This review comes from my 30+ hours of gameplay. I have not exactly 100% completed the entire game, but I did finish approximately 70% of all the missions and quests before I finished the game’s story. I will not reveal any spoilers.
Before I go into the nitty gritty details about NieR:Automata, I would like to quickly go into the game’s background, such as the series it’s a part of and its creators. NieR:Automata is a sequel to the 2010 PS3/Xbox360 title Nier, which is itself a spin-off from the Drakengard series. The series and franchise as a whole were directed by Japanese game developer Yoko Taro, who is quite known in the industry for having multiple endings in his games. He is also known for his narrative style consisting of dark topics and atmospheres with a few little happy and funny rays of sunshine to lighten you (the player) up. Very important to keep in mind about all this is that this game is mostly stand-alone so please do not worry, you are not missing out! If you do find yourself curious for more background information on the series, however, please check out the other games yourself for more fun and sad times!
Now that we got that little introduction out of the way, let’s get to the main course! In a nutshell, the game’s story revolves around a cold, stern female android named YoRHa No.2 Model B (2B), an inquisitive and somewhat sensitive male android named YoRHa No.9 Model S (9S), and an embittered, lonely female android named YoRHa Model A No. 2 (A2). These androids are a few among many in a war between their organization (YoRHa and the Council of Humanity) and machines on Earth thousands of years after they (the machines) and their alien masters drove humanity off the planet. That’s as far as I can go with the story, but there is A LOT for the player to go and discover for him or herself and there are many twists and turns out there. For now, let’s move on to the gameplay.
The gameplay is third-person hack-and-slash action with a few hints of RPG elements. RPG elements include weapon upgrading (which you will have to farm the materials for), leveling, and managing your Android’s chip systems which can affect your stats and combat capabilities (e.g. bonus health, exp gain, damage from counter-attacks, etc.). The combat system is very smooth, and the particle effects look great even when you’re juggling multiple machines in the air with your katanas! Hacking enemies and making them fight or blow each other up as 9S is also VERY satisfying. There are also some bullet-hell flight sequences. (For a probably well-known and simple example, think of Galaga or Galaxia, and for all you weeaboos/Japanophiles, think of the Touhou games). Controls in the game can be a bit awkward at times since the dodge button is located where the trigger would be on a controller, but the player can change the settings for their own pleasure.
Now, concerning the environment or the game’s general world, the game has an open-world, but it is not quite on the same scale as The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind or Skyrim (not that this is necessarily a bad thing). Fast-travel can only be utilized in a few places at first, but as the player progress to a certain point in the story/main quest, many more FT (fast-travel) spots become unlocked. This gives players quite some time to explore the different areas and scenery as much as they want (the FT system feature, however, is VERY convenient for the many side-quests in the game). The player will also be traveling with a companion for a good majority of the game so they won’t feel totally lonely. The game is also meant to be played in multiple runs, so just beating it only one time will not complete the full picture of the story or give the player the full experience. There are also many side-quests the player can do across multiple playthroughs (progress for some side-quests is saved, too!), so do not worry about doing everything in one run. Just enjoy the current run you are on and play at your pace. Now for the music and graphics aka A E S T H E T I C S.
The music composition composed by the franchise’s veteran composers Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Hoashi is spot-on for many parts of the game. If one played the original Nier or Drakengard 3, they may find some nice remixes or familiar sounds in this new title. However, the original tracks are especially interesting and fitting for the game’s settings. For example, in one of the game’s early areas is a ruined, abandoned city being reclaimed by nature, the gentle piano background music amplifies that somber and dreary feeling of loneliness the area exudes. The tune however also carries the sound of a gentle and lively guitar that plays while one sees animals such as a boar or a moose running through the rampantly growing nature. During boss battles or action intensive scenes, the score greatly swells and the themes fit the bosses to a T, going with a variety of styles ranging from full orchestras to wild techno/synthetic. The voice acting is also very well done, both in the original Japanese and English languages. Either way you play it, the voices are very satisfying, and I feel they accurately conveyed the emotions and personalities of the characters.
The scenery and graphics are also particularly beautiful and may even distract you from playing at times. In most of the areas the player will go to, they will mostly find no one but enemies, and I feel this helps further emphasize a sense of isolation that only makes you appreciate the interactions and relationships between the main characters and their companions so much more. The character designs also shine in this title. Prime example is the main cover girl, 2B, complete with her skirt and high heels. (Fun fact: when Yoko Taro was asked why 2B had high heels even with all the combat and action, he stated, “I just really like girls.”) Besides 2B, the rest of the ensemble are well designed, and some of the machine enemies you fight may even look surprisingly cute and endearing.
Some final thoughts and observations about the game: Many moments in the game touch upon topics that lurk in the darkest parts of our hearts and minds. However, the thing that makes all of this interesting is that only a few, if any, of those moments feel forced. A lot of these moments appear in casual and intimate conversations between 2B and 9S throughout their journey, and their interactions come across as a bit awkward at times (they are androids after all). But still, these conversations have an uncanny, natural feel to it. Topics brought up throughout the game include duty, life, death, emotions such as love, the concept of a soul or an afterlife, the futility or purpose of life itself, free will, why people kill, personal motivation, and prejudice. These topics/themes may not be entirely novel or original concepts in video games or science fiction, but I feel that it is in the presentation and application of these ideas that makes this game truly shine. It does take quite some time to get into those previously mentioned interactions, but I believe the emotional pay-off is well worth the hours of fighting machines and traveling with your partner. Another observation I found was that in a lot of the side-quests, players can make their own choices that are neither necessarily good nor bad, but all of these choices rely on what you feel is important to yourself and your own motivations.
A final interesting observation about the game is the rather egalitarian relationship between the androids 2B and 9S. There are moments in the game when 2B has to save 9S and vice-versa; both characters have their strong and weak points that complement each other (2B’s physical prowess and 9S’s hacking powers). And neither of them appear to have more authority or importance than the other. Now, one may be surprised at how a simple-looking Japanese hack-and-slash title can have such depth, but trust me, I was very surprised myself and I’m happy to say I’ve never been happier to have been wrong about a game.
PROS: Rich and deep narrative, beautiful graphics, and the music is expertly composed by the series’s veterans, Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Hoashi. Voice acting is also very crisp and fitting. The characters are relatable (it does take a bit of time to really feel them through) and each have their quirks/personalities making them each interesting to learn and care more about. Combat is very smooth, and boy, do you feel cool fighting robot samurai with your combat bracers or katanas.
MAYBES: The dark and odd humor of director Yoko Taro can come across as awkward or too quirky at times, so that may or may not be off-putting. The story can also get a bit convoluted or chaotic at times. A few feels or serious moments may/can come across as forced.
CONS: Some framerate issues on PC (it is not exactly a buttery smooth 60fps at the moment, but there are unofficial patches available), fullscreen mode tends to cause a bit of lag, but windowed mode seems to work just fine. There is also occasional lag during pre-rendered cutscenes (this may have been due to my own fault/system, but it is still something to potentially keep in mind.) Combat may be a bit repetitive at times for some. Controls can also be a bit confusing, especially for beginner action game players.
Final Verdict: 9.5/10 would play again for the Glory of Mankind.