By all accounts Nier: Automata shouldn’t even exist. This is a sequel to a very niche title that is a further spin off to the highly convoluted Drakengard series. However developer Platinum Games and Square Enix partnered up to bring us the followup to Nier seven years later. Now I never played the original games but this sounded like a match made in heaven and something right up my gaming alley. Nier: Automata was kinda skipped over by many since it came out a week after Horizon: Zero Dawn, but against all odds it delivers a truly unique experience. Nier: Automata now stands tall as my favorite game of the year so far and one of my new favorite games of all time.
In the graphics department, Nier: Automata looks good but not great. Some areas can be rather bland but overall there are some truly interesting locales. However, this creates an uneven feeling in visuals. At times the game is stunning as you explore this post apocalyptic world where nature has taken back the planet. Other times there is nothing but sand and nothingness. This emphasizes the apocalyptic setting but after a few hours it does get tired to look at. On a standard PS4, the game operates with very few hiccups. The target here is 60 fps and when it holds, boy does it hold. However in my time traversing the world I did come across some frame drops but none ever occurred during key moments like combat, which is important. I have also been told by another editor that on a PS4 Pro, Automata holds a steady 60 fps throughout.
Where I think Nier: Automata completely blows any game out of the water is in the soundtrack. My goodness. The melodic chants, the rising orchestras, the melancholy tones. All of it comes together to provide one of the most unforgettable musical scores I’ve ever heard. I had numerous moments where I stopped playing just to listen to the music. And the music only gets better as it progresses with you through the game as new sections of older pieces are played as you continue. This kept things fresh and had me falling in love with tracks all over again. And anytime Nier: Automata starts to sound like Ghost in the Shell and by proxy, composer Kenji Kawai, I just have the biggest smile on my face. The composer of Automata, Keiichi Okabe, deserves a medal. I just can’t stop listening to it. Voice acting as well is also very strong. No performance feels flat and 2B in particular is a stand out. As if by magic, this music is playing to some stellar gameplay and story.
Nier: Automata takes place in the year 11945 AD, a future where humanity has been pushed to near extinction by machine lifeforms. Humanity has retreated back to the Moon and they fight back to reclaim the Earth. This is done with the androids from a unit called YoRHa. The story is told through the eyes of 3 androids from this group: 2B, 9S and A2. It is here where Nier: Automata begins to set itself apart in the narrative sense. The story features a total of 5 major endings that reveal the narrative over the course of 3 separate playthroughs. On top of that there are also 21 “joke” endings as well that you can discover. Your first and second playthrough of Nier: Automata are going to be very similar but offer some key insight. You are then presented with the 3rd which subverts expectations and offers so many twists and turns that saying anymore would just be doing you a disservice. All in all, it took me about 40 hours to complete and view the final ending.
Another thing that only adds to the quality of Nier: Automata are the side quests. Each one may seem inconsequential as you do them for money or experience but there is a surprise for people with a keen eye. As events happen in the story and you completed certain side quests prior, you can see direct results of the event on those quests. One example is reuniting a brother and sister in their village only for things in the village to go South. You can see the aftermath is all I’ll say. And yet, while all of this is great, how does Nier: Automata actually feel? The answer is simple: this is Platinum Games doing what they do best.
Combat in Automata is fast, fluid, hectic and really fun. Combining simple, light, and heavy attacks result in beautifully animated sword swings as 2B (or any of the characters) cut machines to pieces before they explode. Several weapons and types offer some variety with the ability to mix and match types so you can use what you like. Automata is also a pretty heavy RPG and not just a pure action game. Using plug-in chips (which fits the android theme), you can add abilities like doing more damage or slowing time with a perfect dodge. These things take up memory however and it is very limited so you have to be careful how you use the space. Thankfully you can create up to 3 plug-in chip loadouts and with a smart, but not well explained fusion system, you can lower the cost of chips while also upgrading their effectiveness. Also, in a mechanic made popular by Dark Souls, dying means you have to recover your previous android body. If you die before doing so then you will lose the “memories” (plug-in chips) of the last body.
Enemies look like they could get repetitive based on the simplistic designs but this was never the case. Experimenting with different weapon types allowed combat to remain interesting and even once you settle in to your favorite weapons, the enemies are mixed around with variants enough to never get boring. Each weapon can be upgraded to max level 4 with material dropped by enemies and found in chests too. Also in combat there is your companion Pod which grants you ranged attacks. These Pods can also be upgraded. All of this of course while you gain levels and EXP. Besides combat there are also some side activities like fishing and riding the local wildlife if you’re into that. It doesn’t do much besides earn some extra money or extra mobility around the open world but it’s there. There are also customization items that are awarded during the game and from various quests which adds a personal touch to your particular 2B, 9S an A2. Boss battles are also a true highlight with imaginative designs and of course lifted by the phenomenal soundtrack.
This is gonna sound weird coming at this point in the review but right at the beginning of the game Nier: Automata throws a curveball. You are placed into a bullet hell shooter. Yes Nier: Automata wastes no time breaking conventions as you scroll along avoiding enemy fire and laying waste to them yourself. And go figure, but it’s a really good bullet hell shooter. After that, the camera takes interesting perspectives during combat sections which place you into top down and side scrolling areas. And in the 2nd playthrough we see even more get added as now you have to hack enemies. This game is one part Action RPG, one part bullet hell and one part hacking mini game. And I love it. It is this daring attitude that makes Nier: Automata so endearing. Also in its’ own quirky way, charming. There is an inherent oddball personality to Automata which is shared by director Yoko Taro. His style just can’t be matched.
At this point it’s easy to see that Nier: Automata sounds like a mismatch of genres and should be pretty mediocre because of it. However, it is an expertly crafted gem that brings everything together with the utmost care. Characters feature depth in an engrossing narrative that hits all the right beats. Combat is engaging with the right mix of challenge and fun. The shift to other gameplay elements keeps you on your toes and guessing (although the hacking gets used a bit too much for my taste in the latter half of the game). The absolutely breathtaking soundtrack lifts it all up to a status of must play material. Nier: Automata‘s core strength is the sum of all the parts. As it stands in this moment, it is my top choice for 2017 Game of the Year.
Also available on: PC