To be perfectly honest, I was not a fan of NieR when it was released on the PlayStation 3. The combat was slow, the story was boring until the end of the game, and the title was very niche. A decent effect from Square Enix, but when it was released, there were so many other better games on the market. Thus, NieR was overlooked and forgotten. However, Square Enix wasn’t finished and announced a follow-up, NieR: Automata. Not to have this title fall into the same fate as the original, they employed the assistance of Platinum Games to help put some much-needed action elements into the game. The ending result is a title that’s not only fast-paced but extremely over the top, the trademark of Platinum Games.
But would this be enough to attract only the select niche game lovers of the original title?
Game Name: NieR: Automata (JPN)
Platform(s): PS4, PS4 Pro (reviewed), PC Publisher(s): Square Enix
Developer(s): Platinum Games
Release Date: Feb. 23, 2017 (JPN), March 7th, 2017 (NA)
This review is based on the Japanese copy of the game. The entire game is playable with English subtitles and voices. I couldn’t wait any longer, and I wanted to get more than a few days of playtime before writing this review. That said, if you want to jump in now, the Japanese version is ready to go and is region-free.
Let’s get this out of the way, as I’m sure many have asked about this. Is NieR: Automata playable if you haven’t played the original NieR? Well, yes, it most certainly is. While direct and subtle references from the original game pop up, playing the original game is not a requirement. So have no fear about picking up a copy and getting overwhelmed.
The story of NieR: Automata is one of survival, discovering oneself, and age-old questions. Taking place thousands of years after the original NieR, humanity now finds itself living on the moon after an alien race has invaded the Earth and created the “Machines.” The Earth isn’t livable for humans anymore, and more than half of humanity has been wiped out. To combat this alien race and the machines, the humans, in turn, created androids called the YoRHa and sent them to Earth. Talk about delegation. But are the machines truly the enemy? Are they capable of more than just violent tendencies? What separates them from the very same androids that are fighting against them? The story explores those questions and more. Expect to have the game tug on your heartstrings as well.
You take control of Android 2B, an over-sexualized, no-nonsense taking Android. Alongside her are 9s, a supporting character, and someone who becomes something more as you progress in the game. They also make a fascinating combo as 9s is stoic and comes off cold, while 9S is the glue of the unit. He’s talkative and emotional and seems to care for 2B. He shows his emotions way more than 2B, and at times you can tell he brings out a hidden human side of 2B that she’s constantly in conflict with. Throughout the story, you’ll encounter many times that will witness how everything unfolds. Things that slowly begin to make the main character question things that she once was absolute about, finally giving way to a different side of 2B.
One of the things that stands out about NieR: Automata is its identity crisis. I mean that this game isn’t merely an Action-RPG, but instead, many different game types rolled into one. At the beginning of the game, you start off playing the game as an overhead vertical shooter. In the same sequence, the game switches up to an overhead twin-stick shooter, a 3D flight section, and then a 2D side-scrolling section. During these changes, the game handles this without any hitches. The majority of the game is still played in open-world segments and multiple “dungeon crawling” segments.
The game will still switch back and forth many times before you finally beat it. I felt that Platinum Games handled this in a pretty awesome way, as none of the changes felt rushed or unneeded. They were seamless and helped to liven up the gameplay. Oddly enough, it made me wish that Square Enix would get back into 2D side-scrolling games again.
If there’s one thing in the game that impressed me more than anything, it’s the amazing combat system. This is tried and true Platinum Games, and it shows. If you’ve played any of their bigger-budget titles, then you know what I’m getting out of. Plenty of combat attack combos and lots of options to switch weapons in mid-combat. Spot-on ranged combat gives way to a fast and meaty melee system, both of which complement each other perfectly. Not to mention being able to tune your weapons by leveling them up, adjusting your plugin chips for more damage modifiers, and more. The combat is so smooth and graceful that you’ll find yourself constantly trying to master different combos. Those poor machines won’t know what happened to them.
But what good is a combat system without decent controls? That’s not a concern here, as the controls are perfect. Your android friends react as if they were an extension of your own body. I can’t say that I’ve experienced any issues due to the controls. If I were to say anything, I’d say that they may be too tweaked, but that’s hardly a bad thing.
The graphics of NieR: Automata are some of the best on the PlayStation 4 Pro. The textures are detailed, while the character’s movements are fluid and truly have to be seen in action to appreciate it and a vast and vivid world. I was also impressed with the boss encounters as they were so well done and have been given extra attention. Since you spend most of the time with 2B, it’s apparent just how much attention she received. 2B’s dress flows and moves with her movement. Jumping will push her dress upward and, yes, does give way so that you’re able to see her legs and her rear.
Dashing displays a crisp floating animation as 2B gracefully races along a surface, then stumbling afterward to gain her footing. Jumping off a high distance will result in her eventually spreading her limbs as if she were trying to slow her descent. Jumping and rolling afterward and even tripping when running over the ground at times. All signs of how much work and dedication went into making the movement very life-like. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as there are way too many things to highlight. Otherwise, we’d be here all day.
The PS4 Pro version runs at 1080p and targets 60 fps instead of the PS4 version, which runs at 900p @ 60fps. As such, I managed to get a near-consistent 60fps, with dips in the frame rate at certain times during the gameplay. I did notice some decreased performance in the open-world segments, sometimes barely noticeable. Other times you can see the slowdown. Sadly, this happened even after loading levels, so I can’t exactly pin down the issue. It doesn’t detract from the sheer beauty of the game, yet you have to wonder what exactly is going on. This is supposed to be the 4K gaming system from Sony, yet we see framerate issues at 1080p. Hopefully, we’ll see a patch later on to address this.
While the combat shines and the graphical prowess can sell NieR: Automata, there’s another piece that is just as good; the music. If you haven’t been spoiled yet by countless videos of the game’s music via YouTube, get ready. This is a collection of some of the best-sounding tunes heard outside of the original NieR title, bar none. The music here is mesmerizing and yet downright haunting at times. The music matches the isolated and lonely world that you play in, clearly showing off the genius of Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Hoashi.
If you’ve played the original NieR or have listened to the soundtracks, you’re going to love what they’ve done with the music here. I’ve found myself putting down the controller and enjoying the music during my time with the game. They’ve even put in a jukebox in the game to listen to the music anytime you want. Square Enix, we need the soundtrack for the game. I’ll be the first to snatch it up if you announce that. Trust me, the music is that good. The sound effects shine just as brightly, though there’s not really to write home about. The sounds serve their purpose and do the job just fine.
Still, NieR: Automata isn’t without its faults. The game’s underlying nature is still an RPG, and as such, there are plenty of “fetch quests,” which tend to get boring. Square Enix and Platinum thought so as well and included some witty banter lines between the two characters. I have to admit I got a chuckle when I first heard them. I also encountered a mission that required me to escort an NPC, only to have it get stuck several times. This forced me to redo the mission until I was able to complete it finally. I also experienced a system freeze when I had to save a certain location; thankfully, I had saved my game before.
Speaking of game-saving, NieR: Automata does not feature an autosave, which is odd for a title to be released in 2017. The idea of having to save over and over manually is going to be lost on most gamers. Combine that if you happen to forget to save, then all of your progress goes out the window. It’s not a wise choice, in my opinion.
The camera is also a pain, as I found myself fighting with it at times. It’s not game-breaking, but it does serve to add some frustration at times. Especially when you’re in sections where it zooms out way too far, thankfully, it does its job and doesn’t go off the rails too much.
Finally, and most importantly, is the longevity of the title. My initial time with the game lasted around 13 hours. I was mostly exploring every location that I could find, and it pays off by rewarding you with items or secrets. This also included several side missions that I focused on instead of doing the main storyline. While 13 hours isn’t exactly a long time, this was planned for. You see, NieR: Automata has several endings, which require you to play through the game several times and with different characters. These are called routes, and only the most dedicated will see them through to get the game’s true ending. That said, this changes the game too well over 25 hours of gameplay or longer if you like finding secrets.
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After spending well over 20 hours in this post-apocalyptic cyber world, I still can not put NieR: Automata down. While the original was clearly a niche title that failed to make a massive impact, the sequel was designed to keep the original charm but appeal to a greater audience. Easily one of the better titles from Square Enix, thanks to the Platinum Games putting their foot into the fantastic combat system. The story is interesting, the music captivating, and the world has its own charm and personality.
Another reason to own a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 Pro.