Nier: Automata is technically a sequel, although only in the loosest sense of the word. The lack of connection to its predecessor was actually not even one of its most unusual qualities. And, for the record, I mean all of the following things with love – but, damn, Nier: Automata really went out of its way to be unapologetically complicated, melodramatic, and off the wall.
Almost every moment of the game explores heavy themes
with its triplet cast of nearly-emotionless androids, and it is often so vague
that I was rarely certain what was going on. Its bleak, apocalyptic setting is
anything but inviting. It constantly reminds you with its barren wasteland that
9000 years had all but eroded humanity’s mark on the Earth.
Depressingly, as the convoluted plotlines of the three main characters unravels, you learn that all that seems to remain of humanity appears to be some of the very parts of our nature that also lead to our own demise. To bury the point, Nier actually features 26 different possible “ending” scenes, with most being collected post-game to show more of the possible soul-crushing outcomes.
The gameplay, though, is what really pulled me in shortly after the opening scene. I have played nothing quite like it before. I absolutely love it.
To explain its unique appeal is difficult. Nier is mostly a third-person action RPG with occasional 2D shooter sequences, but that description is really quite limiting.
It has a flashy combat system that I would compare to Final Fantasy XV. Instead of holding a button to do all of the badass moves, you have to learn all of the tricky mechanics. It has a flying robot pod buddy that you can equip with projectile weapons such as machine guns, lasers, and missiles. You can even fist-bump him after a tough battle. It also has wild boars and moose that you can chase down and actually ride through the large open-world areas, from side quest to side quest.
Throughout each of its three story arcs, I learned the skills of all three protagonists: 2B, 9S, and A2. The first act of the game stars 2B, whose abilities are well rounded and allow you to learn most of the combat system. Along with her Pod buddy, 2B feels adequately equipped. You can switch between two different melee weapons, which allows for a lot of flexibility.
Perhaps this was why I really struggled to enjoy the second act. 9S is arguably the most likeable character, but his combat skills are limited to a single weapon. The trade-off is his hacking ability, which is pretty nifty, although it will quickly get repetitive.
Hacked enemies take a massive amount of damage, and special Pod chips can be equipped to cause them to explode. You can even equip special chips that allow you to remote control enemy machines or reprogram them to attack the other machines. While all of this is pretty cool for a while, it got old, especially because there were a lot of tricky plot-related hacking sequences.
The third act wraps up the game with A2, whose combat skills are easily the most powerful and dominant. A2 can even antagonize her opponents and go into a powered-up frenzy – appropriate, considering the character was basically cast as the ruthless and nearly perfect version of the 2B series android.
By the end of the story, I had somewhat resigned any hope of putting together all of the pretentious philosophical references, but the theme and message of the plot were nonetheless apparent. It was worth the ride, to say the least. To this day, Nier: Automata remains one of my favorite PS4 RPGs.
If I haven’t already explained it on-the-nose enough, Nier is basically the dream game for every pretentious, cyberpunk-loving, Pocky-eating anime fan you ever knew in high school – the guy who had a katana hanging above a bookshelf that was cluttered with obscure sci-fi manga and some basic philosophy books about existentialism.