The human condition is, by and large, one of the most common elements of fiction. Who are we? Why are we? How could we? When will we? All the incredibly vague questions with no seeming answers that are conveyed through stories about fighting villainy, finding love, or whatever else takes a creators fancy. For the most part, however, these stories tend to share a common element; people. The aforementioned who seek the answers. So what happens when you remove humanity from the equation, but retain the same questions? Short answer: Chaos. Long answer: Complicated.
Welcome to the remains of Earth, a planet long ago burnt out by the fires of conflict. Possessing a storied history that began in a what-if ending for Drakengard of all places, the world of NieR is not a fun one to call home. Having already dragged itself through a period of time involving rampaging demons, clones and disease, residents (and players of the first NieR) believed an upswing of society was finally around the bend. It wasn’t. Instead, humanity found itself in peril once more, due to a sudden alien invasion…yes, you heard right. Alien invasion. But not just any alien invasion mind you, no. Rather than do the dirty work themselves, the aliens sent forth their robotic army to decimate the planet and citizenry of Earth. Which they did. Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was the end for humanity, however I don’t think you took into account the populace’s plan for survival: Hiding on the Moon. Once again, you heard correctly, but let’s sum it up just to be sure. After surviving the events of the first game, brought about by the ending of another, Earth was invaded by a robotic alien army who killed a majority of humanity. The survivors escaped to the Moon and await the day when the robots are destroyed…by the highly advanced combat androids they left behind. Did I mention the highly advanced combat androids they left behind? Because you play as one.
Meet YoRHa No.2 Type B (otherwise known as 2B), a kickass combat android whose sole purpose is to eradicate the machine lifeforms who plague the remnants of Earth. About as stoic as you would expect one who has spend their existence at war to be, 2B shows some slight signs of compassion from the outset. It is from this slight spark that a great deal of the plot is born, causing her to question most that she experiences, although she outwardly overcompensates by stating the recommended behaviour of a soldier. A similar clash of conscience also occur within 9S, 2B’s partner and fellow android. His role, however, is a touch more on the audience surrogate side, as he does a far worse job of hiding his thought processes and shaken faith in the system in which he was created. What truly drives their evolution of thought however, is ironically that same exact reason in their enemies: Evolution. Early on in the game, the mechanical lifeforms you slay with reckless abandon, and a giant white katana, begin to speak. Broken sentences at first, calling out “Enemy” and “Fight” amidst their melee. But, as the fights continue, the sentences become far more haunting, turning to words such as “Why” and “Scared” as they lunge at you. Though this eventually culminates as the plot reveals itself, it is these early moments of mystery that truly sell the story, as it is the only time you are just as lost and frightened as 2B and 9S. As you darn well should be.
As far as the game itself is concerned, it plays pretty much how you’d expect something with this story to: Chaotically. From the outset, 2B possesses two weapons at a time, representing her light and heavy attacks. Combat, of course, entails utilising both, throwing in some charge strikes (holding down heavy), drop attacks (heavy from above) and frenzied finishers (hitting circle near downed, battered foes). The speed with which this all occurs is also fairly insane, with 2B racing around the battlefield like she’s running on Turbo Mode and the mechanical enemies showcasing their absolute inability to tire. Therefore, this is certainly one of the games where it is better to take out the weaker foes first, reducing their numbers as fast as you can. You do not want to face a pack of machines, as even the weak ones can lay into you pretty hard…which is honestly one of the most annoying portions of this game. Although dodging is in healthy supply and 2B can weave in and out of most strikes, the machine lifeforms fight like children, windmilling their arms as they slowly walk forward, often resulting in a single hit comboing into death. Should you be struck once, chances are you will be struck twice, then thrice, then so on and so forth. This is around the time that the gunner in the back unleashes a hail of death orbs at you and the knife wielder finishes it up with a stab for good measure. Add to this the fact that the game requires manual saving and you’ve got yourself a recipe for rage. This is all on Normal difficulty to mind you, I pray for the souls who bumped it up to Hard. May their sanity rest in peace.
For story based reasons I will leave mysterious, combat eventually comes to include Hacking and a lovely little thing known as Berserk Mode. Rather self-explanatory, Hacking allows machines to be taken over from within, resulting in a temporary ally or a smoldering mess of metal. Personally, I seldom utilised the take-over feature of Hacking, because I honestly did not know how to do it. Barring a few occasions where it worked, most of my hacking attempts resulted in the latter of the two options. Granted this was still effective and my lack of knowledge was probably fault of my own, but that’s how it went down. B Mode I used even less because, although it increases your attack strength dramatically, it lowers your defence and health to annoying levels. I honestly replayed the boss fight where it was introduced four times because, after using B Mode, I died immediately. It wasn’t until the third go around that I even realised the form lowered your health. That’s how quickly I died. On Normal. I…I was not happy at this point. Almost as unhappy at the inability to skip certain side mission cutscenes. Specifically ones involving footraces. That make you watch the intro each time you attempt it. Because you will have to attempt it a few times. Because you are racing against someone who can fly. And they do. In a race. Because that’s fair.
Speaking of, let’s briefly venture into the subject of side missions. Much like the first NieR, these optional outings offer a fair amount of detail about the world in which you explore. For example, undertaking a task from an amnesiac android reveals to you the existence of a branch of YorHa not mentioned elsewhere, whilst venturing deep into the forest reveals to you the lengths to which some machines have transformed since appearing on Earth. One particular quest has you wander here, there and everywhere, only to reveal one of the most one sided and twisted relationships that has possibly ever existed, in fiction or otherwise. In addition to these storied revelations, side quests also add a bundle of hours to the games playtime, as proceeding through the main story without them is a relatively swift escapade. Which can honestly help when you play through it multiple times…because you kind of have to.
What’s that? You thought playing through until you beat the final boss was enough? That it was the end of the game? You haven’t played NieR before have you? Because if there’s one thing NieR loves to do, apart form confuse you to the point of existentialism, it’s present multiple endings. How many? Well, you know the alphabet right? One for each of those lovely little letters. Yep. NieR: Automata has 26 endings. Now, before you mind shoots out of your skull in shock, only 5 of these are plot related, with the other 21 existing for fun. Ending G for example simply states that 9S wandered off when he shouldn’t have and was never seen again, after which the credits fly by at 1000% speed and you reload your Save File. A-E however is where you want to be. Unlike the first game however, accessing these letters is a simple as playing through the game…a few times. Do it once, you get A. Twice, you get B. Thrice, C or D, depending on an obvious choice at the end. E, however, requires you to finish both C and D branches, which is made easier by the Chapter Select option that appears afters your third spin around the world. Now, whilst this all may sound tedious, it’s actually pretty fun. Though playthroughs one and two are pretty darn similar, the third is something entirely different. Best of all, each run counts as a New Game +, meaning that you retain all weapons, experience points and side quest progress. Hence my statement that the lack of side quests making the game shorter is not inherently bad. However, if you though the first ending was a little confusing, you may wish to stay there…because it gets much more convoluted and a lot more bonkers.
Visually, and simply, speaking, NieR: Automata is pretty. Whilst the overgrown wreckage of a demolished city carries with it a certain sense of gloom and doom, it also presents a hauntingly beautiful background on which to play. There’s just a certain surrealism to seeing a moose grazing next to what was once a highway, or standing under a tree in the remnants of a shopping centre. Combine this with the unique nature of the mechanical lifeforms that wander aimlessly and you’ve got yourself a world that makes as much sense as it doesn’t…which actually makes it’s own kind of sense. Or it doesn’t. Either way, you can always distract yourself with the music that supports each of these visual locales, varying enough to be distinctly and immediately recognisable when they fade in upon entering a new zone. With subdued instrumentals representing the safety of base camp, a twisted tune supporting the amusement park that somehow still stands and powerful vocals bringing out the mysterious expanse of the desert, this game is honestly as nice to listen to as it is to look at. And the best thing is, the desert vocals only get slightly bothersome if you spend hours searching for those relics that guy wanted for his quest…I spent hours searching for those relics that guy wanted for his quest. Still a nice song though.
NieR: Automata is awesome. Not a professional sounding term, I know, but I can’t think of a better one. I’ve personally been looking forward to this game for a long time now and something like that tends to make me second guess my reviewer’s objectivity. I have also come to realise, however, that I do not care about that and simply wish to say that this game is a bundle of fun. Apologies if this review seems a skosh meta and self referential, I just want to make it clear that, rather than an objective recollection of how the game is, this is more me recommending this title as I would to a friend. The combat is fast paced, the plot is so ludicrous that you can’t help but smile and the story will either bring a tear or twitch to your eye as you try to understand it. Sure the enemies can be infuriating and there are more endings than ever need be, but that doesn’t subtract enough to make this game a negative. Heck, I even willingly deleted my Save Data because of how serenely happy Ending E made me feel. Sure I finished everything beforehand and got every trophy (which the game allows you to spend in-game currency to purchase after your third playthrough, an amazing feature that saves hours of grinding), but still, that’s not something every game makes you want to do. And whilst I know that my words may seem aggrandising and may not truly represent the game as it stands to others, they are as true as I can make them to me. I only hope that they’re true to someone else as well.
Fight. For the world Nier tried to save.