If it isn’t immediately apparent, NieR:Automata is very much an RPG from Japan – complete with all the madness associated with such a genre.
Opening with a top-down shoot ‘em up against enemy ships, it wasn’t long before my character was facing a giant, Goliath-class enemy called Buzzsaw – with buzzsaws the size of houses for hands, hence the name. And if that wasn’t enough of an opening, I was then able to unlock an achievement for strategically manoeuvring the camera to look under my characters skirt. Yes, definitely a JRPG – one that’s a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none.
Nier:Automata is the same game that launched in 2017 on PS4, but this version on the Xbox One is known as the ‘Become as Gods Edition’, and that includes previously released DLC 3C3C1D119440927 as well as other cosmetic items for the protagonists.
In the game, you play as 2B, a humanoid android that has been sent from the Bunker orbiting above Earth to reclaim the planet from the machines; invaders from another world. The year is 11945AD and humanity – or what is left – has had to flee to the Moon to survive.
2B is accompanied by another android called 9S, who both have accompanying ‘Pods’ that can offer guidance but also act as their main ranged attack weapon.
2B and 9S are sent from the Bunker to clear the way for a big attack on the machines. Throughout their journey they learn a lot about the machines that invaded, as well as encounter some friendly ‘enemies’ and non-friendly ‘allies’.
Nier:Automata presents a very melancholic and sombre atmosphere. Despite 2B and 9S’ movements and appearance, these are certainly not humans and the game isn’t afraid to make you continually ask yourself where exactly the humans are. We are told they are on the moon, but the androids have become entirely autonomous in their methods and do not require any human input. Have the humans made themselves redundant at getting their own planet back?
Combat is plentiful in the game and when you aren’t piloting your ship in the shoot ‘em up sections, it is a much more hack ‘n’ slash affair. X and Y are your two main attack buttons and RT is used copiously to dodge attacks and make everything look a bit more stylish.
Nothing is black and white here. While the story is linear for the most part, I was regularly questioning my actions and motives, never fully certain what the correct action was. One particular boss fight appeared to offer me an option to fight or flee, but 9S made the decision to fight for me, when I was happy to not raise my sword.
Despite all this ambiguity in the story, I found it slow and laborious for the most part. And I think this is in part to the game technically having the full story spread out across three playthroughs in total. It gives the experience longevity and avoids repetition, but at a cost to thinning the story out, especially during the first playthrough.
Other endings are dotted throughout the game – 26 in total – and can be as simple as killing everyone in a village, eating a mackerel fish or removing your OS chip from your plug-ins. Most of these are considered non-canon but are fun to discover at the same time.
Plug-in chips are your main way to customise and adapt your character to your way of playing. Useful for increasing your melee and ranged attack power or offering a HP boost, they can also allow the combat to be done automatically, providing you play on the lowest difficulty.
The world is semi-open, with certain areas locked off until the story requires you to go there. The first area you arrive in after the long opening mission is a dilapidated and ruined city that can be a real pain to find your way around, even with the help of a map. Later areas such as the amusement park, forest and flooded area are less tricky to navigate, but with fast travelling not unlocking until a decent way through the first playthrough, you will see a lot of the same locations early on.
When you aren’t lost, the bleak and colourless world – apart from the surreal amusement park – is a beautiful place to explore. 2B and 9S regularly discuss these areas as you go through them wondering what they were like when humans inhabited the Earth, painting an interesting yet depressing view of the future. This is let down though by the frequent texture pop-in that occurs; particularly when sprinting through the world, sometimes it takes a couple of seconds for the world to catch up.
Nier:Automata also restricts your view at times, by switching from a third person camera where you have complete control, to a 2D side-scrolling view where the game only lets you see what it wants. This is most annoying in the forest castle; a place I wanted to explore fully but was entirely done as a side-scrolling section. The game uses this perspective change to its’ advantage by changing up enemy placements, requiring you to rethink original tactics and causing a big difficulty spike. However, as beautiful as the game is – thanks to this frequent change in perspective – there is an awful lot of it that you cannot see or explore.
There is also very little in the way of voice acting throughout the game. This isn’t due to the script not containing much dialogue, but rather that most of the speech is done in text. After originally launching in 2017, there is a distinct lack of speech which is disappointing for an RPG by today’s standards.
This may not be a total disaster though, because it means the soundtrack is front and centre in the player’s ear, and this is easily the best part of the game. It is, quite frankly, phenomenal. Right from the very off this is a soundtrack that tugs at the heartstrings, perfectly accompanying the melancholic aspect.
For a JRPG, the achievement list isn’t as achingly grindy as typically seen. There are achievements to keep you busy through the three required playthroughs, but then the game has a novel feature to help you mop up any remaining achievements. After the third playthrough, a shop opens where you can purchase the last few achievements, spending the small fortune you will have undoubtedly amassed.
Nier:Automata Become As Gods Edition has a very deep and thoughtful story, but it requires a lot of time before you get down to it. Spreading the story across three playthroughs is fitting for the quirks it has, but it means the first playthrough is paper thin, essentially introducing you to characters without any explanation and then requires you to reach that point again in a second playthrough to make any sense of who they are. The world is beautiful, and the soundtrack is phenomenal which is standard for a JRPG, but I’m disappointed that I wasn’t bogged down in story, another JRPG staple.