It is amazing to me that I can refer to NieR as the first in a series of games. When the PS3 title originally released in 2010, it became the definition of a “cult classic” — no one played it, it sold poorly and reviewed no better due to its glaring technical flaws. But it was also loved by people that did play it, for its engaging characters, tremendous writing, and a fantastic soundtrack. Though the game’s quirky creator, Yoko Taro, expressed interest in a sequel, it didn’t seem to be in the cards. Fans of the game’s surreal atmosphere and heartwarming story never believed they would get to explore more of Taro’s bizarre world. Yet here we are, and boy am I glad that we’re here.
NieR: Automata takes place thousands of years after its predecessor, meaning you can jump right into the series here and only miss a few narrative threads that connect the two games together. Mankind has fled to the moon after machines invaded from another world. To fight back, humans send androids, dubbed “YoRHa,” to the surface of Earth to battle the machines in a proxy war. You play as one of these androids, “2B,” as she heads into combat with her support partner, “9S.”
Though Automata takes place so long after NieR narratively, key themes from the initial game weave themselves throughout 2B and 9S’ journey. What does it mean to be human? What defines one’s sense of self? How far are we willing to go to protect those we care about? While at first I was worried that the game wouldn’t provide satisfying answers to the questions it asks, I should have known better. By the end, I was in awe with the way its plot threads came together, and it did so with a subtlety that few games are able to achieve. Scenes that felt empty of meaning at first became the ones I continued to think about long after I had finished the game.
Between these periods of narrative punch, you fight waves of mechanized invaders. For this game, Square Enix tapped into Platinum’s talent for a better developed action experience, in comparison to the stiff, slow mess that was the first game’s combat. This was a good idea — Automata plays like a dream. Every movement 2B makes is silky smooth and animates beautifully. It felt good to slice through scores of enemies with a variety of different weapons, then dodge with a carefully timed evade, only to counter with a swing of a giant sword. Overall, every action you make carries weight to it, and feels responsive and impactful. On top of that, the game’s Chip System lets you customize every aspect of combat, from increasing your weapon damage to turning off your Lock-On for added challenge. There’s even a chip that allows you to counter the same way you would in Metal Gear Rising, another Platinum title. On that note, if you’ve played Platinum’s other games, you’ll feel right at home here. If not, there are tons of options to make things easier on you, such as chips that let you dodge and heal automatically, should you wish to equip them. And if that fails, it’s nothing a few levels of EXP can’t fix.
Unlike NieR, I never got tired of combat throughout my 25 hours of play, and was actually willing to explore and complete side quests in the game’s semi-open world because of it. This is especially nice because said quests provide further insight into the thoughts and mannerisms of the characters, and the world the game takes place in. Whether major or minor, the characters of NieR: Automata are an interesting bunch. Where 2B is stoic, a woman of few words, 9S is expressive and more willing to follow his emotions — or as much emotion an android like him is able to tap into. They play off of each other well and you can’t help but find their relationship endearing — not all too dissimilar from the pact between Nier, Kaine and Emil in the first game. Likewise, the various NPCs you encounter along the way all add flavor to the desolate world the game takes place in. By the time you see the credits roll, you’ll feel something for this game’s oddball characters and surreal world.
My journey was not entirely without its bumps, however. While playing, I encountered a few glitches that caused the game to get stuck, forcing me to reset. This wouldn’t be as annoying of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that the game doesn’t autosave. This means that I would sometimes be forced to redo 20-30 minute sections of gameplay to catch back up. If you don’t want autosaving to be an aspect of your game in 2017, I raise my eyebrow and shrug my shoulders. But if I’m forced to replay a segment because of a glitch in your game and a lack of autosave in 2017, I am not a happy camper.
Lastly, I’d like to draw special attention to Automata’s music. I am primarily a Music Editor for RPGFan, so a game’s soundtrack is important to me. As I mentioned earlier, the original NieR’s soundtrack is almost universally praised. When I first started playing, I wondered how the new tracks by Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Hoashi would compare when stacked up against their original compositions. Not only can I say that Automata’s soundtrack matches up against its older sibling, I can also say it surpasses it in every way. It’s almost impossible to describe how amazing the music in this game is. Every track is beautiful and works together to form a cohesive whole, no matter the genre. At times, I would simply stand still and let the music play, mouth agape in awe. Any fan of game music shouldn’t hesitate to check out the game’s soundtrack.
NieR: Automata is everything I could have wanted from a sequel to NieR, to the point that I almost feel spoiled here. It keeps the same off-the-wall plot and well-written characters from the original while discarding the clunky combat and movement for a system that has the sheen of any one of Platinum’s greatest titles. It really is the best of both worlds. If you’ve been a fan of NieR since day one, but have been burnt by its clumsiness before, you’re in for a fantastic treat. And if you’re new to the craziness that is a Yoko Taro game, know that this is the absolute best time to jump in.
This review is based on the Japanese version of the game, purchased by an RPGFan reviewer.