Nier or Far from Perfect?

Nier: Automata is an action RPG from Platinum Games that is an indirect sequel to Nier, both of which I never heard of and have never played. I ended up with Nier: Automata on my “Must Play” list after watching an Outside Xtra video where Ellen and Luke messed around, riding on a moose. Dynamic moose gameplay is appealing, but what really drew me in was the fluid and beautiful combat mechanics and a story featuring androids (as most of the folks at Sticky Bunton know, I love our synthetic brethren). The only apprehension I had was that it was developed by Platinum Games who developed Star Fox Zero, a game I enjoyed, and Legend of Korra, which I disliked. Even at a fifty percent success rate for enjoyability, I took the plunge and bought Nier: Automata.

Plunge was definitely a good word to apply to Nier: Automata. From the start you’re dropped into the action of the Android-Machine War, looking for a goliath class machine lifeform that needed to be terminated. You take control of 2B (second series battle android) and set forth on a trail of destruction and helpful side quests to put an end to the machine lifeform threat. You are also partnered with 9S (ninth series scanner android), who I affectionately called a not so polite pet name, and POD, a semi autonomous long range weapons platform and communications system. The conversations between these characters can be, at times, fun and heartfelt, and, at others, deeply infuriating. Their opinions seemingly shift haphazardly, and just when you think one has developed a nuanced opinion of their enemy, they revert to a previous state of blind hate. It was rather confusing, and I couldn’t tell if this was an intentional choice to point out that their duty differs from their desire or just sloppy writing. You do encounter other side characters along the way that get about as much flavor as a wedge salad. Everything is on the surface and lacked depth, and I couldn’t find myself caring about any of the characters until I started my third playthrough.

It’s not only the side characters of Nier: Automata that lack depth, but also it’s world. After your first playthrough, you know very little about the world other than a catastrophe in the form of an alien invasion drove humanity to the moon, and the androids of YoRHA were humanity’s last ditch effort to drive back the aliens and the machine lifeforms to reclaim Earth. That makes the conflict sound much more active than it actually is. You fight variations of Android logo looking machines from biome to biome, but it feels less like a war and much more like clean up duty. Each playable region is as massive as it is empty, making traversal exceedingly dull. Fast travel is an option later into the story, but it doesn’t mitigate the doldrums. Fallout is a post apocalyptic video game that doesn’t feel as empty as Nier: Automata and it’s after a nuclear apocalypse.

I’ve mentioned my number of playthroughs a couple of times, and that’s because Nier: Automata requires you to play the game three to four times to get the complete story. The infuriating part of this story decision is that the first two playthroughs are nearly identical, save for additional story chunks and a shift in gameplay mechanics. The third playthrough is where the story actually continues and you get even more of the background of the world of Nier: Automata, and learn so much more about the characters (both side and main). This third playthrough more than made up for the repetitive nature of the first two, switching the story from your standard action adventure RPG hero’s story, to something much darker.  I’ll admit that I did play it a fourth time using the chapter select feature to unlock the “true” ending of the game, and it got me to tear up while livestreaming it. My journey was over and the metagame at the ending was worth the struggle and reward.

Combat is where Nier: Automata really stood out. Using several classes of weapons and skills, players could seamlessly flow between different combos and techniques to decimate their enemies. It was sheer bliss to switch from a light flurry of attacks using knives & spears into a heavy whollaping with a caestus and long sword. Ranged combat was controlled via the POD unit and could be interjected between melee strikes. Both systems worked in tandem with counter attacks, and everything was customizable using a variety of plug-in chips. You felt in control of your moves and every strike felt impactful. There’s a hugely rewarding feeling getting into a fight and systematically dismantling all the machines without a scratch on your android butt. Boss fights came in different varieties, no two feeling quite the same, and made me want to fight on to the next goliath machine lifeform to see what form it would take.

Last thing worth of note is the music of Nier: Automata by Keiichi Okabe. It’s simply stunning. I still listen to tracks like “A Beautiful Song” and “Birth of a Wish” while working in my art studio. Many of the tracks have different variations on the same theme to be used in specific moments in Nier: Automata. Boss fights felt more massive after going through their area listening to the base version of their theme and then get hit with a dynamic version with bellowing vocals in the background.

Nier: Automata is nowhere near a perfect game, but it is an enjoyable experience. I played it through four times, not because I had to, but because I was driven to know more. For it’s stark side characters and world, it does lend itself to a heavy air of mystery that will entice and drive players to wade through the fog to find the truth. I do wish that the game had more ways to get to know the side characters other than fetch quests, but maybe as an android that was our only directive and any show of meaningful connection was punishable by deletion? If you’re looking for a fun combat game with great music, Nier: Automata is waiting for you. If you’re looking for a game that primarily focuses on a deep story and character development, I suggest looking elsewhere. Nier: Automata earns itself 3.5 hot buns and is available on PC and PS4, retailing at $59.99 USD ($76.04 CAD).