoRHa units are the latest android models, with the hopes that they will finally bring about peace. Both robots and androids alike have been left without commands for a long, long time and have slowly evolved and adapted. Both robots and androids alike have freedom of will, emotions, dreams, and desires.
Why did the alien race disappear? And why are humans so silent? As you play through NieR: Automata you have a constant feeling that something is off. Something does not feel right. And it is this feeling that keeps you invested in the story, makes you want to talk to NPCs, encourages you to read the snippets of lore, to explore, to gather all the information you can to piece together this grand puzzle. What is truly going on here?
The Truth is Out There!...
I just adore the whole story of this beautifully crafted world. It is such a bleak and dismal epitome for the last hurrah of humanity. The game evokes doubt in your character’s decisions. The world is mostly barren and ravaged by war. Character’s stories are filled with strife, sorrow, and constant loss. Yet, in this new era of devastating destruction, there are so many little reasons worth smiling for. For every robot you murder in cold oil, screaming out how scared they are, there is a peaceful robot trying to spread joy dressed as a clown. Every snippet of heart-breaking back story you uncover, there is a tranquil serenity to discover. For every android’s body, you find strewn across the landscape, there is a bizarre, mutated fish to discover.
The world is filled with a sombre peace. At least it feels that way. For the most part of the first playthrough.
To be or Not to… Well. Yes. Yes, it is 2B Actually.
Enter stage left, the first of three centre stage performances: 2B. 2B is a YoRHa class android, part of the larger YoRHa task force. This specialised military unit has an orbital base, namely “The Bunker” in which they receive their orders from the council of humanity on the moon. 2B is a battler class android armed with a katana, a broad sword, a P.O.D for shooting, and she has the acrobatic skills of a gymnast who has overdosed on caffeine-rich morning coffee.
One of the most brilliant things about this game however is how it expertly manages to blend its coffee different playstyles together. I bought this game excited to sink my cavity filled teeth into a hack and slash post-apocalyptic ARPG masterpiece. Only to load the game up to discover it was a top-down Gundam style (no, not Gangnam style) sci-fi shooter, reminiscent of all those pre-installed games on mobiles back before they were ‘smart’.
Do not be discouraged though. The game does this deliberately to throw you off your expectations. The first of many times I will add. The gameplay evolves fluidly from top-down one-directional shooter to top-down multi-directional shooter, to standard ARPG, to side-scrolling platformer, to minimalistic shooter mini-game (during the second playthrough). If this were implemented into any other game, it would be tedious and frustrating. But in NieR: Automata, it flows effortlessly. Like a well-rehearsed synchronised swimming routine in a tranquil arctic lake, performed by gangster giraffes in top hats. It just should not work. But it does, and it is beautiful.
Much of your playtime across all playthroughs will be spent in the gritty hack and slash ARPG style though. Engaging the ever-evolving robots in crunchy close quarter combat is the highlight of this game. 2B can equip a whole range of weapons from swords, spears, axes, and gauntlets. Equipping a different weapon for your strong attack and light attack buttons, coupled with 2B’s acrobatic skills make for some visually satisfying combos.
Plug and Play!...
A big part of this game is the way in which you can customise your play style. You do not have a levelling up tree branch of abilities to unlock, purchase or upgrade. There are no perks to attain for hitting certain milestones. And most unfortunately definitely no skimpy outfits that for some reason offer the best defence stats. You do not need any of them! No matter what playthrough you are in, you are a badass android, specifically crafted to be a robot slaying, well, badass.
So how does such an android manage to better themselves? Well, plug-in programs of course! Throughout your extensive time in the game looting the corpses of other players, androids, and robots, you can acquire different chips you can add to your motherboard to utilise the installed programs.
I love this system. You only have access to a set number of slots to use, so collecting a wide range of different programs to swap in and out will be fundamental to adapting to different bosses and situations. Small details such as your health display, mini-map display, and other little bits we all take for granted are also plug-in chips that you can choose to take out if you wish. You can even remove your operating system if you want. Although, comically, this instantly leads to one of the 26 different endings.
Ok. I believe I have casually mentioned different playthroughs enough times to get you curious. So, what difference does a new playthrough make? Do the enemies get harder and more punishing like in the Dark Souls Trilogy? Do the enemy placements and equipment change like in Batman Arkham Night?
No. NieR: Automata has the best new game experience I have ever come across. After you experience the sheer spectacle of 2B’s story after you have toppled the robot infrastructure after you have seen enough of the world that leaves you with more questions than answers and after the credits roll: then it happens. That little pop-up window that suggests that there is still more to experience.
Enter stage right, the second of three centre stage acts: 9S. 9S is your trusty companion throughout the entire first playthrough with 2B. Ever faithful, always dedicated, completely infatuated. So, you are already well acquainted with 9S, but now you get to play the story out from his perspective, with a different fighting style. Being able to hack into enemy robots and force them to self-destruct is a refreshing take on combat. But what do you after you have experienced the story from a fresh set of eyes?
Enter stage, um, top? Bottom? I do not know how stages work. Anyway, the third and final playthrough continues the story after everything you have seen so far, bouncing between three different characters. I will keep the third one hidden in case you want to avoid spoilers. Pssssst! their name contains a single letter and a single number!
Time for a Quick ARPG Checklist…
- Game has a visually stunning premise. Check!
- Game includes a series of side quests that seem mundane at first but are actually worth doing. Check!
- Main character is sworn to duty but slowly starts to question their actions. Check!
- Series of collectables that piece together some of the world’s history. Check!
- Open areas to explore with hidden areas, bosses, and NPC storylines. Check!
- Game features a loveable child-like character from the first machine war who can copy himself at the expense of some of his memory, who heroically sacrificed himself by duplicating himself 85,943,258 times over a whole century to fight the alien invaders and their robot creations, who now roams the lands not knowing who he is and moulded himself into a mechanical shopping van cart thing and acts as the games vendor. Check! Wait! WHAT THE FU…
Visual and Auditory Masterclass…
NieR: Automata has won awards for Game of the Year in the role-playing category. It has won the game awards in the best score and music category. It has won awards for its incredible voice acting. Won an award for best camera direction in a game engine. It was even nominated for a BAFTA games award in game design. I think that all this speaks volumes.
Every visual in this game is stunning. There is a surreal ambience to the areas you will explore, each with specifically designed enemies and NPCs. I loved how much attention went into crafting the enemies, the bosses, and the robot characters you meet along your journey. The androids all look remarkably similar though, especially the YoRHa units, but that is kind of the point of them. There is not a whole lot I can criticise, the game delivers everything it wants to, exactly as it intends to.
There are plenty of little details that really make me smile in this game. I love that the lore and story of the world is not forced upon you, but more simply it is just there as a collectable system if you want to delve down that lore-rich pool. I love that when you start the game for the first time, you are not placed in the shoes of a new adventurer. Your characters are established, they have history already. Which ties in perfectly when you do start collecting bits of lore.
I love the constant juxtapositions between the intrinsically serious story and the often-comical characters. I love how the team behind the game have managed to craft such a bleak world ravaged by war, which is somehow beautiful and peaceful. NieR: Automata is on a whole other level as an ARPG compared to the others, and I am seriously excited to dive back into the world of the original game’s remake, taking place 8500 years before Automata.
NieR: Automata sells itself on the grandiose nature of the overall post-apocalyptic robot vs android overarching hack and slash adventure. But it really thrives on its intricate and emotional stories it tells with its individual characters. From the personal stories of the main characters to the heart-breaking stories of the sub-characters that you piece together yourself. You will find yourself connected to all the characters and truly get invested in their stories, hoping that someone, anyone can find lasting peace in this never-ending turmoil.