When I saw the concept trailer for NieR: Automata at E3 2015, I was drawn in by the desolate beauty of the art and music. I was also moved by the developers recognizing the sheer passion from fans of the first NieR, leading to the birth of this sequel. A collaboration between PlatinumGames and Square-Enix left me hopeful for a great action JRPG. After playing NieR: Automata across multiple playthroughs and witnessing the true ending, I’m still blown away by the cohesion and artistry here. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. And yet, even though I chose to give this game a perfect score, I’m not blind to its faults. I accept them.
Shifting gears from medieval fantasy, NieR: Automata tells the story of a group of militarized androids fighting against alien-controlled machines. The androids, part of the YoRHa group, are destined to take back Earth for the humans seeking refuge on the moon—for the glory of mankind. But, as with any Yoko Taro project, nothing is ever that simple. The true narrative underneath is a mature, human and harrowing tale that leaves a lasting impression.
No knowledge of the first game is needed in order to enjoy this modern classic for what it is.
The true narrative underneath is a mature, human and harrowing tale that leaves a lasting impression.
From the opening hour of the game, players witness a good taste of what NieR: Automata has to offer: an enthralling track that accompanies the well-paced set piece, as well as a true and clear purpose in defeating an impressive boss, culminating in a scene that doesn’t seek to evoke the immediate, expected reaction.
A marked improvement over the first game, controls and combat are smooth and satisfying. Fights against machines are hectic and involved, with player weapons crushing through metal and decapitating enemies with precision. Dodges and jumps are quick and responsive, with the former showing impressive particle effects as a reward for optimal timing. Various upgrades for the main character’s accompanying pod gives plenty of options for customization, such as added attack bonuses, HP increases, brief invincibility after taking damage, and much more. The weapons are all designed well, offering interesting tales in their descriptions with each upgrade via components.
Dodges and jumps are quick and responsive, with the former showing impressive particle effects as a reward for optimal timing.
Though NieR: Automata reuses the same handful of maps in its semi-open world, the story makes sure to keep these areas as interesting as possible with each revisit. Verticality and branching, winding paths in some areas help to add space for exploration. It’s a pleasure to walk across an expansive desert littered with ruins and caves, or a lush forest with secrets to explore, listening to the accompanying music while battling machines. The novelty doesn’t go away, making even standard fetch quests pleasant enough to complete. For me, this adds to my willingness to want to help every NPC I came across with their various side quests, making me care about the characters in this world.
Outside of quests, getting to pet 2B’s pod by rubbing the touch pad is also a nice way to bond with her ever-present companion.
The main map isn’t all that useful. It’s functional enough for a general idea of where to go. There’s a silly in-game explanation for this from an NPC, but this design decision didn’t bother me too much. I’d also heard of others dealing with frame rate drops and general slowdowns in certain areas. I didn’t notice any of these problems, though this may have been patched by the time I picked up my copy. The Brazilian versions also had issues with updating patches meant to circumvent game-breaking crashes; I haven’t heard word if this has been fixed or not.
The basic premise of the game with androids fighting to take back Earth for humanity is accessible enough for just about anyone to jump into. The brilliance awaits in how NieR: Automata messes with the player’s expectations of this foundation, as well as what they expect from the main characters.
Playing as 2B—a no-nonsense protagonist—the game introduces YoRHa’s standard wartime duties of taking on missions to dispatch enemy machines. She’s supported by 9S—relatable, shrewd and curious—who serves as a more laid-back foil to 2B’s bottom-line of getting each mission done, no questions asked. They naturally play off of one another in clever and amusing ways, growing closer as they discover more about the machines. While 2B is often surprised to learn that machines appear to have their own motivations—love, joy and other emotions—9S dismisses any meaning behind the machines’ actions in ways that show a hidden coldness beneath his smile.
2B and 9S’s beliefs about the machines are continuously challenged throughout the story in compelling ways. All of these challenges culminate into an overarching theme of what it means to have hope and dreams. NieR: Automata poses thought-provoking questions on how automata—machines and androids—manage to press on with their goals in ways that ultimately mirror humanity. This is further expanded upon in each of the main playthroughs that lead the player to each of the core endings (A, B, C, D and E), all of which add more emotional layers on top of the last.
NieR: Automata poses thought-provoking questions on how automata—machines and androids—manage to press on with their goals in ways that ultimately mirror humanity.
Ingenious game design take NieR: Automata’s themes to the highest apex on the way to ending E. I was fully absorbed in the journey from start to finish, blown away by the sheer meaning the developers managed to evoke from cutscene to cutscene. Decisions made during later sequences matter. They leave an impact by how the game takes advantage of emotional climaxes in the narrative, giving players true choices that reflect on who they are and what they believe in, all the way to the inspiring end credits.
We go along for the ride just as the characters do, feeling what they feel right alongside them. I’ve never seen or experienced anything like this in the way NieR: Automata presents it. Those occasional moments of elevation I felt in NieR are more abundant here, as they should be. This is why the game deserves all the praise I can give.
Arguably the game’s weak point, the graphics are okay. While not terrible, they could stand to be improved. It’s most noticeable in grassy areas and the buildings in the City Ruins. There’s a lack of polish here overall. Most disappointing are the portions of skyscrapers that seem to have openings, only to fool the player with invisible walls.
What helps me reconcile my opinion of the graphics is how NieR: Automata comes together as a whole. Exploring each area, walking, fighting, fishing, jumping around, or riding a boar or moose, I forgot my issues with how the game looks. There’s a certain beauty in the landscapes that the music encapsulates. That beauty helped to put a convenient illusion of acceptance over my eyes as I played. Moreover, different maps that feature more creative lighting effects with, for example, molten lava, or fireworks, or the fog of sandstorms; any issues I had became less noticeable as time wore on.
There’s a certain beauty in the landscapes that the music encapsulates.
The characters are well-designed, reflected accurately by their in-game models. 2B is a favorite for fanart and cosplay for obvious reasons. I admit to enjoying her stylish outfit and design quite a bit, recognizing character designer Akihiko Yoshida’s trademarks from Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. She and the rest of the characters are lifelike, especially in well-acted cutscenes where their personalities and emotions shine through.
Right from the title music, “Significance,” an ominous piano track, the game’s message is front-and-center in ways that become more apparent by the end of the story. Even though NieR: Automata doesn’t need its music as a crutch like its NieR did, composer Keiichi Okabe again brings a wonderful collection of tracks that uniquely fit each environment, quest, boss battle and cutscene. The tracks range from ones that show the harshness of war, to the bombastic urgency of bringing down a colossal machine, to the crippling hopelessness of depression, all the way around to the cautious beauty of emerging hope. While running around each map, the game doesn’t transition to battle music during fights, keeping the laid-back feel of most tracks that play in the areas.
One hub in particular feels like home right away because of the peaceful song that plays in the background. I also enjoy how this song seamlessly adds vocals on top of the instrumental version after talking to a certain main NPC here. The jukebox in the area also has the game’s soundtrack available to listen to. Little touches like these make the game itself feel like home to me.
The tracks range from ones that show the harshness of war, to the bombastic urgency of bringing down a colossal machine, to the crippling hopelessness of depression, all the way around to the cautious beauty of emerging hope
Excellent voice acting also kept me engaged, with Kira Buckland’s role as 2B serving as a standout performance for me. She manages to make 2B tonally consistent throughout every cutscene, keeping her at the exact level she needs to be at for any given line. On the contrary, I wasn’t quite sold with one of the antagonist’s voice acting during key moments. I felt like it was over-the-top for what little connection we have with him. But, as with the graphics, I had to ease myself into not letting it take away from my enjoyment of the game.
Sound effects for combat adds an addictive quality to every fight, making sure momentum stays high during encounters. Every strike of the main characters’ swords or fists deliver real impact, and the controller responds accordingly, keeping with immersion. Bullets from the pods and flight units are authentic, and the high-tech sounds of the protagonists’ dodges and weapon sheathing act as little reminders of their origins as androids.
The ways sound direction is also used to add character to machines—both friend and foe—also fascinated me, joining their beliefs into impressive songs that add more depth to NieR: Automata’s world. In every sequence of the story, I felt myself swept up in the tension, urgency, or emotionality of the moment, driven appropriately by the tone of the soundtrack. The best example I can remember is when I had just gotten through a tense series of events. After all the action and drama subsided, I was back in the open world with a new track that I hadn’t heard much of. Soft, heavenly vocals on top of a soothing piano, cello and more washed away whatever tension I still felt, bringing me down from that emotional high. The song gave me a reason to keep going, segueing brilliantly into the main themes of the game as a whole.
Soft, heavenly vocals on top of a soothing piano, cello and more washed away whatever tension I still felt, bringing me down from that emotional high.
Though 2017’s video game releases so far are remarkable, NieR: Automata takes the throne for me. As I played, I was constantly impressed at every turn by the writing, music, characters and world-building. The different playthroughs that continue from the credits and carry on the narrative each add new perspective to the story in all the ways I wanted NieR to do. Cameos from characters in the first game reminded me how much this sequel improves upon the first game as a dream come true for fans.
Even if something seems pointless—such as creating a sequel to a game that didn’t sell enough for the publisher’s standards—there’s still meaning. There’s still a purpose. There’s still hope waiting to be found. To me, that’s what NieR: Automata is about: pressing on for personal, individual reasons, even if the prospects seem grim. The way this message starts from the business end of the series, following all the way through to the true ending of 2B and 9S’ adventures, is what makes NieR: Automata my favorite game of all time.
It’s a distant hope of mine that more video games can reach the level of creativity of NieR: Automata. If they don’t, I won’t mind at all playing this over and over again. It’s fun, it’s original, it’s cohesive and it’s ground-breaking, all in one package.