NieR: Automa­ta is a strange game in more ways than one. It’s con­nect­ed to mul­ti­ple series of games (Drankeguard and NieR) that nev­er did that well finan­cial­ly or crit­i­cal­ly. Despite this a cult fol­low­ing was formed and remained vocal enough that a new game was made any­ways. The game’s direc­tor him­self said that “both the pre­vi­ous NieR and cur­rent NieR: Automa­ta are games that exist due to the con­stant sup­port of fans”. NieR: Automa­ta is a game that was made against the odds, but was it worth the trou­ble?

Story

The full sto­ry of the NieR series expands across mul­ti­ple game series, nov­els, and even a play. Automata’s sto­ry could have eas­i­ly been a con­fus­ing mess, but it’s not. In fact the sto­ry holds up real­ly well as a stand­alone. This is due to the game tak­ing place far into the future and because of how well it han­dles infor­ma­tion from past games. There are plen­ty of ref­er­ences and talked about char­ac­ters from past games that long time fans will enjoy. One char­ac­ter in par­tic­u­lar, Emil , is talked about exten­sive­ly, but both new and old fans learn new infor­ma­tion as the game tells their back­sto­ry. This done often with old infor­ma­tion and allows expla­na­tion of the old sto­ries with­out bor­ing fans or alien­at­ing new play­ers.

NieR: Automata’s sto­ry is strange, emo­tion­al, and well done. Every char­ac­ter in the game has some­thing inter­est­ing that you’ll want to know more about or at least start to admire. One of the best exam­ples is 9S’ no non­sense oper­a­tor A210 who at first shuts down all con­ver­sa­tion, but by the end acts more moth­er­ly towards 9S . The process of learn­ing about and see­ing the many char­ac­ters change was by far my favorite part of the sto­ry. If there was any neg­a­tive to the char­ac­ters it would be 2B’s sto­ic per­son­al­i­ty. While I enjoyed her seri­ous nature and the occa­sion­al peak past the sto­ic front, not every­one will. Some may say that her per­son­al­i­ty is too bland or she is not giv­en enough of a per­son­al­i­ty. I don’t believe her to be bad­ly writ­ten and in fact I think the oppo­site, but I rec­og­nize her type of char­ac­ter isn’t pop­u­lar.

NieR: Automata Review

The over­ar­ch­ing plot is excel­lent, but a bit of a slow burn. The entire sto­ry of the game is actu­al­ly told across mul­ti­ple playthroughs. The first playthrough is a fair­ly safe sto­ry with an end­ing that left ques­tions, but answered enough for it to be sat­is­fy­ing. Sec­ond playthrough was nec­es­sary for what the sto­ry was aim­ing for, but trend­ed the same ground as the first playthrough and felt like the weak­est sto­ry­line. It came across as just a slight­ly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive with addi­tion­al cutscenes and new quests. The third playthrough is where the game real­ly stretch­es its wings and is absolute­ly worth get­ting to. I would love to give more detail, but I believe doing so would be a dis­ser­vice to any­one who plans on play­ing this game.

 

Voice acting

Unlike many recent Japan­ese ports, NieR gives the play­er a choice between Japan­ese and Eng­lish audio. After play­ing with both Japan­ese and Eng­lish audio, I can say that both are pret­ty much on par with each oth­er. Both have char­ac­ters that are done bet­ter the oth­er, but nei­ther have a voice that is plain ter­ri­ble. The one prob­lem is that sub­ti­tles can be dif­fi­cult to read in the mid­dle of com­bat or bright­ly lit areas. It is espe­cial­ly a prob­lem in the sec­ond playthrough because of the great amount of white text on white back­grounds. Beyond this one prob­lem, you can pick either and have an enjoy­able expe­ri­ence.

Quests

Sid­e­quest are the weak­est part of NieR. Most of the sid­e­quest are great from a nar­ra­tive stand­point. You’ll meet strange char­ac­ters and sit­u­a­tions that make you want to do what­ev­er task NPCs give you. Even the con­clu­sion of many quest sto­ries will have an emo­tion­al impact or a sur­prise twist such as  the woman who eras­es her boyfriends to change his per­son­al­i­ty . The prob­lem is that most quests will boil down to fetch quest. So many will have you just col­lect items from ene­mies, rooftops or areas across the map. Great writ­ing may hold off the feel­ing monot­o­ny for most, but there will cer­tain­ly be a group who grows tired of them.

NieR: Automata Review

Sto­ry quests do not suf­fer from the same prob­lems as sid­e­quest. Game­play will con­sist of most­ly com­bat, but the sto­ry, game­play, and set pieces are var­ied. Not every sto­ry quest will be sto­ry chang­ing or have a huge set piece, but many will and they all feel sig­nif­i­cant even when they don’t.

 

Gameplay

I won’t mince words, NieR’s game­play is great and it is hard to find flaws. Com­bos feel sat­is­fy­ing due to flashy ani­ma­tions, sol­id sound effects, and great visu­al feed­back. The dif­fer­ent pair­ing of weapons and dif­fer­ent orders result in a vari­ety of pos­si­ble com­bos. Try­ing to dis­cov­er all the com­bos and weapon pair­ings is gen­uine­ly fun and add good vari­ety. Weapons can also be upgrad­ed which boosts stats and give addi­tion­al abil­i­ties. They start off sim­ple by increas­ing attack speed, stuns or the like. When weapons reach their last lev­el they gain an abil­i­ty unique to each set. These abil­i­ties are sig­nif­i­cant enough that you’ll like­ly choose a weapon for its abil­i­ty rather than its base stats. On top of weapons, there are Plu­g­in chips that can change stats and give new abil­i­ty such as slow­ing down time after per­fect dodges or adding pro­jec­tiles to melee attacks. Chips can also be changed at any time and play­ers are giv­en three sets to cus­tomize. Sub­se­quent playthroughs add even more vari­ety by intro­duc­ing entire­ly new mechan­ics that add a unique spin to com­bat. Play­ers will have a hard time being bored by com­bat in any playthrough.

Com­bat is occa­sion­al­ly bro­ken up with bul­let hell sec­tions. These tak­en on two dif­fer­ent forms: aer­i­al ship/mech sec­tions and hack­ing. Ship and mech sec­tions, much like the ground com­bat, makes the play­er feel pow­er­ful with excel­lent sound, flashy visu­als, and a great num­ber of ene­mies to destroy. There is a sur­pris­ing amount of attack options for the few num­ber of bul­let sec­tions in the game. Pro­jec­tiles can be changed by switch­ing Pods, a bar­rage of mis­siles can be launched, there are melee attacks and even unique heavy attacks for both the ship and mech. Sad­ly these options aren’t encour­aged to be used and just not nec­es­sary to beat most sec­tions. Usu­al­ly a com­bi­na­tion of melee attacks and nor­mal pro­jec­tiles will be more than enough to deal with what­ev­er comes your way. In turn these sec­tions can feel too easy. Play­ing on nor­mal mode can com­pound this to the point where you won’t die unless you are espe­cial­ly bad at these sec­tions. Hard mode did have me dying a few times, but still didn’t have me uti­lize my many attack options. Despite the flaws, these sec­tions were a nice change of pace and enjoy­able for the short time they are around.

NieR: Automata Review

Now hack­ing while very sim­i­lar to the aer­i­al com­bat sec­tions had a very dif­fer­ent feel. When hack­ing there is only one attack and there is no dodge instead there is a greater focus on posi­tion­ing and aware­ness. Each hack­ing attempt will have the play­er on a set stage and with an ene­my in the cen­ter that shoots many bul­lets in a set pat­tern. Some stages will have mul­ti­ple ene­mies chas­ing the play­er and/or ene­mies that stay still and fire at the play­er.  While very sim­ple these sec­tions usu­al­ly felt more chal­leng­ing than the ship sec­tions because of the lack of an easy dodge and the greater need to be aware of the envi­ron­ment, bul­lets, and ene­mies simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. The one poten­tial flaw is the reuse of stages will lead to play­ers fin­ish­ing hack­ing sec­tion fair­ly quick­ly with­out much thought and just going through the motions. I per­son­al­ly felt this added to the pow­er fan­ta­sy that com­bat usu­al­ly evokes, but oth­ers may become bored by these sec­tions dur­ing late game.

Bugs

NieR: Automata Review

Sur­pris­ing­ly enough NieR doesn’t con­tain many bugs. There are a few moments where frame rate dropped. Usu­al­ly this hap­pened when there were a lot ene­mies gath­er in one place and using Plu­g­in chips to move 20% faster. There was also a sin­gle instance where the map did not load and I had to reset the game after wait­ing 20 min­utes. When fish­ing the indi­ca­tor would fail to pop up despite there being a fish on the line. Oth­er than these few instances the game ran smooth­ly and there were no bugs that brought me out of the game or hin­dered progress.

The Bottom line

NieR: Automa­ta is an excel­lent game with great game­play and a com­pelling sto­ry with its one major flaw being too many fetch quest, albeit with great side sto­ries.