NieR:Automata Reviews

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 756
Posted on 31 July 17 at 21:34
This review has 2 positive votes and 1 negative vote. Please log in to vote.
Nier: Automata is an action-RPG/shoot ‘em up (no, really) featuring ridiculously human robots fighting an endless war against machines created by aliens, in the hopes of defending the remnants of humanity from destruction.

Or is it?

Nier: Automata is a game full of plot twists, though some are rather predictable, as well as a number of big epic moments and a lot of attempts to pull on the player’s heartstrings, with varying degrees of success. Featuring three protagonists and almost two-dozen joke endings, as well as a couple of real ones, this is a game which goes on well past its welcome, and then some.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As an action RPG, this game has a fairly reasonable set of mechanics on the surface – you can run around shooting at enemies with your pod, a floating machine which follows you around, or cut them up in close combat with various weapons – spears, short swords, large swords, and gauntlets. Each class of weapon has its own attack pattern, and two of the characters can wield two weapons at the same time, allowing them to combo the weapons together, while the third character has a hacking ability which causes them to play a brief shoot-em-up game to deal their opponent damage.

Unfortunately, while these mechanics all sound well and good, it quickly becomes clear that the game doesn’t really work mechanically. The abundance of healing items means that you can pretty easily prevent your death by simply using them at will, and you get “plug-in chips” which can include various abilities to give yourself more hit points or regenerate by killing enemies, dealing damage, or simply standing around without taking damage. Given you can deal damage from range, it is pretty easy to kite most enemies around, and it is very easy to either be underleveled for the content (which makes it take a while to wear down enemies) or overlevelled (which trivializes the combat even more, though it is not actually all that hard to take down enemies even 20 levels above your own, though it is tedious to do so). There is a crafting system based on combining the plug-in chips into better versions of themselves, as well as upgrading the weapons and pods to deal more damage, and gathering the materials for such can become rather tedious, doubly so as you must upgrade all your weapons to the maximum level to face the optional (and hardest) boss in the game.

Alas, the game’s enemy variety leaves something to be desired; there’s maybe a couple dozen kinds of enemies in the game apart from bosses, but most of them are fundamentally either “stab you in close combat” or “shoot you from range”. Most of the machine lifeforms are slow and clunky, making for pretty samey combat and making it easy to simply run around kiting them and shooting them to death while avoiding their slow projectiles. By the first time you’ve beaten the game, you will likely be tired of the normal enemies, but don’t worry – you’ll get to fight them even more later on!

Because, you see, this game has an interesting definition of “beating” it. The first time you beat the game, it coyly encourages you to keep playing… at which point, you start the game over, except from the perspective of your sidekick character. This means that most of the content you experience will be the same, with only the beginning and end really differing, though you get even more tedious side-quests on his route (and the opportunity to finish up any you failed to finish the first time through).

Once you beat the game the second time through, and see that ending, the game ends with a screen seeming to promise a sequel… but it is not, it is actually the other two endings of the game, which you get through by playing through the game a third time, though this time, instead of replaying the first half of the game, instead you’re actually playing all-new content which you could only access by effectively playing the first half of the game twice. Joy.

If this game was nothing but the main story, and if it cut out a lot of the RPG mechanics, it would actually be a lot more interesting – the bosses are, on the whole, of fairly interesting design, and the core story is fairly decent, even if some of the characters you’re supposed to care about feel a bit underchracterized in the anime sort of way, where they suddenly get some focus right before they die. The second half of the game focuses half on a character who previously had gotten almost no focus at all, which feels kind of weird, and while by the end you do care about her, it ends up feeling less than tight in terms of writing. I would have liked to care a lot more about a lot of the characters, but they don’t get enough screen time for it, despite the game being well over 50 hours long, much of which is spent running around the world doing sidequests instead of advancing the main story, which is less than half of the game’s play time.

Sadly, you’re going to have to wade through a lot of junk to see all the diamonds in the rough here – and I just can’t say it is worth the time investment. I liked the beginning, I liked the middle, and I liked the end – but I didn’t like all the other stuff in the game, the various quests involving running around and doing things for people I don’t care about. If the game had focused those side quests on characterizing the main cast, it would have worked a lot better – but only a few actually serve such a function.

Overall, then, this isn’t something I can really recommend, but it isn’t because it is bad so much as that it doesn’t respect the player’s time. If you have time to burn, and are interested in something that is kind of artsy, this might be up your alley, and it is certainly a change from the usual fare in terms of game mechanics. But if you’re looking for a tight experience, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
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