What You Been Gaming? - Nier Automata
Nier Perfect or Nier Miss?
I am one of the few out there who played the original Nier on Xbox 360. The game was released with little fanfare in 2010 and is actually a spinoff of the Drakengard series which wasn't a huge hit outside Japan either. It was actually a random viewing of the game's trailer some 5 years after launch that got me interested. This title was essentially an action RPG set in a desolate but not hopeless world, not too dissimilar to the visual style you'd find in Ico or Shadow of the Colossus. Whilst the game has an interesting aesthetic it's the action which drew me to it which included switching viewpoints and bullet-hell-style enemy attacks along the line of DoDonPachi which make it quite a unique offering. I'm overselling using those titles as reference but I'm just trying to use something most would recognise! I enjoyed the majority of the journey however it was littered with some typical lower-budget adventure offering tropes such as revisiting the same locations to pad out the playtime, seemingly empty environments and an uninspired battle system. What I did not expect however was a sequel to show up some 7 year later.
Having played the original I was immediately drawn to the title as for in it's average-ness there were some sparks of genius. I was also glad to see that whilst the original creator was still involved the reigns had been handed to Platinum Games.
I'll do my best to avoid spoilers here however I will be discussing early parts of the game.
The game opens to a very different tone than the first. You'd be forgiven for thinking you'd purchased a vertical scrolling schmup and whilst there was a technological aspect to the first it was more magic than science. We seem to be very much deep in sci-fi now. Once you give it 30 mins you're treated to something quite wonderful however. The shooter section lasts a mere 5 minutes or so before you're dropped into a decaying factory landscape. It's drab, rusty and relatively unimpressive however if you've played Platinum's previous works you'll feel something familiar in the control scheme which isn't unlike Bayonetta albeit without the combo markers. I felt a little spider-like with my fingers running all over the controllers shoulder buttons and analogue sticks, but they're not trying to reinvent the wheel and as much as it's complex it is familiar. 5 minutes later you'll have seamlessly switched to an overhead viewpoint which plays more like Smash TV than anything else and then onto side scrolling platforming sections and back again. Shortly after you'll find yourself against a "Goliath" class unit. Platinum's usual dodge and counter method applies itself and soon you'll have experience the first great set piece of the many the game has to offer.
The beauty which I didn't notice the first time was between all these different styles of play (including the schmup section at the very beginning), the control scheme remained completely unchanged and it worked very well at every occasion. I noticed that the right stick actually serves to aim your targeting reticle and control the camera simultaneously and works to great effect in both instances.
The game visuals start out a little underwhelming, however once the introductions to the mechanics and story background is established the sense of scope begins to come into play and you will soon forgive the bland arenas you begin in. The game world itself is a washed out apocalyptic future. Decaying buildings stretch off into the distance and nature has reclaimed the land and rusted large metal structures. If you've ever read the likes of The World Without Us, It's not an unbelievable look at how things would look if you remove the human equation. The game manages to (mostly) convincingly create explanations as to why you can visit a desert, a sunken city and a forest in such close proximity.
It's nothing new to be able to see as far as the game resolution allows but when you can shoot the distance and see a huge barrage of shots heading your way with seemingly no "out of range" moments you realise how much of the whole game world is active at any one moment.
In general I'm not a big fan of open world mechanics in games (difficult to avoid them in this day however) and that probably comes from a lot of old tropes from the early days of them which I can't help but notice these days; reused assets, single use locations, unconvincing borders etc. Here assets are reused albeit in a convincing fashion. By that I mean a disintegrating apartment complex can only look different in so many ways, there are little touches like the angles of buildings and fire escapes which keep things from looking replicated. Where the game surprises is they way the world changes as the story progresses. I can't say too much without giving things away but you'll not have to worry when the plot makes you retread old ground as it's normally not far away from an incredible set piece or world changing event which allows you to revisit an old area when it feels like somewhere entirely new.
The game even goes as far as to include parts which you don't ever have to go to. Daft as this sounds there places which you can play the whole game through (4 times) and not even happen upon. And these areas are just as rich in detail as the main world.
Another aspect which grows on you is the enemy types. There's a bit of variety in the machines you meet however you'll mostly be seeing these little dustbin robots which hop round flailing their arms. Like you, enemies have levels attached and learn some new tricks as you progress but thankfully nothing I could construe as cheap (with one exception however it's deliberate and serves to push the plot not hinder your enjoyment!). It's surprising how much personality you can see later in the story in a design so basic.
The plot is an intriguing yarn which makes sense in some places and raises a lot of questions in others. Come the finale of the first playthrough you'll be left feeling there's more story to tell and that's because there is. You will have to play the game to reach 5 different endings before the whole story is told and whilst the first 2 are very similar albeit told from different perspectives, the third and the final parts of the story wrap things up to their ultimate conclusion. It's a slight slog some 10 hours into the second part but the payoff is worth it.
What you're left with is a game which honours its roots and improves on every aspect of them. It also doesn't require you to have experienced the original in order to enjoy what's on offer here, but there are a handful of eastereggs and characters which will bring a smile to those which did. I had a great time familiarising myself with the changing world whilst using some of the best controls I've had the pleasure to get to grips with.
If you're after something unique with great mechanics and an original story (which doesn't go in the directions you think it will, I would wholeheartedly recommend this one.