DISCLAIMER: This review is entirely based on my subjective, personal opinion. You are entirely allowed to disagree with me. I believe games are a form of art and therefore the way each of us experiences them is mostly subjective. Feel free to comment if you disagree on anything or would like to discuss my point of view. Also, I try my best to avoid major spoilers in this review.
Played from December 28th to January 4th on PC
Gameplay time: 37 hours, 0 minutes
Status: Main story finished (Endings A, B, C, D and E)
The main reason I started playing Nier: Automata (N:A) were a few comments I’ve read and heard saying it was a “philosophical game”. You see, I’ve been a Philosophy undergrad (the Brazilian university system is a bit different, so it’s like you only have one major and that’s it) for 2 and a half years and I’ve always loved things that make me think. When people say a game is philosophical, I immediately get interested in it. For me, a philosophical game is really deep in a specific theme, such as SOMA and Spec Ops: The Line. Both of these games deal with complex themes in a way that goes way beyond a couple of lines said by a character or passages in a book you find in the game. The whole game’s story and experience encompass that theme in a way you have no choice but to think about it. That said, I wouldn’t say N:A is a philosophical game, even though it certainly has bits of Philosophy in it (a sort of deep overall story, references to Philosophy authors in a few characters’ names and some thought-provoking lines).
So even though the main reason I got into N:A ended up not being there, I still really enjoyed this game. It had some really great things and some others that weren’t so much. So let’s get to them.
The Good Stuff
Combat and Movement
This is probably the best thing about this game for me. It’s the reason I spent hours upon hours playing it. Movement and combat are so fluid that it becomes extremely satisfying to dash and stack some combos on your enemies. But don’t take my word for it, watch it.
I have never played any other game from Platinum but if this is a common thing in their games, I must certainly play the other ones.
Combat scenes in N:A are great because of mechanics, but the music makes them even better. Again, don’t take my word for it.
The only bad thing about music is that a few fantastic songs appear in very specific scenes and you never listen to them again after you leave the area in which that scene happened. Some areas always have the same songs, so a few songs get boring before the end of the game. Consider these two things and a bit of variety would make things a lot better.
The plot is that you’re an android fighting against alien machines on Earth centuries after aliens invaded it and made humans flee to the Moon. As a soldier, you often engage in missions where you have to fight your machine enemies to fulfill your goal “For the glory of mankind” (that’s your group’s motto). But not everything is clear when it comes to those things and as the game progresses, it gets more and more interesting.
Without spoilers, you have to beat the game three times to really experience the whole story. For the first time, you play as 2B. On the second, you play as 9S reliving most of the important moments you already played as 2B, but from a different point of view. But both of these times end in the same moment, and it’s up to the third time playing that you get to see the continuation of the story with a different character. And it’s certainly the most interesting part.
It’s great that a game that has some pretty heavy moments allows itself to have very funny and heartwarming characters. I won’t go in detail about what makes each character heartwarming as to not spoil things, but I’ll say Pascal is so pure I already liked him from the very first time I met him, 6O (2B’S operator) is very funny in her random comments about things that have zero relation to the mission and 9S (at the beginning of the game) seems to be that cute naive teenage boy who you can’t help but like.
From a few videos I’ve seen about the first Nier, this is something that seems to come from that game. The game is mainly a Hack and Slash Action RPG. But you get Platform and Shoot’Em Up mixed in it. This is done in a fantastic way that really adds great variety to the gaming experience.
Not all of these variations are done as well as the others, but for the amount of time you end up playing each of them, it’s satisfying enough.
The Bad Stuff
In a word: a bunch of annoying stuff.
The second run
As I mentioned above, to experience the whole story, you have to play the first half of it two times with two different characters. This sucks.
9S’s combat system is different from 2B’s. You only have one weapon (instead of two) and fighting with it is really not as good as fighting with 2B. But there’s a story-wise reason for that: 9S isn’t a combat unit, but a support unit. So how is he supposed to combat enemies? By hacking them. You hold the right button for a little bit and boom, you get into the hacking minigame.
Sure, the first time you hack an enemy and you can quickly kill it by simply finishing this very short minigame is really nice. But after dozens and dozens of times, it gets really annoying. Not only is the hacking minigame too repetitive and badly designed to be fun by itself, but it totally breaks the pace from 2B’s fluid and amazing combat mechanics. By the end of 9S’s run, I was already fighting every enemy with his weak sword because I couldn’t stand doing the hacking minigame yet again.
If the combat side of things wasn’t enough, you have to play all of the main missions again. I’ve seen a few people online saying it’s great because you get to experience them from 9S’s point of view, but I’ll say that’s bullshit. It’s the same scene with the same story and the same battle. You only play a different character. To be fair, there are probably two or three unique missions to 9S and a few cutscenes that appear between main missions for 9S. But that’s it. It’s about 7 or 8 hours of the exact same game yet again.
Thankfully, after finishing the game with 9S you get the best run of the game, but I won’t spoil that for you.
My favorite game of all time is GTA: San Andreas. It’s the first open world game I’ve played and to this day it’s the one that gives me the most sense of freedom I’ve ever felt playing any game. I’ve got 100% in it 3 times already. That means I got all those spray tags, all the horseshoes and everything that needed a whole lot of map exploration 3 times. So I’m not really lazy about exploring open worlds or even about spending a lot of time doing that. But I need encouragement to do it and N:A gives none of that.
The map has too few points of interest to make me interested in exploring it. There are a bunch of items scattered all over, but they are so useless I see no point in collecting them. The side quests take you to places so far away that you dread having to go that far. Unlocking fast travel is bliss, but as a side effect you end up dreading long travels much more.
N:A should probably get an award for bad UX. I’ll give a few examples of bad UX that have really annoyed me while playing the game. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t bother you the first or second time you find them, but after a few dozen times, it starts getting on your nerves.
When you open a multi-option dialog menu in the game, if you press up, sometimes you get the last option, sometimes you get the first. In some dialogues, you get the first option for one answer and the last for the very next answer. This is some so silly to have fixed that I can’t understand how it got to the finished game.
There is no autosave in the game. Sure, the game tells you that a bunch of times and you gotta be dumb not to save often. But sometimes you are too far away from the saving point and you keep on with your quests. And then you get a game over because you went to a place you weren’t supposed to. There are 21 possible game over endings, a couple being achieved by “going the wrong way”, and I’m totally fine with that. But losing almost an hour of progress after a big quest because I went the wrong way really sucks.
The map is confusing. You can’t easily create a route to get from point A to point B because sometimes there is a wall in the middle of the way or because a place that seemed to be accessible by one way is actually only accessible by a totally different way. It’s another thing that doesn’t bother you until you have to go back all the way you came because you got the location wrong (I’m looking at you, Popola’s Errand).
There’s a DLC for the game that gives you a few arenas where you can fight enemies. They are really interesting and I really enjoyed playing them. Not because of their game design properly, but mainly because I got to do a bunch of more fighting.
However, the arenas fail by having different challenges requiring you to have specific character levels. Therefore, the recommended level to complete all arenas is 99 (I finished the game being lvl 63). That makes the arena an endgame content, which is far from ideal considering that one of the rewards for beating the arena is an outfit for 2B. If you already beat the whole game, what’s the point of having a new outfit for the main character? Also, the level cap means you have to grind a whole lot after beating the game to beat the arena. No, thank you.
2B is really hot, that has to be said. But she is also really boring. 2B’s writing made her a character that doesn’t express emotions and has no flavor whatsoever. She has little to no personality, apart from a few scenes.
If that was the case with only the main character, things would be better, but a lot of NPCs are also like that.
Oh, do you remember that I complimented 9S at the beginning of the game? Let’s just say that his personality changes as the story progresses and he only gets really lame.
Nier: Automata is a great game for action, anime and science fiction fans. I really enjoyed playing (most of) it. But as it does a lot of things incredibly, it also fails in a few others. A sequel that addresses it’s failures and improves upon its successes might get to be a masterpiece, but this game, unfortunately, isn’t.