NieR Automata is the Sequel to a cult classic called NieR, which is a Spin-off from the Drakengard series which is currently three entries deep. Admittedly, while I had heard of NieR and at least Drakengard 3 when they each came out, I didn’t play them. I couldn’t tell you why but I just never picked them up. So it’s honestly a shame, really, when I say that this is the first game of Yoko Taro’s, the creator of the Drakengard and NieR series, that I ever played. While Drakengard 1 was lauded as one of the weirdest things most people had ever played, based on all the ‘unique’ characters and horrifying imagery that greets the players, along with a very interesting story throughout, it wasn’t anything to write home about when it came to gameplay. Unfortunately, Drakengard 2 was similar, though Yoko Taro wasn’t involved in its development.
Returning for NieR, which spins off from Drakengard 1 from a fantasy medieval setting with magic and dragons to a Modern Day Tokyo, Yoko Taro returned to form with yet another game with unique characters, this time ones that were likeable, and another very interesting story that blew the minds of the few people who actually played it. Again, however, the game suffered from poor gameplay controls, though it was clearly many leagues better than the previous two Drakengard games along with also having its own load of crazy and weirdness that people had grown to love from Drakengard 1. Finally, Drakengard 3 which is the most recent game in the series came out with some of the worst performance imaginable, though when it was playable the gameplay was at the best it had ever been and again returning with a very interesting story throughout it’s run time, and also returning with more of the same weirdness and craziness that people loved, to a much higher degree than NieR though it was nowhere near as weird and crazy as Drakengard 1 got. Really, can anything get as weird as Drakengard? I’m not sure many developers are willing to go as far as that in their games these days. Would love some more of that weirdness. Truly, it’s a shame I missed out when it was fresh.
This brings me to the point of this very very mild history lesson on the games leading up to NieR Automata– With a history so mixed between fantastic stories, lots of weird and crazy plot points within the games, and poor gameplay and sometimes poor performance, how would NieR Automata ultimately hold up? Well, considering Yoko Taro and Square Enix had Platinum games, the masters of action based combat games and creators of the beloved Bayonetta series but also the creators of the awful Legend of Korra game that flopped harder than a bellyflopping frat boy into a pool, it could be anyone’s guess, right?
Gametype/Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Reviewing: Playstation 4
Disclaimer: This review is done using an imported Japanese copy of the game, which released February 23rd nearly 2 weeks before the North American release and almost exactly 2 weeks before the European release. It’s important to note that the game is fully voiced and subtitled in English even in the Japanese release. No story spoilers will be discussed here and I just wanted to make sure this was noted, as it’s mentioned at least once in the review itself that this is using the Japanese version of the game. I’m not breaking any embargoes as the Japanese game has already been in the wild for about a week in Japan, and I was definitely not given the game as I purchased it myself and signed no such document. The proof of it being the Japanese version is that in screenshots shown in the review, you’ll see the confirm button is the Circle button and the X button is back, which is the standard confirm/back buttons in Japanese games and every NA and EU game for the last several years use the reverse. The game has some customizable controls for combat but not for this. I’m just covering my butt, so I’ll say it one final time; THIS IS AN IMPORT OF THE JAPANESE VERSION OF THE GAME. I hope you enjoy the review below.
NieR Automata Story
According to the official Nier Automata Website the story is thus; The distant future… Invaders from another world attack without warning, unleashing a new type of threat: weapons known as “machine lifeforms.” In the face of this insurmountable threat, mankind is driven from Earth and takes refuge on the Moon. The Council of Humanity organizes a resistance of android soldiers in an effort to take back their planet. To break the deadlock, the Resistance deploys a new unit of android infantry: YoRHa. In the forsaken wasteland below, the war between the machines and the androids rages on. A war that is soon to unveil the long-forgotten truth of this world… It’s important to note that the Alien Invaders attacked in the year 5,012 A.D., which is about 2,000 years after the events of the first NieR. That being the case, the game takes place several millennia later following the invader’s arrival. As with our other reviews, I’m not spoiling the plot further than this. Just know that there are twists and turns, and brilliant character development for the cast and supporting characters all throughout.
NieR Automata Characters and Visuals
You start the game as YoRHa No. 2 Type B, AKA 2B. According to the official NieR Automata Website, 2B is an all-purpose battle android deployed as a member of the automated infantry squad, YoRHa. She is equipped with a sword for close-quarters combat and can attack from range using the “Pod” tactical support system. Members of YoRHa forgo names and are referred to only by their codes. Though regulations forbid them from expressing emotions, each model has its own distinguishing personality, and 2B is comparatively cool, calm, and collected. She is joined throughout the game by her companion YoRHa No. 9 Type S, AKA 9S. According to the official Nier Automata Website, once more, 9S is a Soul… and an ephemeral kindness. Though he has the ability to attack, this YoRHa android specializes in research missions and excels in collecting information, mainly by hacking. Within YoRHa, 9S is comparatively varied in his emotional expressions and has a kind personality. Though these are your main characters through much of the main game, there is one more major character in YoRHa Type A No. 2, AKA A2, and according to the official website, she is a Type A YoRHa prototype model that is no longer in use. She specializes in close-range attacks. She was operated on a trial basis in the process of developing official models such as 2B and 9S. Personality-wise, she has little to say and always acts independently.
True to the personalities written on the website, the main cast, but also the many supporting characters that you meet throughout your journey all have unique and interesting personalities with many of them having stories that you can uncover via the many side quests within the game. Not to mention that all the characters you meet throughout the game have unique appearances and I can only think of a few instances of repeated, though altered slightly, character models, though those are of the minor characters that hold no significance to the plot. Visually the game can be quite impressive, taking a lot of creative freedoms with camera angles during certain segments of gameplay and the main cast and supporting cast all look incredible, while the world looks beautiful though ruined and returning to nature. Animals and enemies also look very good, though there were some muddy textures here and there and a few textures that looked like they could have and should have been higher quality, though nothing quite that glaring or jarring. You probably won’t get turned off by any bad textures here.
The game runs at 900p and 60 frames per second on the Playstation 4 and at 1080p and 60 frames per second on the PS4 Pro with higher-picture-quality and additional visual effects. That being the case, the PS4 has semi-frequent frame drops throughout the course of the game, though nothing that will really hurt for more than a fraction of a second. While the PS4 Pro manages to keep a consistent 60 FPS throughout most of it’s run time, it some hard dips in frame rate here and there that the base PS4 doesn’t have otherwise. In a fast-paced game such as this, you don’t want less than 60 FPS, so the fact that both manage to stay at least close to 60 FPS is at least better than several other games on the PS4 or Xbox One that can only handle 30 FPS or worse. Also, I’ve received at least one crash during the game. I was just running through a village area with NPCs when it happened and it never happened there or anywhere else again. I don’t know what caused it, I don’t know how it happened and I don’t know if it was the game or the PlayStation 4 or if others have experienced crashes. Just good information to know about.
Aside from the way it runs, the game does suffer from texture and shadow pop in. Large distant textures pop in very frequently, as you have a very large draw distance in many of the areas, especially in the city on top of buildings. Shadows on buildings and other large structures tend to pop in at mid-range as you get closer to them, after the textures themselves have popped in from a further range. It’s not great, but just about everywhere else is where this game truly shines.
NieR was considered by many to have one of the best soundtracks that players had ever heard. In fact, many additional soundtracks for the game were made after it’s release gaining more sales and popularity than the game itself ever did. That’s actually very impressive, and I’m pleased to say that NieR Automata has a soundtrack incorporating a few of the songs from NieR along with many new works throughout it’s run. I personally can’t get enough of the theme song of the game, The Weight of the World. I don’t normally put a video in the middle of my review but here is the English rendition of the song released by Square Enix JP on their Youtube channel. And yes I said the English rendition, there are two.
Aside from music, the voice acting and sound effects are also just as great. The voice acting is some of the best I’ve heard in gaming. It’s amazing to me how, despite being androids that aren’t supposed to feel emotion, the characters are so emotive and expressive. You can truly begin to understand who they are and where they are coming from. Much of the game is voice acted, with only some lines in the main story line being only text. Side quests are mostly left unvoiced as well. Something I want to note is that the game is fully-voiced in English and Japanese, and that’s in the North American, European, and Japanese releases of the game. Though it’s not sound necessarily, it’s worth noting that it’s text and subtitles can be set to English, Japanese, French, Italian, Deutsch, and Spanish. This is especially important to note since the copy of NieR Automata that I’m using for the purposes of this review is the imported Japanese version of the game.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Now comes the meat of the game, where it really shines. “Finally”, I’m sure longtime fans of NieR and Drakengard were saying, “Finally the gameplay is actually good.” Because it totally is. Blessed you, Platinum, you’ve done it. So just what is the combat like? Well there are some elements to the gameplay that I’d like to keep secret for those that would like surprises, as one of the best things about NieR is the surprises and twists and turns and those can come in the form of gameplay and mechanics that the game throws at you. Some I’m going to cover the standard gameplay you’ll experience throughout the vast majority of the game first, and then create a spoiler section for gameplay and mechanics that shake this up. I know I loved being surprised by these elements. I do apologize that now you expect these shake-ups while I originally didn’t and loved discovering them, but so long as you don’t read the spoiler section you can’t get spoiled and can still discover them yourself.
Starting with the standard gameplay, it’s a fast-paced action combat focused RPG in the vein of Bayonetta where you move around groups of enemies, dodge attacks and attack with light and heavy attacks. Alongside your melee attacks, you also have a pod that can shoot a barrage of bullets at either the direction you aim the camera or at a locked-on enemy. It’s worth noting that the game only allows lock-on during Easy and Normal mode, while Hard and Very Hard disable lock-on. Dodging at the right time lets you attack with a special counter move either using your light attack button or your Pod’s firing button. Your pod also has a special pod skill that can be activated to do a powerful technique such as firing a large laser beam or emitting a healing circle or shooting off mini-bombs. It’s worth noting that your pod can continuously fire even while you are using melee attacks, running or dashing, dodging or jumping. Later in the game, you can find 2 more pods to add to your arsenal that you can switch between, allowing you to equip each pod with a different pod skill so that you have certain skills at your disposal when you need them most and holding down the special pod weapon skill button to charge it brings in the other pods to also use the same skill, effectively allowing you to do up to three times more damage than you normally might. You are able to save and swap between two weapon sets via the up direction button, while switching pods with the left and right d-pad buttons and pressing the down d-pad button allows you to scroll through a quick select screen of recovery and enhancement items that you use with the circle button. The game does not pause while you switch though if you press and hold the trackpad button on the left, you can bring up a paused version of the same d-pad menu if you really need to. At certain points in the game and in certain areas, which you can see if you play the demo of the game, the camera will change perspectives. Typically, the gameplay is from a third-person, behind the character viewpoint but at certain points in the game, it switches to side-scrolling and minor platforming or to a viewpoint above the character looking down. Fortunately, the enemies have tells that let you know they are attacking, as their eyes flash a bright red as they are about to unleash an attack.
Mechanically, the game can get very deep. You have access to Small Swords, Large Swords, Spears, and Fist Weapons. Each weapon type has a completely unique move set and playstyle from the other, and 2B can equip two weapons, one for light attacks and one for heavy attacks. Each weapon type has many weapons within their categories that have varying amounts of strength attributed to them along with special attributes only unique to each weapon that you unlock as you upgrade them at the blacksmith using various items found throughout your adventure. Weapons can be upgraded to a maximum level of 4, and each weapon level allows you to read a bit of backstory behind the weapon known as Weapon Stories. More lore is always appreciated, no matter the form and I understand many an old fan of Drakengard will be happy to see the return of this feature. Your Pod, along with having many support skills you can swap into it and your other two pods, once you find them, can also be upgraded to make the damage from bullets and from the special skill increase, though the upgrade cost can be steep in terms of required materials. Your character also levels up and gains more of all their attributes, such as Strength, Health, etc as you defeat more enemies and you do gain a currency known as “G” which is based on salvaging bits from defeated enemy machines to use to trade as money for the various items, healing and enhancing items, weapons, pod skills, upgrades, and even chips.
Oh, what are chips? Ah, now this is the game changer right here. Various chips can be slotted into your character to change up how they perform in and out of battle. These can range from basic enhancements to attributes such as Health, Melee Attack, Range Attack, Melee Defense, Range Defense or even movement speed to the unique skills such as recovering a portion of the damage you do to enemies as health, or gaining health on enemy defeat, or passively gaining health every second that you aren’t hurt in battle, to material and healing item drop rates and increased experience gain. Honestly, there is too many to go through them all here so you’ll just have to find them out on your own, but these will allow you to customize your playstyle to your own further than weapon types and pod skills will. These can be bought from various NPCs or found from treasure chest-like boxes that dot the world. These can also be fused with other chips of the exact same name to form a stronger version, an example being Max HP Up +1, with a much higher bonus or effect than before. I’m not sure how high you can make them go, but I’ve gotten them to at least +7. It’s worth noting that there is a max to the bonus you can receive from much of these, so I’m assuming that at the maximum strength, you’ll be benefiting from no more than the maximum. Chips use a certain amount of chip capacity, which can be expanded with your currency at the shop you can perform chip fusing at. Up to three chipsets can be saved and switched between, though there isn’t a quick select to switch between them like there is for weapon sets or pods.
The world is vast in this game with a City area, a Desert area, and a forest area that you go through. There are smaller areas such as the coastline and certain dungeon-like areas, such as the factory and other such zones that I won’t go into here. While you’ll revisit many of these areas, they are of a decent size and the world is no smaller than NieR’s was, though I can’t make an exact comparison. I don’t wanna spoil any bosses, but just about every boss I encountered was fantastic, fun and well created with the right amount of challenge on normal difficulty. Though I think overall, the game was a little too easy on Normal Mode, personally. I’ll be diving into what I earlier called spoiler gameplay and mechanic changes here next, so if you don’t wanna read those you can skip to the next section of the review, as it’ll be hidden by a spoiler box that can be expanded to show said spoilers.
Read at your own risk. If you wanna be surprised like I was by significant and unique gameplay and mechanics you’ll encounter, don’t click here.
Oh man, this game is very replayable. For anyone that has been a fan of the Drakengard and NieR series, it should come as no surprise that the game actually needs to be replayed multiple times as the game actually has multiple endings. In fact, there is an ending for every letter of the alphabet– 26. Before you start freaking out about having to replay the game 26 times, because you don’t and let me stress this further, you absolutely don’t do more than 2 playthroughs. There are actually 4 endings and 1 secret true ending. Every other ending, all 21 of them, Endings F-Z, are either joke endings or just tragic/bad endings and you can get them in various and unique ways. Above this paragraph is actually a screenshot of my load screen showing how many hours I’ve put into the game and a list of my obtained endings. Now you may have a question and that’s “Okay so if I only need to do 2 playthroughs of the game but there are 5 real endings and 21 other endings, how do I get them all?” Well with the 21 other endings once you obtain them, you are sent back to the title screen and when you go to load your game you’ll see it has added a letter corresponding to your ending, which it tells you upon getting an ending which letter it is along with some flavor text describing the what happened during this ending. I’m actually going to place a spoiler section below talking about this a little more in depth. Note I’m not going to reveal any story details just what I meant by all of the above. I want to be as vague as possible about the 5 real endings, trust me I do. If you really don’t want to read that, I do implore you to at least play through the game twice. It’s absolutely worth it, as the second playthrough isn’t exactly the same as the first and I’ll leave it at that before the spoiler section.
I also wanna point out this weird thing that I’ve never seen in a game before. After beating the game and getting most of the real endings, you unlock a shop where you can go and buy, at a very high price with in-game currency, the trophies you have yet to unlock. Unlocked trophies appear as “Sold Out”. Buying the trophy causes the game to sense that you completed the requirements for a trophy and you’re rewarded one on the PSN. I tried it with a trophy towards something I was actually very close to getting but hadn’t gotten yet. I think I was maybe 1 percent away from it, as it was an ‘Obtain 80% of -insert something-‘ kind of trophy and I needed to try it so I could tell you what it was all about. Yeah… You can buy your trophies for this game. But it’s worth noting that you have to really put in a lot of time to get to that point in the first place, as with what you’ll see in the picture at the start of the Misc section showing my Endings and my play time. I put around 41.5 hours into this game and reached a level of 63. The picture included above shows the trophy shop. I also should mention that there are a few super bosses that are hidden away in the game and it’s recommended you fully complete the game before attempting them, as they are high level with one of them being level 99.
NieR Automata Conclusion
While I’ve never played any of Yoko Taro’s previous games, I have researched into them and their lore and backstory heavily leading up to the release of NieR Automata just so I could be ready since I had no way to actually play them. I really regret never having played them but NieR Automata did NOT disappoint. The gameplay is very fun, one of Platinum’s best works and the story and characters are absolutely amazing. This game has many many layers, with some unexpected gameplay mechanics and story twists thrown at you from what seems almost like the left field but nothing that wouldn’t make sense within the story. A good story twist makes you go “Oh man! Wow, didn’t see that coming but that explains so much.” While of course, a bad one would just leave you confused beyond measure. Though there were some story elements I wish we had gotten more information on or more backstory about, but it wasn’t necessary to understand the story being presented as is. And it’s possible it was in a document in the game that I didn’t come across, as there is a lot of information that is explained through text documents that you gather in the game. Some are likely easily missed.
While NieR Automata only runs at 900p and has loads of very small and minor frame drops throughout its course on PS4 and huge dips in frame rate occasionally on PS4 Pro, even though it runs the game at 1080p, I’d say go for the PS4 version overall. And even though there are some awful textures and structural and shadow pop in, this in no way should be what keeps you from buying this game. Yes, these technical issues do mar it, and yes this is a crying shame and shoddy work that shouldn’t be happening anymore in 2017, the gameplay and story and characters and even the music are enough to make up for any of these shortcomings. Besides, the game has already released 2 patches since it’s Japanese release attempting to solve some issues in the game. Again it does such that we have to rely on patches and updates to fix a game that was released with flaws but I’d rather them actually attempt to fix it even after the fact than to just flat ignore it. That said, these flaws are nowhere near what the flaws for the previous Yoko Taro game, Drakengard 3, had which was before patches were a thing. And boy did it need them.
I’d say overall I LOVED this game, but the flaws, while very very minor and few and far between, push it down to about an A+ instead of a perfect score.
Be sure to check out our YouTube page for a few gameplay videos of NieR: Automata shortly after the North American release.
Game: NieR Automata
Genre: Action RPG
Platforms: Playstation 4, Eventual Steam Release TBA
Reviewed: Playstation 4
Released: February 23rd, 2017 JP, March 7th, 2017 NA, March 10th, 2017 EU
Size: About 48.33 GB
Retail: $59.99 or regional equivelant
NieR: Automata was reviewed with an imported retail copy of the game purchased online for PS4.
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