Nier Automata is the latest action title from Platinum Games. They have teamed up with Square Enix and the enigmatic Yoko Taro for this latest venture, meaning it isn’t simply an action title. The game folds in elements from bullet hell shooters, 2.5D platformers, and open world adventure to create a mash-up of ideas that simply shouldn’t mesh as well as they do, combined with an engaging story that asks some apt questions about the nature of violence.
NA takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has been forced to take refuge on the moon after aliens deployed an army of robots to eradicate all life on Earth. In retaliation, humankind has created their androids to fight for the right to return home. It is a simple videogame premise on paper with no shortage of wacky moments and characters that form the base for a special videogame story that delves into some deep themes as the mysteries surrounding machines unfold.
It is important to point out at this juncture that NA is the sequel to 2009’s Nier, a game which I missed when it was released. There are continuing plot points and some returning characters, meaning there is definite benefit to playing Nier first. However, I found the game easy enough to follow without having all the information that I don’t believe it should be a barrier to diving right into Automata if you can’t track down a copy.
The game is peppered with moments where the two characters question their identities. Being aware of their existence as artificial lifeforms, 2B and 9S are under orders to remain unemotional at all times. There is an intriguing dichotomy between this order, and the full spectrum of human emotion they’re exposed to on their journey. Both characters become all the more fully realised in the moments where they abandon their mute emotionality, and slip away to experience something akin to being human in ways that explore the nature of artificial intelligence.
Much of this is down to the wholly new main cast. The game’s android protagonists 2B and 9S are sent on a mission to investigate and eliminate machines, and find themselves battling their way through an endlessly intriguing journey. They pair together wonderfully, providing a balance of pessimism and optimism in their respective responses to oftimes bizarre encounters with machines. They build a quick rapport with one another, and I developed an emotional attachment to them.
The way that machines move and speak allows the game to explore philosophical themes dealing with what it means to be human. Love, fear, hate, systems of government, aristocracy, and even religion are all visited in thought-provoking ways. They present a disturbing allegorical examination not only of the weaknesses of civilisation but also what it means when consciousness is bestowed upon beings that cannot understand nuance. Throughout the story, machines flee from combat in fear or strike out with rage-fuelled vengeance in ways that add an additional layer of importance to even seemingly inconsequential battles.
These ideas are furthered through the game’s antagonists. The machines have a variety of interesting designs, from the adorable bullet-shaped ones that hop about, to the terrifying goliath class bosses with cranes for arms. Despite being well designed, these robots could have ended up being simple cannon fodder had the game not given them personality through some stellar voice work and animation.
To provide a balance for philosophical storytelling and great character work is an incredibly impressive combat system. At its core this is a character action game, with a number of simple hack and slash combos in full 3D space. The four different weapon types all offer different options to the player. Combat bracers are glove weapons that lack reach but are quick and nimble, small swords offer a balance of speed and damage output, large swords are slow but powerful, and spears offer great reach and ranged attacks.
2B is able to wield two weapons at once and chain attacks together into devastating combos. The advantage I found in this is that when beginning a combo with a small sword, I could chain in my large sword to swing it at a much faster pace than would normally be possible.
My favourite part of the combat system is the game’s evade mechanic. On aesthetic value alone it deserves high praise, with 2B and 9S moving gracefully in whatever direction they are facing before pivoting once the animation is complete. It lasts long enough to perform a side to side shimmy and deftly dodge multiple projectiles, or to shift behind an enemy to make a quick counterattack. Ending an evade also sets your character into a sprint, making tactical retreats a single fluid movement.