Square Enix, they are one of the leading companies in JRPGs. Lately, they have been veering more into action RPGs. Also well known for their unique flair for action in their cutscenes and movies. Yoko Taro, known for the Drakengard and the Nier series, which in turn was also published by Square Enix themselves. The two series, while quite popular in Japan, wasn’t that well known out of the country. However that did not stop the ones who know about it to praise the game for the brilliance of the stories and the gameplay.
And Platinum, a studio made by the legendary ex-director of Devil May Cry Hideki Kamiya. Well known for some of the best hack-and-slash titles known to man such as Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising, and one of the few studios left in the whole world that still makes anything of that genre (seriously people, how did this happen?).
But this time, the three has combined forces to make one game: Nier:Automata. Back when the game was announced at E3 in 2015, it generated quite the buzz, but it was not until they revealed the gameplay at Paris Games Week that people got excited. The trailer shows a few snippets of the combat (which makes me wonder how could the hack and slash genre be endangered as it is now when people actually like them). Being a sequel of the previously quite obscure Nier, many fans rejoiced, and ones who never knew about it got interested as well. And now that it has come out for the world to play, how good is it?
First things first. Is it playable? Yes. It runs on a smooth 60fps on the base PS4 with framerate drops only when things start to get messy, and even in that situation it doesn’t drop too many frames. This is critical for a fast paced game, something Drakengard 3 failed to do. The drops also sometimes happen when you’re entering a huge area, but thankfully it doesn’t linger. One thing to notice is that according to DigitalFoundry, on the base PS4 it runs on 900p, probably upscaled. If you want to look at DigitalFoundry’s more professional technical analysis, you can search out their YouTube channel yourself or click here for the specific video.
Let’s start from the thing that will accompany you from start to finish: music. The music of Nier:Automata is just AMAZING. I might not understand a lot about music, but the soundtrack is definitely catchy, mostly consisting of string and metallic instruments and very bassy drums with some (if not all) having alternate versions with chanting or lyrics on and off to help you kick it up a notch when things get intense, and a retro version for the hacking minigames. Some even sound as if the machine lifeforms are in on the songs with them doing the chanting and some metal clanging sounds.
Moving on to gameplay, ooo boy hold me back I’m reeeeaaal hyped. As expected from a huge production from Platinum, the gameplay is SPOT. ON. For you who have played the demo but haven’t played the full game, it’s still the same game, almost exactly so. Some things to notice is that back in the demo, there was a very small but noticeable lag when you cancel an attack to a dodge. Thankfully this lag is now absent in the full game.
End of comparison, let’s discuss what the game is like. Being a part of the Nier/Drakengard series, it is an action RPG, no need for explanation of what the genre is like. Like any other RPGs, experience is earned through defeating enemies, as per usual, or through completing quests.
On the hack-and-slash side, since it’s from Platinum, you can expect top of the line hack-and-slash experience: very tight and responsive controls and with potential for stylish combos. Just ask donguri990, one of the best in the combo business. This is only emphasized with the 4 weapon types available, small swords, large swords, spears, and gauntlets, in addition to actually going unarmed (BADASS!!). Using 2B, the combination of any 2 of those weapon will result in differing movesets. The movesets also change depending whether you place the weapon for 2B’s heavy attack or light attack, and it doesn’t have any restriction such as only allowing large swords to be equipped in the heavy attack slot. With this, the game can cater to differing playstyles that fits the player’s preferences, such as equipping spears and large swords for people that prefer better crowd control.
There is, however, another side to the game: bullet hell. For you who don’t know what bullet hells are, it’s a genre of games akin to shoot-em-ups, with the only difference being that you will be showered with a lot of bullets (hellishly so!!), so much that it will cover more than 60% of your screen , thus the name bullet hell. Bullet hell is an essential part of the game, and it comes not only in the traditional shoot-em-up format, but it’s in the hack and slash part of the game as well. Yes, you heard that right, you have to kick the enemies’ butt while dodging projectiles that fills over 60% of your screen.
I also mentioned something about hacking minigames earlier. Those hacking minigames utilize the bullet hell segments where you have to destroy the core of your target to hack it. This is the core of 9S’s side of the gameplay, replacing the heavy attack function on 2B’s side. It ties very well with his specification being a scout and not a combat unit, thus lacking in combat capability. Hacking the enemy will be your primary means of damaging the enemies while playing as 9S.
The bullet hell segments are spread consistently across the game, are enjoyable to boot, and the controls are just as responsive on these segments as well, if not more. The hacking minigames come in either short bursts in the midst of a fight or a long segment where you actually are hacking into important machine lifeform stuff. It is really shown that the game actually is designed (from within the engine, no less) to have these segments instead of them being shoehorned to pad the play-hours of the game. That said, some of those bullet hell segments usually stretches up to accommodate the length of some of the dialogue. That might not be too bothersome, but some do overstay their welcome past the dialogues, which can cause gripe sometimes.
On to the aesthetics now then!!
If you ask me to describe what Nier is like in one sentence, my answer would be “A beautiful combination of grace and force”. The game displays the results of post apocalyptic settings as expected. However, there is some kind tranquility that sits alongside the lack of human care even in places such as a factory’s remains, unlike the post apocalyptic wastelands of Fallout which screams death in every direction with its reddish-brown environment and drab grey or rusty something wreckages. The setting definitely tells “there is war here” while staying tranquil, even in 2Bs outer space bunker.
When you play a hack-and-slash, your attention will be focused to the action and enemies so much that you probably won’t notice the environment and its detail. Not with Nier:Automata. Here, the environment, while not as much as Final Fantasy XV or Devil May Cry 4, is very detailed, enough to be verified as eyecandy for your peripheral vision. Textures are clear to the eyes and colors are vibrant, and the more denser places pack even more detail than the open areas. Some of the more beautiful places in the game is odd-yet-interestingly the factory and the carnival. The rusted bronze surroundings of the factory’s interior construction in combination with the glow of molten metal is very warm to the eye, yet not distracting. Meanwhile the carnival has a warm orange-purple tint, which gives it a sense of eternally being stuck in the twilight of the golden hour (if you don’t know what that is, you should google it). Oh and did I mention the firework and confettis there? It’s these kinds of details that bring character to a setting.
Meanwhile, on the foreground, the game struts its beautifully detailed character models, which you will be looking at most of the time. No, I don’t just mean 2B’s butt (you perverts), I mean everything, even the NPC models. Each NPC is just as detailed as the main characters even though they might lack variation. Fully modeled faces and hands are the standard for NPCs today, and it applies here too. In addition to that, if you manage to get the camera close to them, you will see that their textures are also just as detailed. However this is also where its weakness exists. While the every model is sculpted as detailed as possible, there is a lack of mouth flapping out of cinematic cutscenes. Luckily this is not a huge problem since the camera is usually far enough that you won’t be seeing the lack of mouth movements (unless you are sitting very close to a huge screen like me), and most NPCs wear masks or things that cover their mouth to cover that, and the machine lifeforms don’t have mouth anyways.
Between that, the animation works hard under the covers to catch your eye. This is where both the grace and the force shows the most. During fights, 2B delivers attacks upon attacks that obliterates and literally blows the enemies away. You can see the strength put in each move, and all that is done while wielding the weapons in a way that shows control and finesse, in addition to some dance like moves that flows smoothly.
Just look at that, how graceful
That is not to say that everything else is not well animated. In fact everything is. From the way 9S moves rather clumsy and unprofessionally, the low-level machine lifeforms’ jerky-robotic movement, and their more advanced and diverse counterparts’ which while are smoother and humanlike, still shows some jerkiness, to the gigantic ones’ hefty blows. Their attacks are also well telegraphed, but executes very quickly, giving quite the challenge. The cutscenes are very well animated as well. It is indistinguishable whether it’s motion capture or hand-animated, but hey, it’s Square and Platinum, these things aren’t that surprising. The surprising thing is how despite having blindfolds covering the upper part of their faces, the characters’ expression are still very readable. Whether this is animation genius or our brains filling the gaps is up to investigation, but nevertheless it’s a plus point.
Okay so it looks good, but how does it sound. In addition to having great soundtrack, the voice acting is also great. Many people scoff at English voiceovers and shout on the top of their lungs “SUBS OVER DUBS”, but Nier’s English voiceovers is definitely one of the things that you can bash their heads with. The lines are well delivered and the VAs definitely understand the emotions that need to be delivered in the cutscenes. For example is how funny 9S’s flustered dialogues can be. One noticeable difference though is that the pod’s voice is far less deep in the English audio, comparable to your average GPS voice. In the Japanese version it’s comparable to Chamber from Suisei no Gargantia (翠星のガルガンティア). If that bothers you then don’t worry, the game comes with both English and Japanese audio, you can just switch it in the options menu.
Now lastly, the story, how good is it? Saying that it is well written and well executed is an understatement. Many bits of the story, whether it’s part of the main quest or just the sidequests, will leave you either with lingering curiosity or disbelief, and some will leave you with a small chuckle as well. In comparison to the post apocalyptic setting, the story feels magical with everything that is going on in it. To the point that it could almost be a Final Fantasy if you had more characters and a more expanded world. That said though, I can’t really tell a lot about the story because what makes it really good is seeing with your own eyes how the events unfold
I know that this is a review and so what the story is about must be told. However, I can’t really do that. The story has branches upon branches that leads to many endings, and I haven’t even got them all, and I can’t even tell a lot of things without spoiling some stuff. I know, you’re starting to question my credibility now, “You haven’t experienced the whole game! How should we trust your judgement!?”. Let me say this: the endings are all drastically different, and they split up somewhere along the 60-70th percentile of the story. That said, it’s easy to conclude that the remaining parts of the game will be drastically different too, and 30-40% of a story is definitely not a small chunk. It is just not possible to attain them all in time to put up a review.
In the end, Nier:Automata is a great game on a technical level. However it’s up to your decision whether the game is up to your taste. As for me, it is the best game I’ve played at this point this year. This game definitely adds to the great lineup this year has already had, such as Gravity Rush 2, Tales of Berseria, and the more recent Zelda and Horizon Zero Dawn.
It's a massterpiece
I obtained this game self bought I played through a few endings. Implications? THERE ARE MORE