Let’s make this clear right off, I adore this game. I do. So if you want to just cut to the chase and move on, yes I recommend this game. If you want to know why, or just want to learn more about the game then let’s do this. Be warned, there is a lot to cover here so sit back, relax, grab a drink and read on.
I didn’t even think twice about this game when it came out. I thought “Who cares?!” the first one had mixed reviews at best, why on earth is there another one? It wasn’t even a blip on my radar except for really enjoying the videos that Outside Xbox/Extra were putting out about it. I laughed at the videos, thought maybe it looked ok, if a bit boring and life went on.
Until July came, and with it, no new games I really wanted. I was hoping that the new Valkeria game would be good but it’s just another in a long line of stylized, licensed Dynasty Warrior clones to come from Japan. So I decided to go buy something new. I went to the local Gamestop and left with a copy of NieR: Automata because they had it on sale and I was in the mood to try something new that I hadn’t really cared about before. That’s also how I ended up buying The Witch and the Hundred Knight the same day, but that’s for another time.
I started it up when I got home like I always do just to get a taste of things to come and…I loved it. I start every game I buy as soon as I get home when possible just to see what is in store and at the very least go ahead and get the updates rolling. Usually it’s just a few minutes to see what’s what, but sometimes I sink at least an hour in without realizing it, this was one of those times.
To start NieR: Automata is a 3rd person, open world action JRPG that seamlessly blends hack and slash, 2D platforming and bullet hell style shoot ’em ups into one cohesive gaming experience. It is set in the future, humanity now lives on the moon…because robots. You play as 2B, a female android sent back to earth to see if we can’t get the whole living on earth show back on the road. Things happen and you have a wonderful time going on a big adventure.
So let’s talk about that time spent adventuring shall we?
What makes NieR: Automata a good game?
Initially I enjoyed the game at first just based on the 60fps gameplay which remains rock solid on my PS4 Pro. Now I know that my “Gamer Reviews” don’t focus around technical stuff however I feel that the 60fps in THIS instance aids the fun factor of this game so I felt like mentioning it.
But 60fps aside, After I gained control of the main character, which is named 2B, I grew to like her. I enjoyed her attitude and how her serious side played well against the more innocent 9S character who serves as your counterpart for much of the game. This is a mechanic that Japanese developers seem to do often but it’s also because they do it very well. There was nothing that really uniquely stood out about her as a character, she was just done very well. Easily likeable. And that’s a good thing. A likeable main character can help a game overcome quite a few shortcomings, which NieR is certainly not without. But more on that later.
The combat was handled by Platinum games which, if nothing else, knows how to do combat very well. The controls are simple, effective and most importantly fun to use. Normally in these types of games, by the end I am just trying to get through the final missions to see how it ends so I normally run right by enemies that are out in the open world.
Not this time. I fought every single one I came across. The combat would allow you to dispatch enemies swiftly and it was always satisfying. You have the ability to select between different loadouts. I just had one however, I picked my favorite two swords and upgraded when I could and had those take me through the game.
But swords are not the only weapon at your disposal. You also have a little robotic buddy with you the entire game called a “pod” that can fire a machine gun, lasers, missiles, you name it, They can also do a special attack which can either protect you or decimate a single or group of enemies, And if things get truly out of hand, you can always self destruct to basically insta-kill a group of enemies, but don’t worry you won’t die but you do enter a critical state for a bit so if anyone is left alive, avoid them like the plague until you can heal yourself. You can’t fight back in this state, you just have to stumble away from them for a few heart pounding seconds until you can recover.
The Pacing and Story Telling
The story is very broad and you need to play through the game multiple times to really see what is going on. But the way the story is laid out, you can roll through it quickly if you want. Or you can also take the time and go side questing for hours.
The game automatically puts a waypoint on the map for every quest you’ve started. You can’t turn quests on or off to clean things up, the waypoints are always there until you finish the quest. So at anytime you know if you are close to a side quests destination and can veer off if you want. I like this. While I prefer a cleaner map, I much prefer not having to backtrack over a missed item on a side quest, so this helps. There will still be some back tracking but this can help minimize that.
The main story waypoint is also visible nearly all the time so there is rarely, if ever, a time when you will be lost as to what to do or where to go. Speaking of which, the number of main missions is also enough to be fun and tell an overarching story but not so many that the game gets tedious by the end.
The story itself is interesting and the way it unfolds in front of you takes you to various locations but never really over reaches. The story is contained inside just a few areas and none of them are very large. I feel this was by design due to needing multiple plays to get the final ending, it helps the game tell a nice contained story about machines taking over which, while not original, is told in a very heart-warming and interesting way.
The Levelling System
Like most action RPGs you level up by killing bad guys. In NieR there are no upgrade trees or skill points. Every time you level up you gain more health and the damage you deal and take is increased and reduced respectively. It’s a very old school system and I love that.
That’s not to say you can’t upgrade 2B. You install upgraded plug in chips that give her all sorts of abilities from more health to more attack power, a shock wave that flies out with every attack, more experience gained, health drain from enemies, you name it. All the normal JRPG upgrades you would expect are here for the most part. You can even upgrade the chips and make stronger versions as well as have multiple chip combinations to switch between, It’s a solid system but I found I just stuck with one load out for the upgrades as well much like my swords. I like to find something that works and roll with it,
What makes NieR: Automata a Bad Game?
Weapon Upgrades are Slow Coming
Weapon upgrades are a mixed bag. The upgrades are significant, but very infrequent even though the vendor is at your camp tempting you the whole game. I was only able to upgrade a few times in my first playthrough. I was not able, search as I might, to find the one or two key items needed to upgrade. I would even look online for help and never turned up anything.
I read that upgrading the weapons gets easier in the second run through the game. If true, awesome, but I can’t say I’m a fan of that. I basically used two swords the whole game because I could not find anything that suited my playstyle better and was only able to upgrade each one once. I had all the consumables necessary to upgrade them again aside from one key item that was a “rare” drop but I’d say it was more impossible than rare, at least for me.
This is a nit pick, but I am never a fan of a game making the player wait until they are hours in before allowing for fast travel, looking at you Dark Souls. Luckily the game is small enough to where you can run to a section fairly quickly but still, let me fast travel when I want.
To make things worse, after you activate fast travel some of the terminals will randomly turn off making you have to run back to them to activate them again. All this makes sense in the context of the game’s story but it’s still annoying.
Side Quests Disapperaing Without Warning
This is by far my biggest gripe of the game. Once you reach a certain point in the story “something” happens and now all side quests are wiped out from your quest log. If you didn’t finish them yet…too bad.
Now this mechanic is not exclusive to NieR however every other RPG I have ever played that does this will flash a big warning up about how “Are you sure you want to proceed, you can’t come back after this” or “Make sure you have finished everything you want to do before this point of no return.” I don’t remember a single time this happened in NieR. If it did, it was so subtle I missed it.
As far I know NieR just says “Screw it” you have to play through this thing at least three times for the true ending anyway, they’ll get it done next time. Which is true and I intend to play through again as I finished it in only 13 hours so it’s a very quick two afternoon game if you don’t miss out on the side quests but I have other games in the backlog to play, I was going to save my next run through of this for another slow gaming month but I may just hop back in.
NieR: Automata is a really wonderful JRPG. It is a genre mixing masterpiece where it never feels like a gimmick, it all makes sense in the story or gameplay to all of a sudden be a 2D platformer or bullet hell shoot ’em up. The genre jumps are frequent enough to make the game stay fresh but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it.
I can very easily recommend this game to anyone who likes a good story driven game with great combat. And really, who doesn’t like that? I liked it so much so that I am going to pick up the first game on PS3 as well as Drakengard 3 seeing as it’s in the same family. Any game that pushes me to buy another game in it’s library or universe automatically gets a special place in my library. Well done NieR: Automata you made it!