PlatinumGames are somewhat notorious for being a hit or miss developer, meaning some games they release are absolute gems while others are a bit of a blight. DYEGB member Kieran previously wrote an article about PG’s standout titles, including Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and their disappointments, including the Legend of Korra. Aside from their now cancelled Scalebound, PG have been hard at work making NieR: Automata, a title that is one of PlatinumGames’ best efforts to date and a fantastic action-RPG in its own right.
NieR: Automata is set in the distant future where Earth has been ravaged by alien invaders and their mechanical army. As is standard in this situation, the remnants of humanity have sought refuge on the Moon and created an army of sentient androids to combat the aliens and their robots. The game sees you assume control of 2B, an android who has been built primarily for combat situations. As the game begins, your goal is to aid the resistance on Earth by taking back a key city. A relatively simple mission on the face of it, but as you progress you learn there’s a certain mystery about the machines that you battle, and all is definitely not as it seems.
The writing itself is very good and the plot is intricate without being convoluted. Lots of interesting characters and twists and turns are introduced, but it’s quite easy to follow and it makes for a very enjoyable experience. Your companion, 9S, is a very bright individual. While it is against protocol to display emotions, he constantly displays human-like feelings and traits. His infectious humanity even warms the mechanical heart of 2B, who is usually a stickler for the rules. The bond that is shared between the two is similar to the bond between the boy and Trico in The Last Guardian, but to a much lesser extent. All-in-all, the story is of the short-but-sweet variety, but that isn’t to its detriment. Completing the game multiple times unlocks different perspectives and plot nuances that is a good twist on the tired New Game+ system and incentivises multiple playthroughs. The beauty of the way that PG have treated NG+ in NieR means that subtle details and even back story can be explained while also adding a little more challenge to the game. Certain areas and chests can only be unlocked by specific characters and each playthrough has a different ending. It’s because of this attention to detail that the relatively short story is forgivable. A long story isn’t always a good one.
I don’t know what your name says, but I’m going to assume it’s threatening.
In terms of gameplay, NieR: Automata absolutely nails its quick and easy combat system that shows the deft hand and experience of the developers. Commands are simple and controls are designed for ease of access; using square or triangle performs a melee attack (light or heavy, respectively) while holding R1 will allow you to constantly shoot using your Pod (a weaponised robotic assistant). Well-placed dodges will allow you to slow down time as well, giving you crucial moments to get your hits in. It’s fast and fluid and you’ve got a highly customisable arsenal to play around with. In terms of actual RPG mechanics, NieR: Automata is fairly light. You don’t really have stats or perks to level up, but instead you have plug-in chips. Customising your plug-in chips will give you some serious buffs. For instance, during my playthroughs I had various buffs to my overall damage, amount of experience gained and increased dodging windows. Plug-in chips can also be used to customise your HUD, but there isn’t much of a necessity to mess with this aside from adding the EXP gauge to the HUD (this isn’t standard). All levelling up does is increase your health pool and reduces how much delta scaling affects you (a system whereby battling enemies that are a higher level than you will result in you doing less damage to the enemy).
In terms of actual difficulty, there are four difficulties you can choose: easy, normal, hard and very hard. The game itself isn’t incredibly difficult, but on the higher difficulties enemies do definitely hit like trucks. There are multiple instances where you can get swamped, especially given the pace of the combat, but it is fairly balanced. A cool combat mechanic which is more predominant in your second playthrough is hacking. The best way to look at this is like a retro-style mini game where the way to win is just by shooting a sphere until it explodes. Doing so will provide benefits in combat in the ways of either killing an enemy entirely, or causing major damage.
It’s definitely hard to define NieR: Automata’s gameplay as belonging to any one genre, as PG have gone above and beyond and created some brilliantly varied gameplay. It can go from your run-of-the-mill hack ’n’ slash to a 2D Metroidvania-style platformer in an instant, and at some points it’s even similar to a top down, twinstick shooter in the vein of something like Helldivers. There really is a refreshing amount of varied gameplay and it helps keep the game from feeling stale, and the creative design overall is a breath of fresh air.
Visually speaking, NieR: Automata looks great. The ‘nature reclaimed’ approach to a dilapidated metropolis (which has been done quite a lot in recent times) feels familiar, but with a distinct personality nonetheless. While there is a lush green covering most of the city, there are also parts of it which are an arid desert. The creative variation in the world is once again, refreshing. The lighting in NieR: Automata is incredible and it’s definitely one of the prettiest JRPGs I’ve played (outside of FFXV). However its beauty is occasionally to its detriment. The frame rate aims to sit a 60fps but on the regular PS4 it is very unstable. When it sits at 60 it look gorgeous, but more often than not the frames take a massive dive into 30fps and sometimes even lower (though that isn’t very often) The faster frame rate definitely suits the slick and stylish combat, but noticeable drops are too frequent to be ignored.
NieR: Automata is a triumphant achievement in creativity, variety and clever development. With its short-but-sweet story that varies between subsequent playthroughs, you’ll find that the multifaceted story is not only compelling, but packed with little nuances and intricacies. The great combat, cool customisation options and clever design makes for an accessible RPG that is simple on the surface but still offers significant challenge. Despite frame rate annoyances, it can’t detract majorly from what is a great game, and I would highly recommend this title to anyone.
Reviewed on PS4