I have had this blog post nearly finished for over 3 weeks now, I have never been good at writing my thoughts down, and my writing skills aren’t good enough for me to have confidence in them, so writing reviews always resulted in a bit of anxiety and worry because I am a perfectionist and I do hate when I feel I can’t do something well enough. I discarded all that I wrote about Final Fantasy IX after recently finishing it but I really do like going back on the games, seeing what I thought back in the day and whether my opinion has changed so I don’t want to discard my thoughts on NieR:Automata. My thoughts might seem a little all over the place but I tried my best.
This review is spoiler free.
Recently, and by that I mean the last 2 years or so, I am feeling rather pessimistic about a lot of JRPGs. It’s my favorite genre, one that I simply can’t give up even though I know sometimes I do not have the time to play them. I don’t just rush the story and it’s done, no. I explore the world, I grind, I wanna get all the experience I can out of them. I used to be much more forgiving to games as well, still sometimes am, but after playing Final Fantasy IX (and taking my time with it) it got to me yet again… just how much a lot of JRPGs these days are missing. Not everyone might share my feelings regarding that but very rarely do new releases make an impression on me. A lot of my favorite JRPG series have also been disappointing me in recent years, resulting in realization that I want more out of my games. I don’t want just pretty characters, or just mediocre story, or just fun combat. I also want for the open world concept to stop being so popular but that’s a discussion for another day.
I’ve been hyped for NieR: Automata ever since its announcement. It looked pretty. Then they showed combat. It looked sick. I also find the first game’s story fascinating. Even though I have never played the first Nier game, I do have a lot of knowledge of it and had been interested in it for years, although it’s the OST that did it for me, nothing else. On the other hand, Drakengard 3 was bad enough for me to drop watching the playthrough so, despite my hype, I did consider that Automata might be just another JRPG that would fall into that ever-so-popular mediocre category. I figured I would give it a try since there was always Persona 5 coming out in April so might as well. I was wrong, while NieR: Automata didn’t become my favorite game ever, it has a special place for me. While a little flawed, I loved so much about it and it finally gave me the JRPG experience I was looking for.
I can honestly say I love NieR: Automata. I admire it. I like what it represents, I like how hard it tries, I love how obvious it is that effort was put into this game and I love how many JRPG elements it has that are missing in many games these days despite not having your typical JRPG gameplay. It could have easily gone with the crowd and made an action game with a few quests here and there but it didn’t.
As most of you probably already know, despite what some reviews and gamers say, it is not a 7 hours long game. 7 hours could only be the play time for Route A that was speed run. If you enjoy speed-running, hey, fine by me but it does not mean that’s the actual length of the game. NieR does have action combat but in its core it’s an RPG, meaning there is so much more to do and by that I don’t mean doing pointless side-quests that give you nothing but experience but I will cover that later.
The game has 26 endings in total, with 5 of them being main ones within its 3 routes. Endings A to E are the main endings, including the True Ending. Only by getting all of those can you experience what this game has to offer and its full story. The rest of the endings fall into “joke ending” category. Joke endings aren’t required for you to experience the game, at least from what I’ve experienced so far.
If you are not familiar with routes in games, they are quite common in Japanese games. That does not mean that finishing a route and getting one ending is the end of the game. Those games usually have a True End and multiple endings are one way out of many for developers to structure the story as a whole. There are different types of routes and different endings but in most cases they’re just alternative endings, whether it is a joke ending, or an ending you can achieve by siding with one of the characters due to your preference or views rather than going with the path the game wants you to take. However, at the end of the day, getting only one of the endings will not provide the full game experience that most people are looking for. For NieR: Automata, the side endings are humorous endings that happen unexpectedly. I won’t give examples so as not to spoil anyone but I felt that while some of them were amusing, some of them were far too random and due to the save system in Automata, they made me replay frustrating portions of the game and thus were completely unnecessary. You do, however, need to get endings A, B, C, D and E to experience the game as it was meant to.
I am known to be a bit slow with games, especially JRPGs, where my clock count can be pretty high for some reason (too much grinding? too much side-tracking?) but I will tell you that it took me 75 hours to beat all 3 routes and achieve all the main endings. However, I did 60% of quests, collected around 65% of the weapons at that point in time, talked to a lot of NPCs, finished at level 63, read files that I found etc. Because of that, do not get intimidated by seeing my game clock, I would say that 30 hours is probably how long it takes to beat the game without rushing and enjoying it casually without aiming to get everything.
I started to think “I put so much time into this game even though my backlog is so overwhelming”, and sometimes I feel that maybe, just maybe, I should stop investing as much time in games as I do. On the other hand, I feel like NieR: Automata really rewards you for your efforts.
You know how a lot of quests in most genres these days are fetch quests existing solely for the reason of having side-quests in your game and giving you some decent EXP? ‘Cause you know, everyone loves pointless and empty side-quests, right? NieR is one of those games where side-quests are a part of the world, they are a part of the experience. Nearly every side-quest I have done so far contributed so much to the world building and my overall experience with the game. I honestly don’t think I would have felt the way I do about the game if I hadn’t completed them before beating the whole story. The story itself is good but there was just some sort of attachment that the side-quests have built in me that made every aspect of the story and my understanding of it deeper. Not to mention that I think you get to see and like the characters more by seeing their reactions to certain quests, or even the change in their behavior and views as you progress with certain tasks. These side-quests make you realize that the world is shown to our characters in a very black and white manner. They have a mission they have to fulfill, they know why they are doing it and they know what and who is their enemy. They do not question, or rather, they are not supposed to… but they do. They are supposed to be fearless soldiers who exist solely to fulfill their duty. Side-quests build the world in the sense that you can see what is going on in the shadows, how certain androids acted as how they’re not supposed to (and, in return, showing that things aren’t anywhere as black and white as the characters are made to believe). I do wonder how I would feel about the story if I had beaten it without the quests but a part of me feels that my experience might have been a little more shallow.
These side-quests also made me pay more attention to the NPCs. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that all of them were memorable, because they weren’t, but the quests made you feel for them or at least be more involved in their lives and in the past they might’ve experienced on earth. They also let you see the very humane side of the characters, which they are not exactly supposed to have either. The quests are on-going too, which means you follow the lives of some NPCs throughout the game. I would often find myself coming back to certain areas and checking up on the NPCs that have some things going on for them only to see if anything has changed. Sometimes they wouldn’t appear in the same spot anymore and you would wonder what happened to them. Whether they are out there waiting for you to complete a quest for them related to their story or perhaps something happened to them after they displayed worry. I wouldn’t claim that NPCs were handled better compared to other games, especially given their generic and in-distinctive designs, but nevertheless, they did leave an impression on me.
Characters & Writing
The main characters, on the other hand, have amazing designs and are quite memorable, but are far from being the best characters I have seen in video games. At first they feel very stereotypical: a cold, no-nonsense soldier, a more emotional but intellectual side-kick (at first), and a rough/wild rogue character. As you play more of the game and see their reactions to what is happening around them the characters start feeling more realistic and believable. I think what I actually loved about them though, is the subtlety in their writing. It’s not in your face, they don’t pull tropes down your throat but instead their reactions are subtle, especially in the cases of 2B and A2. By talking to NPCs and doing quests, you can see that they are not quite what they try to be. This is what I like to see, I want to be able to read and analyze characters, seeing these small reactions where I can even miss some things/aspects about a character’s personality rather than controlling tropes that we get enough of as it is. The one thing I can say is that, despite A2 being my favorite character in the game, I did feel like she didn’t get quite enough attention from the writers. She is still a very appealing character and a type of character I would love to see more of but while I have no questions about 2B and 9S, I have tons about A2, especially considering she had more of a past than the other two. I also already read the files about her I could find in the game so unless there is more, I find it slightly lacking. I usually am not fond of story DLCs but I would have loved to get one regarding A2 and her past. I do plan on getting 100% after finishing Persona 5 so hopefully there will be more to find.
The bonds between the three androids was also something I am rather fond of, more so than the characters themselves. It was both heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time. I think what made it so special to me was that YoRHa units are designed to prioritize missions no matter what instead of involving feelings, they are shown as combat machines but yet they very much display humane feelings, compassion and slight doubt, even if they do end up doing what they were ordered to do. The concept of AIs or machines displaying human emotions over time isn’t uncommon, in fact it’s a popular trope that doesn’t appeal to everyone, including myself. However, in NieR: Automata, it really got to me. Perhaps it’s because they are not developing human emotions but rather, they have them from the start but we are made to believe otherwise. Very often you forget that these are not human characters, these are AIs, robots, machines and whatnot.
I also can’t emphasize how much I appreciate the fact that out of 3 main characters, the 2 female ones are combat types while the male character is more of an intellectual type. I really like seeing role swaps like this, especially since it’s so well done in Automata. All 3 characters are strong the way they are, they support each other and all are good in their fields. Even though 9S is not a combat type, he doesn’t fall behind, his hacking is quite helpful and he helps 2B in many occasions without making 2B seem helpless or dependent on him in any way. Yoko Taro seems to like writing independent and capable female characters and I respect that. The only thing I hate regarding the characters is the fanservice for 2B and no one will ever convince me otherwise. She is gorgeous and I think you can appreciate her beauty and body without having to rely on fanservice.
The story and its writing, for the most part, are really good. It’s a story of a tough world where all hope seems to be lost, yet you are fighting for that very hope. I am a sucker for these kinds of post-apocalyptic settings in general so that might be a part of it, too. The way they handled the story so that you don’t necessarily need to have played the first game is also done quite well, I thought. While I am familiar with the story in gestalt & replicant, which might have helped, I didn’t really feel like I was lost. The game stands on its own and the only part that might be confusing to gamers to who this game is the first contact with Taro’s work are the files you collect throughout the game referring to the prequel; I imagine it might be quite confusing if you don’t know anything of its past story. I only had questions regarding two individuals, otherwise it was fine. I did feel, however, that the endings were underwhelming considering the intensity of certain situations, boss battles and the third route. It didn’t leave much of an impact on me, especially considering a lot of people ended up being emotionally effected by them. That is to say, the True Ending and the sequence just before that was handled really well. Yet again, the ending had the previously mentioned subtlety that I loved so very much. I don’t want to say much here not to spoil but I felt like this is the perfect conclusion of the game.
I won’t talk much about the graphics as they are not the primary matter for me. Automata does look a bit like a late PS3 game at times but to be completely honest, the world looked gorgeous to me nevertheless and I couldn’t care less. When the game has so much to offer, graphics hardly matter to me. The game’s interface is also very elegant and stylish to me. It’s clear, suits the game, with neat layout. The only problem I had, which was also an issue with Final Fantasy XV, was the font size. I am not sure if it’s just too small or whether my sight is getting worse but sometimes it was hard to read the text. Due to that, I must say how glad I am that the English voice acting in the game is so good. These days it’s almost a norm for me to go with Japanese audio, not because I want to be the cool kid but because in a lot of newer games, I find the English audio to be lacking, amateurish and characters sound flat, even if they try to act emotionally, which is something I accept for indie games but not for bigger titles.
The one thing that impressed me in Automata within only few hours of play was its gameplay. It’s so fun, fast, dynamic and rewarding. The huge boss fights make you feel as if you did something impressive only because of the sheer size of the bosses you have to fight. I did dislike the camera angle at times, especially during one boss fight, where you can’t really see when you’re going to get hit and where the drops are to collect.
The gameplay was, however, very punishing, or so I thought… but that is precisely why I enjoyed it so much. I am not going to say I am a hard-core gamer who will always play on hard mode for the challenge. I always play my games on normal mode but often I feel like the game doesn’t require me to put much thought into my equipment, set ups and whatnot. Yes, I could try playing harder modes but I don’t want to get frustrated when they usually don’t offer anything new to learn but rather require you to farm more. This game throws you into a very dynamic and action packed sequence, gives you some tutorials but overall there isn’t much time to learn how things work without having to use a couple of potions unless you’re just really good at these kinds of games. Not only that, in the prologue section of the game you can’t save either and it’s rather long… I had to replay it because I thought I used up too many potions. The game warns you that auto-save feature does not exist in this title but it proved to be very annoying during that part. I ended up appreciating it though, it gives you a little bit of a challenge and reminds you of the PS2 era where there was no auto-save and you had to play carefully till you reach another save point. I do understand why people do not like the lack of the feature though, a PS4 game without an auto-save seems quite ridiculous but overall I really like it. There were times where you had to go through really frustrating sequences in the game and being forced to repeat them was hell but again, it did make you think twice about what you are doing in the game instead of button mashing.
The punishing side of the gameplay reminded me a lot of Resonance of Fate, a game I know a lot of people give up on due to its initial difficulty. But the more you progress, the more you learn the game’s battle system and all the additional gameplay elements, getting better and better at the game the more you play. It might seem like a really random comparison though but I felt like in both of these games the initial difficulty seemed overwhelming but both possess unique systems you have to utilize in order to become better.. In a sense, levels aren’t enough, you have to utilize everything to make the games seem easy…. or so I felt, anyhow! I did struggle during the first route run. I picked one weapon that I thought would be strongest, upgraded it when I could and that’s it. During my second run, I utilized the chip system to its fullest whenever I could; it took some getting used to but I slowly started to get the hang of fusing, finding the best chips for the weapons I decided to use for certain characters, made chip slots for each of them with different chips… it ended up costing a lot but it was so fun to learn, to decide on the best chips for the best weapons and play-styles, it made the game so much easier and not only because I spent hours grinding but because I took the time to learn the game and get good at it, and it felt so good. Let’s just hope it will work just as perfectly on the secret bosses. That’s probably why it reminds me so much of my experience with Resonance of Fate, customizing guns took forever to learn and perfect but once you do, it makes the game’s difficulty a joke. Again, not everyone might agree with me but in the end, I ended up feeling like playing RoF yet again.
Another thing I loved is the whole idea behind weapons. I like how, to upgrade weapons, you need certain parts that you can’t get till a certain point in the game which, obviously, isn’t rare at all but you can’t hope to just max out your weapon early on to help you with tougher enemies, adding a bit more difficulty to the game. However, the great part about the weapon system is its idea of each weapon having a story behind it. Every single weapon in the game has a story, and you can learn about it bit by bit by upgrading it. With each upgrade, and each weapon can be upgrade to level 4, you unlock next part of the story. Once you reach the max level, you can learn the entire story behind the weapons you have been using the whole game. I absolutely love that feature, I loved reading the new bits of the story whenever I upgraded my main weapon, and suddenly I realize I somehow got attached to it. I do plan on unlocking all the stories if I can do that without spending countless hours on farming, hopefully I will manage.
I think the only things I can say that I truly disliked about the game were the mecha sequences, as well as the idea of playing through the same story sequences the second time. For route B, you have to play through the same story sequences but as a different character, therefore, most of what you see feels like replaying the game but then certain situations that are 9S only are available to you, so you can see what 9S was up to while you were playing through the game as 2B only. The only difference is that now, certain story segments have more story to them. You unlock new cut-scenes that actually give you more backstory and depth to what you played through before. On one hand, it’s an interesting take on presenting the world while applying multiple endings but I have never been a fan of the idea. I don’t like having to play through the same sequences or entire game to get a few more scenes but it feeling the same otherwise, which is why my second playthrough took longer than it would have. I do not mind replaying games right away but I need to want it, not be forced to do so. I wouldn’t say it’s enough of a drawback to make me say that it took my overall enjoyment of the game away from it but I did find it a slight annoyance. On the other hand, there was something in the fact that I got to play through the same story, fight the same bosses, things I haven’t had an impression of the first time and suddenly learning there was story behind it and suddenly it makes more sense. So I would say I am 50-50 on that part of the game.
Nier:Automata is definitely a game I would be fast to recommend to most people. If you like the designs, if you are looking for a game with action combat, if you’re only looking for a good story, Automata has it all. If you don’t care about the story but like the combat, you will enjoy it. If you want a good story but aren’t good with action combat, do not fret, you will enjoy it too. The game has an easy mode, as well as auto chips that you can equip at any time on easy mode, such as auto-evade chip that lets you evade all incoming damage and thus, not stopping you from enjoying the game only because you can’t progress. As long as you are willing to go through all the endings, the game is definitely worth picking up. I can see myself adoring the game for years to come and picking it up again.