Nier: Automata or Do Robots Dream of Beauty and Tragedy?

Sometimes, a game comes across as more than a “mere” game. Life is Strange comes to mind there, of course. And sometimes, a game plays with its own medium and then transcends it by tearing apart conventions and asking simple questions such as “what is life?”, both on the game level as well as on the meta level. Mind you, that question is simple, the answer isn’t. Not here. Nier: Automata is a game that has you “complete” the game twice before further advancing the story, and yet it is rarely boring as you explore new nuances. But let’s start from the beginning …

If you’ve played the demo, you know what to expect from Nier: Automata. At least when it comes to the gameplay part, and at least a bit of that. The story part gets really weird just a few minutes in, and that’s just the start of a fucking crazy (at times literal) roller-coaster experience! It starts epic, becomes more epic, and then everything comes crashing down on you and everyone in the game. Hard. Brutally hard.

But first things first – the first Nier, released years ago, was the post-apocalyptic story of a father/brother trying to find a cure for his sick daughter/sister (the relationship depended on the version, but that’s a whole different story). You got help by a speaking book (Gimoire Weiss) and fought another speaking book (Grimoire Noir). And that was before things went completely bonkers, culminating in an ending where you only found redemption by deleting your save file.

So it won’t really come as a surprise that the premise of Nier: Automata is as lunatic – after aliens invaded earth and humanity retreated to the moon, you are part of an android force that returns to earth to destroy robots made by aforementioned aliens. And again, that’s before things go really crazy in a mix of hope, betrayal, hatred and insanity. Of course, there are a few twists along the road, some of them changing your entire perception of the game. And at the very end, you literally shoot the credits!

You’ll find no crucial spoilers here for all the crazy shit happening (you need to experience the game yourself), but just one thing: the more you go towards the end, the sadder and bleaker Nier: Automata becomes. And we’re not talking regular gaming sad, where talking Aerith dying and the end of Red Dead Redemption sad here. Brutally sad. And Chuck Norris kick in the nuts brutal.

Gameplay-wise, Nier: Automata is also as strange as its predecessor – the style and core mechanics of a JRPG, a bit of an action.adventure, side-scrolling, top-down action and twin-shooter parts are all part of the experience, and more. But thanks to Platinum Games, the mechanics are now damn pretty solid and fighting is very precise and fluent, and once you get the hang of all the aspects, fighting a dozen of robots or a giant boss seems like a stroll in the park. It’s worth mentioning you control different androids throughout your journeys, and they also have different strengths and weaknesses.

But there’s one very important aspect to Nier: Automata that is briefly touched during the prologue – your chips. Throughout your journey, you’ll find more and more chips, and fusing (upgrading) and equipping them can make a major difference. You can also upgrade your melee weapons and your Pods (pretty much your guns and/or missiles).

After finishing the game, you can revisit each and every sequence via Chapter Select, which is almost necessary to get all the endings – and Nier: Automata has 26 endings in total; 5 major ones and 21 minor ones. There’s also a debug mode to play around with. It should take exploring players around 40 to 50 hours to finish Nier: Automata, and if you want to do everything, you can easily add another 20 hours to it.

There’s also some rather pricey arena-style DLC where you can test your skills. While each arena requires a different approach, there are mostly cosmetic rewards to get in each, except for items that lower your level … well, perhaps of interest for people who want to finish the game on level 1, who knows …

While story and gameplay go very well together most of the times, the Nier: Automata is not without its flaws: Not only is there lots of backtracking (it takes a while until you can fast-travel, and fast-traveling also only takes you that far), but you replay at least half of them game again. From a slightly different perspective, yes, but it’s still a lot of seeing the exact same things once more (story-wise, it’s fine, mind you).

Another problem is hacking: In Nier: Automata, hacking is a mini-game that goes from very easy at times to devilishly hard. And there are times when you have to solve 6 fucking tough hacking fucking puzzles in a row without even the option to conveniently save in-between! Ugh! Sure, it is not a deal breaker (rather a controller breaker), but mini-games that are in the way of fun are one thing – making them mandatory is just sadistic.

Anyway, these minor but at times annoying nitpickings aside, the main problem with describing Nier: Automata is that you can’t really talk about much, because any spoiler would take away the fun. But one thing is certain – not many games will deliver, or have delivered, such a philosophical story about what life actually is. As you might have guessed, AIs, pre-determination vs free will and self-consciousness are a central theme of Nier: Automata. It is a rewarding experience that needs to be experienced for yourself, as it goes from frantic action to insanely weird cutscenes, from deep sadness to incredible scenarios – and at the end of it all, it still all makes sense.

Rabidgames smiles: It is great to see Nier: Automata is selling well, as the game certainly deserves it. Once in a while, you get a game that asks questions and answers them in sometimes unexpected ways. Nier: Automata is such a gem. Buy it, and treasure it!

 

 

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