My Experience with Nier in 2018
I’m tremendously self-conscious writing this review and could espouse on the reasons I felt I needed to in some vain, conceited way, which I already have begun doing, but I just want to express how I came to play this extraordinary game in 2018 and why I’m so glad I did.
Giant Bomb’s GOTY 2017 Discussions. Divisive. Heated. Passionate. One game was at the centre of much of that, Nier: Automata. A sequel to a 2010 action RPG I happened to own, sitting idly on my shelf for six years. I’d heard it addressed as a game of interest in regards to gender politics at a PAX panel in 2012. I worked at EB Games at the time, saw it was available for 24.99 Canadian and picked it up. “Hey, why not?” was essentially how much thought I put into the purchase. I was an achievement fiend at the time, maybe I’d get around to it. The catalyst for checking it out was Alex Navarro’s passionate case for why the sequel ought be 2017’s Game of the Year. I ordered Automata and decided to check out the original in the meantime.
I was here for the story so I set the difficulty to Easy. I was immediately impressed by the audacity of the opening scene, a kind of Abilitease for many of the game’s magic spells where you level up 30 times over the course of one fight trying desperately to protect your daughter from a never-ending army of “Shades”. Now, creatures that are essentially living darkness are nothing new at all. Ico and the Kingdom Hearts series immediately sprang to mind as analogs, so I wasn’t exactly impressed by the idea of these creatures but the visual design of them still managed to be unique. They were black and gold and seemed almost akin to the protagonist of Rez but with inky black clouds emanating from them. Very simple geometry to these characters but this allows MANY enemies to fill the screen, which made for some genuinely frantic fighting. The game being on Easy allowed me to just enjoy the written scenario as I dispatched these foes. A grizzled father fights off an army of monsters with an iron pipe. He rejoins his daughter, they share a cookie. 1300 YEARS LATER. I LOVE audacious timelines like that. Who am I now? Am I the same man somehow? His daughter looks similar, but…how are we still alive? We were in a devastated skyscraper before, now we’re in a pastoral village? I was captivated. Minutes later I double jumped from the second story of a library and my character fell on his ass. That goofy note of humour sealed the deal. I was going to play every second of this.
And I did. And I could spoil it all, but I don’t want to because this game has it where it counts for me. The characters come alive. The missions all serve a purpose in fleshing out the corners of the sad, strange world we find ourselves in. It experiments with gameplay in a way I found really compelling as well, combining Text Adventure, bullet-hell and Zelda-esque third person adventure into something I found tremendously compelling. The camera shifts around to side-views, top-down, isometric. One section has static cameras and seems a tribute to Resident Evil. It is a bizarre blend and that variety was very stimulating. Okay, I said I wouldn’t spoil anything but here is one. You can ride boars. And when you get the ability to, the game informs you there is a tutorial on how to effectively do so. I popped open that menu and there are DRIFT controls, ladies and gentlemen. You can drift around on a boar and it is so stupid and fun that I never got tired of it. There is an achievement for riding a boar for five minutes and I’m so glad they put that in there so I had an excuse. This game seems to understand one element of what made the 3D Zelda games fun to play is your ability to roll. I rolled everywhere as Link. Nier has a FANTASTIC roll, and a double jump. I just liked how it moved, and despite its goofiness the more dramatic moments still worked for me. Perhaps this mixture intensified those moments as the game exhibits a range of emotion. Funny and Sad in equal measure, one made more-so by the other. I won’t say the writing is always fantastic but it is always considerate. It has purpose in it and that purpose gave me purpose in exploring the world. It created a desire in me to see and do everything it had to offer.
And of course the elements that were widely praised in the appraisals of the follow-up are true here as well, the music and character interactions. Songs from this game’s score are actually employed in the sequel to great effect, but if you haven’t played Automata yet, PLEASE consider playing the original first. That was my experience, those two games back to back, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Little lines of dialogue, Archive info and weapon stories in the sequel are direct call-backs to Nier, some of which comprise my very favourite moments in that game. Yoko Taro has established an obscenely vast canvas for his world but he has kept it consistent, at least across these two games. I have a copy of Drakengard 3 on the way as of the time of this writing and am very keen on playing it, so I am not certain how that medieval portion of his world’s history pans out but I trust his authorship and writing ability to have crafted something well worth my time.
Now, your mileage may vary. I personally had no qualms with any aspect of this game…other than having to grind for crafting materials for three of the achievements. But that was kind of on me, the old thirst for that achievement sound popping up again. I ended up abandoning two of those achievements but I will give them credit, the character that is in charge of upgrading weapons is also one I kind of loathed due to events in the story, so my mechanical hatred and my thematic hatred were at least in sync. Anyway, here is how I had a tremendous experience with this game in 2018. I went in with low expectations. Sorry for impacting that in any way, but that helped my emotional boost for sure. I set it to Easy, as I mentioned, and I would recommend doing so. The combat is engaging and flashy, but you want to keep the momentum rolling forward. Getting stuck on a boss wouldn’t help anything. Whenever I was stuck I turned to a guide online. This game being out for eight years ensures every nook and cranny has been chronicled in easy to access guides. I would try to avoid story spoilers if at all possible. Now, if you DO love achievements, fantastic, I think you should go for them. The more time you spend with the game the more satisfying its ultimate conclusion. I found my limit when it came to the weapon upgrade achievements but you determine that for yourself. The DLC, while moderately interesting, is not essential. If you do get it, just know that you access it by reading a book on a shelf in Nier’s house. Seems a silly thing to mention but that was not abundantly clear in several of my searches so…just wanted to mention it. I’m rambling now but…if you have any inclination to do so, please play Nier. If you are really curious about Nier: Automata, at least consider playing Nier as I firmly believe doing so will enhance several elements of your experience with the also excellent sequel.