NieR: Automata Review – Do Androids Dream of 2B?

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Originally released on the PlayStation 4 console in February 2017, NieR: Automata is an action RPG developed by Platinum Games, which received critical acclaim upon its release. Published by Square Enix Games, NieR: Automata is the sequel to Nier, and is the brainchild of the hugely talented and somewhat peculiar, Yoko Taro.

NieR: Automata kicks off the game with the female android 2B, who is chucked straight into a firefight between androids and robots. Sent by the remnants of humanity, androids are on a mission to help reclaim the planet Earth years after an invasion. She is joined by her helpful male companion 9S, and during their journey, they encounter unlikely friendships, shocking turns and gut-wrenching hardships.

It’s an unconventional piece of work, and it stands as being one of my most unique gaming experiences in some time. Throughout NieR: Automata, players will find that it likes to mix up the gameplay a little bit to keep things fresh. There’s third-person hack-and-slash, and top-down shooting mechanics, and those segments honestly feel like Ikaruga’s forgotten child.

In Yoko Taro’s second game in the series, players are thrown into a ridiculously deep storyline, that covers multiple themes; society, humanity and existence. It’s one hell of a ride, that can be repeated numerous times for different endings. Yes, that’s you’ve heard that correctly – NieR: Automata boasts 26 different endings.

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A substantial number of these endings aren’t even canon, but they do showcase that Yoko Taro likes to have a little fun with these characters. These endings can range from self-destructing 2B to offering a new perspective on a previous storyline experienced by a different android. There are around 3 important endings to the game, which allows for further insight into this weird little universe.

There’s a lot of joy to be had with experimenting in the game, and thankfully it’s not a chore to replay either. Thanks in part to Platinum Games, the combat is fluid and entertaining from start to finish. Switching up the gameplay style also helps, including exclusive elements which allow players to even hack their robotic enemies.

Various characters get to wield a variety of weapons, and their small Pods, which can shoot projectiles, allow for players to mix it up a bit. It may come as no surprise that the combat is enjoyable because we are talking about the same developers who provided us with the Bayonetta series.

It’s a lot of fun to revisit, but the beauty of the game cannot go understated. It’s simply gorgeous, and players get to explore a planet that nature has tried to reclaim. Now thousands of years into the future, greenery has covered cities. Small animals will often flock to some areas too, which helps build a tranquil atmosphere when no robots are involved.

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If you feel it necessary, 2B and other characters can mount some of these animals in the game. If you haven’t experienced drifting on a wild boar, well, you’re in a for a treat.

For example, the amusement park which 2B first stumbles upon envelops the screen with bright fireworks and a vibrant colour palette. The game brilliantly manages to mix in those darker tones in some parts, and there’s a certain feeling of dread when you’re greeted by some of the passive robots at the park.

Rust has taken over parts of this amusement park, and when 2B ventures down into the depths, the game decides to provide the player with endless android corpses, and a depraved robot with a twisted backstory. The robot’s design is terrific and haunting, and there’s much more where that came from.

The character design is superb, and 2B’s appearance alone has resulted in her being plastered across many gamers’ bedrooms. Her fashion sense is reminiscent of the popular Japanese Gothic Lolita style, and the camera often takes note of her short skirt. Still, it’s a strong look and it’s certainly helped shift copies of the game.

Yoko Taro’s discusses 2B’s design.

Whilst a lot can be said how NieR: Automata looks, its biggest strength might just be its soundtrack. Now having won several awards, it goes without saying that this is the best soundtrack that I have had the pleasure of listening to in years. It is simply phenomenal, and composer Keiichi Okabe has presented in the industry with one of the greatest gaming soundtracks of all time.

Sure, it’s easy to cry hyperbole on behalf of this praise, but in all honesty, NieR: Automata’s music was one of the biggest things I took from my experience with the game. Composer Keiichi Okabe simply nails it throughout, as he perfectly ramps up the tempo for action sequences, whilst utilising more peaceful melodies which help reflect upon the quieter moments. In some cases, you really can’t separate specific moments from its music. It all fits so well.

Vocalist Emi Evans also provides NieR: Automata with her serene voice, which is added to a majority of the tracks. It’s all very haunting, and it fits perfectly into the tone of the game. Whilst I’ve never purchased a video game soundtrack on vinyl, now might be the time to change that.

Perhaps some gamers will have issues with trying to decipher its complex narrative, and that’s fine. It can be treated as a hack-and-slash visual snack, but it is fascinating to dive in deeper into Nier’s lore through multiple playthroughs and internet searches. Unfortunately for fans though, Yoko Taro has helped expand on the rich universe in unusual ways, exclusively to Japan.

Want to find out more about male androids? Well, there’s a stage play for that now. Thankfully, there are official translations of the novelisations available soon, but it’s a minor nuisance for fans who are so invested in the game.

NieR: Automata shares weighty themes which are found in other popular Japanese media, such as Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Reportedly, Yoko Taro has cited Neon Genesis Evangelion as an influence, and that is clearly evident. Both display the same ideas, and they’re almost as bleak as each other. Of course, the parallels between the game and Ghost in the Shell are obvious, and the music also sounds similar.

Whilst the game tackles these heavy, underlying subjects, Yoko Taro likes to have some fun with some more unconventional ideas during the game. Want to make some money to purchase a specific upgrade? Well, you can sell sections of your heads-up display. If you’re desperate, for 28G you can even sell your operating system chip. Although it’s not recommended.

There are many moments littered throughout the game which will leave players wondering just what Yoko Taro was thinking, but that’s what helps make this game so distinguishable from the rest of the rubbish that gets released nowadays. It’s nice to be kept on your toes, and NieR: Automata just dares to be different.

NieR: Automata reminded me that video games can be art. It’s something I’ve always believed, but this video game is a strong argument for those who don’t believe the medium is more than cheap first-person shooters and pathetic iPhone applications. Yoko Taro has presented to the industry a weird and wonderful creation, and Platinum Games managed to bring his vision to life with exceptional gameplay.

If you do get the chance, check out NieR: Automata. It feels like it fell off the radar for some, but it needs to be experienced. Some gamers may not enjoy what Yoko Taro has offered out to the table, but I enjoyed every second of it. Apparently, work is already being done on a sequel, so here’s to seeing what’s next for our stupid, sexy androids.

Also, a word to the wise. The PC port hasn’t been updated since it was released. That means there are some framerate issues, display problems and a few glitches. This link below is a fan mod which should help clear some of those problems so you can go ride boars in full screen, on the highest settings.

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