Developed by Cavia and released in 2010, the original Nier has since deservedly earned itself cult status.
It was the type of game that was janky as hell but somehow managed to get under your skin, making it a captivating experience that stayed with you long after you’d had your wicked way with it. It was also the type of game that no-one ever expected would be fortunate enough to get a sequel. With the much lauded PlatinumGames at the helm however, it has. And despite the change of developer, NieR: Automata is still unmistakably a Nier game.
The similarities are plentiful. NieR: Automata, at its core, is an open world adventure game with a main questline and plenty of sidequests to pad out the whole charade, just like Nier. Along the way it occasionally blurs the line between genres, incorporating elements of side-scrolling platformers and bullet hell shooters, again, just like Nier. And you’re going to be playing through it multiple times if you want to see the whole story; you guessed it, just like Nier. One way in which it differs from its fan-favourite predecessor however, is that it’s a great deal less rough around the edges.
I say a ‘great deal’ as there are still a number of frustrations. The transitions between gameplay styles and camera angles can often cause minor control issues as well as be a tad disorientating, and melee combat on a two-dimensional plane doesn’t really work that well due to how it limits your evasive options and the visibility of enemy attacks. The hacking mini-game that becomes prominent in your second playthrough also gets tiresome rather quickly due to its repetitive nature. Overall though, such issues are merely small flies in an exquisite ointment.
What drives you through NieR: Automata is a story that is thought-provoking and ever-so engaging, making progress something you continually strive for throughout multiple playthroughs despite the familiar scenes. You come to care for each of its characters and seek to uncover their motivations, but most of all you’ll simply want to unearth the truth. You see, the premise of NieR: Automata is drenched in mystery, and you just won’t rest until it has been unravelled.
Combat also plays a large role in NieR: Automata’s ability to grasp your attention. It’s not particularly deep in any way, but it’s fast-paced and silky smooth, pleasing your eyes with fluid animations. Attacking with swords and spears, without the ability to block you’ll have to study your enemies and time your evasive manoeuvres to avoid their attacks, possibly following up with an effective counter. Alternatively, you can attack from afar with your pod unit that is equipped with multiple fire modes and can be customised with a range of special attacks.
This choice between ranged and close combat may shape how you develop your character via NieR: Automata’s unique chip plug-in system. You can choose to boost parameters such as your evasion range, critical hit chance and melee or ranged attack power, or enable abilities like the helpful auto-heal. With each chip requiring a set amount of storage space however, you’re forced to carefully consider what modifications will be more beneficial to your playstyle, although you could choose to disable some HUD elements to free up some space if you really wanted to. Add in a fusing system that allows you to combine chips to enhance their effects, and you’re afforded quite a bit of leeway to cater your character to your way of play.
One of the most memorable aspects of the original Nier was its music, which was quite frankly phenomenal. To this end, fans will be pleased to find that NieR: Automata’s soundtrack is just as good, or possibly even better. It somehow seems to tie everything together, dynamically changing to suit your location and current predicament. From soothing vocals being brought to the forefront during moments of downtime, to rousing beats that take prominence as the action ramps up, it makes every minute you spend with the game that much more of a rare pleasure.
Perhaps the only area in which NieR: Automata truly disappoints at times is with regards to its visuals. It’s not that they’re outright poor, but just rather inconsistent. Main character models and their animations are fantastically realised, for example, while many NPCs are very basic. The robotic enemies you’re up against on the other hand are technically sound but undoubtedly bland. To round it all off, environments are equally erratic in terms of quality. Some are an absolute delight to explore like the abandoned amusement park that is dripping with colour and detail, but others are often more mundane and feature an abundance of blurry textures.
NieR: Automata is undoubtedly a better game than its predecessor then, but still somewhat of a rough diamond; it doesn’t shine to its full potential, but it’s precious nonetheless. An overflow of quirkiness and an air of mystery empower it with a great deal of charm. It’s just so unusual and varied that it’s easy to overlook the occasional frustrations that it puts in your path. Ultimately, it’s a game that will stay with you long after you’ve seen the credits roll for the second, third or even fourth time; the memories of its characters and music lingering in your head, reminding you of what games can be like if they dare to be different. Unless you have no soul, I fail to see how you couldn’t be enraptured by it.