I’m a total sucker for sci-fi stuff. Throw in a future dystopian post-apocalypse and robots, and you can pretty much just take all my money. Enter Nier: Automata, a sci-fi game set about 8000 years from now in a future dystopian post-apocalypse. And while the date is mostly irrelevant and kind of uninteresting on its own, how its world came to be most certainly is not. It starts in one of the five different endings of Drakengard 2, the predecessor of the original Nier (one of them anyway), and, subsequently, the fourth possible ending of Nier itself (… it’s complicated).
Basically, there was an alien invasion of Earth. And the aliens built robots, and then the robots killed everybody on the planet. Well, almost all of them, anyway. A handful of people manage to escape to the Moon, like you do, and then starting building their own robots to take back Earth from the alien robots.
Our story initially revolves around two of these human robots – YoRHa No. 2 Model B or just “2B”, a combat robot designed to fight absolutely anything, from tiny, simple little robots to massive, skyscraper-sized robots, and YoRHa No. 9 Model S (“9S”), a recon robot with a happy go lucky attitude and the loyalty of a puppy. I could go on about how little I liked them both in the beginning, but what’s more important is how much I liked them in the end. One of the ends, anyway. I say one because, like its older siblings, this game has a few of those – 26 to be exact. And you don’t need to have played any of the earlier games to get all of them (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect 3).
On the subject of endings, you’ll be glad to know that you don’t have to finish the game 26 times to get all of them either, though it will require about 50 to 70 or so hours of your time to do so. The endings are more about bringing a particular narrative to a conclusion than completely different endings, however – for example, completing a particular side quest may or may not produce a surprise ending.
The game also sets itself up for immediate, rewarding replayability. Once you’ve finished it for the first time and start over, your playable character switches from 2B to another character, and throughout your playthrough, you are exposed to the story from the perspective of the other character. You’ll see a part of the story you would never have seen as 2B, and more blanks will be filled in. What I thought were meaningless additions to the game with certain characters that come and say something interesting or incredibly profound, then basically ninja-bomb themselves out of the rest of the playthrough leaving gaping plot holes, SUDDENLY MADE COMPLETE SENSE. Subsequent playthroughs will deliver more detail to an already rich story, one that will have lore seekers neck deep in fascinating tales almost forgotten over time (it’s been nearly 8000 years, so there is quite a bit to dig up).
The actual gameplay in Nier: Automata, like its story, is a thing of ever-changing beauty. I expected the entire game to be in third person, and while most of it was, a lot of it isn’t. One minute you’re in a massive third person brawl, and the next you’re playing what is essentially a 2D platformer, trying to escape a factory currently occupied buy a robot suicide cult. There are also several very tricky parts where you’re flying in a ship, in scenarios that range from a 1942-style vertical scrolling arcade shooter to an almost Macross-like isometric bullet hell. The camera angles sometimes catch you a bit by surprise, but never throw you off to the point of being unable to figure out how you’re actually oriented. These transitions are seamless, and add some variety to a fight that would otherwise be relatively generic, so props to PlatinumGames for that extra polish.
Nier: Automata is essentially an RPG, though, with a strange upgrade system. You upgrade yourself with a series of chips that you can socket, and you can buy more storage to socket more chips, and you can combine chips to upgrade them. There’s a bit of Dark Souls in there too, as dying will drop all your non-essential chips with your robo-corpse, and you’ll have to retrieve them. Die before retrieving them, and you can kiss them all goodbye (I almost cried over this when I died late game without getting my things). There are also ample weapons to be found around the world, each with its own moveset to suit any gameplay style.