“Everything that lives is designed to end. We are perpetually trapped in a never-ending spiral of life and death. Is this a curse? Or some kind of punishment? I often think about the god who blessed us with this cryptic puzzle…and wonder if we’ll ever get the chance to kill him.” – 2B
I’m going to be extremely candid and state up front that NieR:Automata is one of, if not my absolute, favorite games of all time. NieR:Automata was developed by PlatinumGames and published by Square-Enix, directed by Yoko Taro and had its music composed by Keiichi Okabe. Gameplay borrows heavily from almost every style of game from side-scroller beat ‘em ups to top-down shooters to bullet hell games like Touhou, but the majority of the game uses third person action as the means of placing the player into the narrative.
Overall a very polished game, but not without its flaws. If you’re familiar with Yoko Taro’s previous works, such as the original NieR or the Drakengard/Drag-On Dragoon series, you’ll know that he’s got a penchant for doing very strange things with storytelling and gameplay mechanics. PlatinumGames being in charge of development saved this title from being relegated to the clunky controls of Taro’s previous games, but the sheer number of varying playstyles in the game was a task they simply couldn’t overcome. A lot of the aerial combat segments feel just plain boring at times. There is even a critical plot moment that is supposed to fill the player with a sense of urgency, but what I felt after completing the segment was just pleasure that it was over and I could go do something else for a change. With that said, despite the weak points there, and Taro’s tendency to confuse the hell out of the player as much as possible, this game’s strong points are incredibly strong, easily making up for the weaker areas.
Set approximately 10,000 years after the original NieR, which is a game you probably didn’t play and that’s okay because almost no one has, the Earth is devoid of human life. Humanity relocated to the Moon due to an alien invasion and now wages war against the aliens on Earth using human-looking androids as their proxies. The aliens, in turn, haven’t been seen in millennia, but use robotic lifeforms as their own proxy on the planet. The 14th Machine War is underway, and this is where we meet our initial protagonist, the android 2B. 2B, with the assistance of scanner-type android 9S, is initially tasked with infiltrating a machine factory where a behemoth-class robot has been detected. After hacking and slashing her way through the factory in a Devil May Cry fashion, she comes face to face with the behemoth. This encounter ultimately ends very poorly for our protagonist as she and 9S both perish…and then wake up on a space station orbiting Earth. 2B learns from 9S that before their deaths, 9S uploaded 2B’s memory to the station so she could be placed into a new body; the 9S that was on Earth was not so lucky, and none of his memories made it back to the station. 2B is shown being very upset about this.
Their next mission sees our duo being dispatched back to Earth, strangely not very far from where their former selves died, and they’re ordered to go to a nearby resistance camp to aid the android resistance there. At this point the game opens up, and you can get a feeling for the larger world, even though at this time you’re still mostly confined to the city ruins. While the music in the game up to this point has been very good, including a call back to the original NieR, it’s felt pretty standard, but this exact moment is when the game’s scoring, an incredibly integral part of the game designed to illicit specific feelings in the player, really sets in. You hear a few piano keys played gently, laying in some ambient guitar into a gorgeous repeating pattern, and just as it seems like it’s going to get old a new layer of sound is added, and then drums set in, and if you enter combat the whole thing becomes noticeably more intense. It’s at this moment you realize that the music is completely dynamic and will layer in and out as needed, based on the intensity of what you’re doing at the time; however, this is only a small taste of just how impactful the music is.
NieR:Automata’s world spans six major zones, some considerably larger than others, and the story has a total of 26 endings, many of which are joke endings, but only five of these are required to experience the full story. Your second playthrough has you controlling a separate character though the same content, but the beats of the game alter to fit this person’s fighting style and keep the player engaged. The third playthrough introduces what is essentially the second half of the game’s story, introducing new characters, expanding on the backgrounds of the characters we already know, and giving the player a sense that 2B’s query at the start of the game very well may be answered. Playthroughs four and five are easily done from a chapter selection option given to you at the end of the third route, preventing the player from having to redo the exact same content with no changes again.
With fantastic usage of color in specific areas to bring vibrancy to an otherwise intentionally dull and muted looking world, wonderful combat mechanics that make you want to just keep fighting as many things as you can find, and a soundtrack that is truly one of the best I’ve ever heard in a game, NieR:Automata handily became my favorite game of 2017, and likely of all time.
Available on Steam and for PS4, with an enhanced PS4 Pro version, the only people who should be missing out on this game are Xbox players, and it’s a shame they have to miss out on it too.
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