A Truly Inspiring Masterpiece
After having sunk around fifty or so hours in to Nier Automata I can comfortably say it is nothing short of a profound masterpiece and an astonishing example of the medium of video games at its absolute best taking all of its strengths and putting them to tremendous use, regardless of whether they formed things that were familiar or distinctly different everything was handled with so much care and clearly a tonne of passion from all aspects of the game development process involved.
I would certainly say Automata is an especially unique game on top of being a really good one despite its familiar elements, which is the case to such a degree you cannot truly appreciate the full breadth of work and absolute genius put in to its creation unless you've both finished the initial story campaign twice (from the perspective of its two leads), most of its side missions and then completed the follow up story that begins on your third return to this games world.
Prior to beginning my playthrough I made sure I was well up to date on the previously established fiction that serves as a backdrop to the events of Automata, primarily the previous title: Nier and its predecessors Drakengard 1, 2 and 3. Thankfully in this modern age one needn't actually play these games to experience their content and thanks to some very well done summary videos and a well handled Let'sPlay I was quite prepared to enjoy what the latest offering from Yoko Taro would entail to its fullest. While certainly having prior experience with his work will add a lot to your appreciation for certain elements of the world and story within Automata, it isn't strictly required. Though I am very glad I put in that extra "homework" beforehand as every little nod and reference to events, characters and items from those older games didn't go unnoticed which only added to the sheer joy I felt running through Automata again and again.
Mechanically speaking the standard combat of Automata can be compared to any of Platinum Games' previous titles where incredibly satisfying melee that is easy to understand but challenging to master is their go to formula once more but a Nier game wouldn't be a Nier game without its heavy nods to traditional 2D shooter titles as well and so utilizing your floating Pod companions along with well executed sword, staff or fist weapon combos is crucial to both survival against the tougher enemies and bosses and simply appreciating the games high paced very satisfying gameplay as much as possible. That said it has a range of difficulty options available to all kinds of players with you straight up having the ability to remove every aspect of your hud and completely jump in the deep end or dramatically simplify things on easy through automating some of your combat mechanics. I played on normal most of the time and eventually bumped up to hard once I realized things were getting a little too easy which can easily be done at any point you so desire.
Even just hitting the sprint button made for traversing on foot so incredibly fun, especially when it came to the wider expanse of the desert area with its sliding embankments that almost results in a dynamic sand surfing game of sorts. I do wish I didn't have to do quite so much backtracking in Automata but I was always enjoying the basic act of traversal and combat so much I never felt like things were getting especially tedious.
Depending on the camera positioning and whether you are controlling your regular characters or another creature or vehicle of some kind you may at any point be playing in third person or quickly switching to a more 2D perspective the latter of which easily can be compared to the likes of classic shooter series such as Raiden or Contra. The game loves to swap between camera modes and thankfully these transitions very rarely hinder your ability to see what you're doing or where you need to go thanks to very smart level design, baring the instances where the lighting was perhaps a little too dark that your character blended in to the background perhaps a tad too much. Nonetheless I managed just fine even during those instances.
At one point Automata even turns in to a fighting game, solely for a single boss fight, only to then return to normal quickly after. All of these diversions from the standard gameplay wonderfully break up the pacing and always satisfy with their distinct presentation blending old ideas so perfectly with contemporary examples in ways I really wish more games would do more often with the sheer polish on display here. No deviation from the standard gameplay over stays its welcome and manages to be quite fun despite how simple it tends to be. Even the hacking mini games here manage to be their own little side thing that I enjoyed quite a bit.
On playthrough two I felt like I was at times running through an Oddworld title whenever I had an opportunity to possess an enemy and put them to use through 9S's hacking mechanic. Although I honestly did far prefer playing as 2B since I absolutely love her design and her two weapon melee fighting style is way up my alley as far as my favorite things to do in games goes.
The presentation alone puts many other modern releases in regards to art direction, animation and a basic sense of good style to shame. I wouldn't hesitate to purchase any number of well made figures based on numerous character designs present in Automata. Whether its the direct and serious 2B or her dorky sidekick 9S, the quiet bad ass A2, the enormous towering first boss Engels or even the most basic and adorable fodder enemies you slaughter in the hundreds and their various larger and weirder incarnations its clear that some very talented artists did a lot to make these characters really feel special.
A strong sense of visually distinct elements really helps make the game feel like its own thing and in many respects how they are utilized feels like only a game can truly do them justice especially in the instances where you literally see the world from the perspective of a weak, clunky, slow and very vulnerable little robot compared to the sleek and crazy powerful Yorha androids.
While its particular take on post apocalypse environments generally isn't too original Nier at least avoids the pitfall of being nothing but bleak empty destroyed landscapes, with the lively Disney-World inspired robot Amusement Park being perhaps at the top of locals you will remember fondly here.
Story wise I obviously can't get too specific without spoiling a lot of what makes progressing through Automata so engrossing but at one point things have gone so bad that I was left with a very difficult choice in how to deal with a character I really liked a lot and it was probably one of the most heart wrenching painful things I've ever had to do in a video game. And I suspected something like this would be present in Automata eventually but I was amazed at how successful it was in getting me to feel the way I did. You just don't get that kind of thing in games the vast majority of the time, and I applaud Yoko and his crew for such a monumental achievement in interactive story telling.
I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say numerous instances of Automata's story almost brought a tear to my eye. Video games simply don't do this enough, and maybe I'm just too easily swayed by some very well acted anime-like melodrama but I honestly would be shocked if anyone could play this game and not feel something for the many events that take place by the end. Yoko Taro seems to really enjoy making players feel awful (in a good way!) and he crafts his writing and direction around this end goal so well that I wish to god more game devs would take note of his approach and his methods. I desperately crave more big budget games that can elicit a wide range of emotional responses far beyond the mere act of fun.
Granted the primary story driven heavy handed guilt the game heaps on to you slowly over your actions towards enemies could have been handled with more subtlety, I nonetheless felt appropriately shitty upon realizing of course that the "heroes" of this game world may in fact be, if not as bad as the "villains", at least no less grey than they turn out to be.
Nier Automata covers a lot of complex themes and concepts from the mere basic idea of unnatural sentience to whether or not artificial intelligence can be deserving of true empathy to the most basic forms of hatred and blind faith towards ones actions and beliefs being in the right despite how easily they can be proven wrong from another perspective. No one and nothing in this game world is truly heroic or truly evil and I absolutely adore that. So many story focused games could benefit from lessons learned from Automata.
Finally I must mention the sheer amazing music that consistently gets utilized to fantastic effect to the point even when certain quests end on certain tones the music will reflect whatever the end result happened to be, punctuating the emotional intention on the player with that much more beautiful intensity.
I simply cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed this game in so many respects. It is without question among my top ten video games of all time. It isn't perfect, no game is, but in the future if someone who doesn't play games wants to know why I love them so much this is a title I will proudly point them towards without a second of hesitation.
Do NOT skip this game.