Being a loyal Square-Enix fan, I had eagerly been awaiting the release of NieR: Automata since it was announced in 2014. The lead-up trailers had promised fantastic hack and slash mech battles, scenic world exploration and a unique story in which androids battled for the fate of humanity. One could argue that NieR may have been overreaching in its scope trying to encompass all this, and more, to a patiently waiting gaymer such as myself – but you’d be wrong. NieR: Automata is an exceptional game; it delivers what it has promised and I couldn’t be more pleased.
The story of NieR: Automata is simple enough to follow. Humanity has all but been wiped out by an extra-terrestrial invasion, using our own machines to execute the eradication. With the survivors fleeing to the moon and creating the YoRHa, an army of powerful humanoid androids to fight and reclaim their planet, the stakes have never been higher. YoRHa androids 2B and 9S are tasked with aiding a small pocket of resistance fighters located on earth, but during their mission it becomes apparent that their task is not as simple a search, locate, and destroy. The machines that once heartlessly killed their targets now show vestiges of emotion and artificial intelligence, begging the question: Do these machines still require destruction?
Unlike most RPG’s, NieR doesn’t hold your hand at the beginning of the game with a long drawn out tutorial, instead opting for a “learn as you go” approach. Soaring through the sky, 2B’s team members are mercilessly destroyed one by one until only she remains; now it’s up to her to complete the first mission. Players will explore an aged factory full of murderous robots, that employ both close range and long range attacks, but you’ll have an arsenal of weaponry to fight back with, as well a quick-move and instant-dodge option to counter-attack opponents. Once the mission is completed and some obligatory story is played through, you’ll be granted a more open world environment to explore.
“One minute you’ll be roaming across a vast and lifeless desert, the next you’re in an abandoned city that nature has reclaimed…”
It’s worth noting that NieR’s real charm comes from its option to explore the open world it has created; if anything, you’re encouraged to explore every inch of it. One minute you’ll be roaming across a vast and lifeless desert, the next you’re in an abandoned city that nature has reclaimed. Each locale is beautiful in its scope and at the same time quite depressing as it bears evidence that this world was once so full of life. The soundtrack to NieR is truly pleasurable; each location is accompanied perfectly with that classic JRPG style and ethereal vocals, so you can’t help but feel immersed in the game. I found myself humming along as familiar tunes came on and always looked forward to visiting an area with a song I liked.
NieR’s gameplay is an enjoyable challenge to master. The battle system is a genre amalgamation of hack and slash, side-scrolling and platforming all mixed into one. This constantly rotating gameplay works in NieR’s favour as it prevents the game from becoming too stagnant and always keeps players on their toes. During battle you’ll be assisted by both your Pod, an independent support unit designed for long range attack, and another YoHRa android, 9S being the first instance.
Battles are fast paced; you’ll always need to be mindful of your surroundings and be ready to change from close range to long range attack depending on the enemy at any given moment. Timing is essential when battling enemies up close as they can disrupt a combo easily and you’ll find yourself in trouble if you take too much damage; this is why dodge-counters are important to master early on – especially when up against gargantuan bosses that can attack an entire area with one swing.
The weapons a player can utilise in battle are placed in four categories: small swords, large swords, bracers, and spears, and are then narrowed even further down into heavy or light attacks. Weapons can be obtained through regular gameplay and shops, and can be upgraded for stronger stats and additional effects. You’ll be able to create two sets of weapon combinations which are instantly interchangeable to suit your play style and the flow of battle.
A players YoRHa android body is also a weapon that that can be improved through regular gameplay by levelling up, but also with the use of chips which grant players a selection benefits including extra health, speed, damage, and experience. Due to the limited amount of space available, players will need to suss out which combination of chips suits them best for the task at hand. Luckily you can create three interchangeable chip arrangements, so players can freely modify themselves based on their situation.
NieR is full of side-quests and while not essential to complete, it does provide players a wider understanding of the world and its current predicament. Completing tasks will also grant extra items and more experience, making the game easier to complete and allowing for an in-depth adventure that would otherwise be less rich in content. It’s also worth noting that NieR: Automata is by no means a single play-through game; you will need to complete this game a couple of times to get the whole story and as the three main YoRHa androids 2B, 9S, A2 all have their own take on the series, they all have several different endings – 26 in total.
NieR’s shortcomings are few and far between its many successes, but there a few issues that did irk me from time to time. For those who are used to an autosave function, you’ll be severely punished if you don’t opt to save regularly. Taking the time to save is easy to forget in this game with the slick combat easily driving it out of your mind, and if you are destroyed in battle you will have to start from scratch again – something I learned the hard way. Exploration, being noted earlier, in NieR is encouraged; in fact it’s necessary when the world map provided is very basic. It becomes essential to remember your locale, since the map can be too simplistic in some areas.
The Bottom Line
Square-Enix have really outdone themselves this time. NieR: Automata has been one of those games that has truly enriched my love for all things JRPG. It’s the perfect combo of story, gameplay and battle that has appeased the Otaku fanboy in me. This game will have me playing through it several times to get every possible ending I can. I recommend that if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, you best get to it and enjoy the action-packed joyride that is NieR: Automata.