I wanted people from my group to also play the game, to the point where I promised them a free game of equal value if they picked up Nier:Automata, played through the whole thing, and said they didn’t feel it was worth full price. I REALLY wanted them to play it.
A Rambling Sort of Review of Nier:Automata and to a Lesser Extent Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
How I started playing Nier:Automata is interesting to me (and probably only me) in that I was desperately trying to play through Dragon Age: Inquisition again but was bored senseless with the monotonous, MMO-inspired systems of the game. I decided I needed a change of pace. Why this is interesting is that the last time I tried to play DA:I, I got to about the same point in the game before getting distracted by yet a third title – Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. In both cases, I absolutely fell in love with the distraction as I quietly removed DA:I from my playlist in favor of something much more enjoyable.
The relevance here (again, probably only of interest to me) is that Dragon’s Dogma and Nier:Automata are the first Japanese games I’ve enjoyed since… well, I think the last one was The World Ends with You on the Nintendo DS, a whopping ten years ago, on a handheld system twice removed from the current generation. Before that, we’d have to go back to the Playstation 2. It wasn’t always like this though. I grew up playing both Western and Japanese games – the Western stuff on MS-DOS and the Japanese imports on the NES and SNES. I’d oscillate between grid-based dungeon crawls on my PC and games like Mario, Zelda, and dozens of JRPGs on the consoles.
I’d stopped playing video games for a few years by the time Final Fantasy 7 was announced, but I was interested enough to save every bit of money I had for four months to be able to afford the game and a PS1 to play it on. It seemed like a watershed moment for the genre that promised so many new and exciting things to come, and my love of JRPGs was rekindled with the game’s twisting plot points and visually stunning presentation. Except it didn’t work like I’d envisioned. I found that with each new JRPG, my enthusiasm waned, and by the time the PS2 was well into its lifecycle, I was looking toward the PC and older console games again, going back to classic JRPGs on the SNES more and more. The new batch of games weren’t bad, but they felt tired and slow to me, spending hours on tedious plot with minimal gameplay, or excruciatingly slow tutorials that seemed to go on for far too long and forced you to do menial activities to advance a vanilla plot about saving the world yet again.
How far am I in this? 400+ words already? Cool! Making progress.
This is sort of a review of Nier:Automata, by the way. I wasn’t planning on writing a review for the game. Hell, I had no idea if I’d even enjoy the game when I picked it up. It was a bit of an impulse buy to get me away from DA:I, much like Dragon’s Dogma last time around. The reason I’m writing this now is because I play in a weekly tabletop RPG with some friends, including the editor of this website – Matt “Steerpike” Sakey. Matt and a few of the others were going on about Persona 5 like they have EVERY SINGLE WEEK since the game’s release*, and wanting to inject some of my own excitement for what I was playing, I started talking about Nier:Automata.
* Normally I’d insert some cutting, fabricated story about Armand at this point – his predilection for goats, his hatred of ice cream, something. But it wouldn’t be fair this time. To say that Brandon, Kristine, and I have “gone on” about Persona 5 is a crescendo of understatement; we’ve utterly dominated the conversation. Armand has shown the patience of a saint as the GM and frankly so have the other non-Persona-playing players. We keep telling them that the obvious solution is to start playing Persona 5 so they can join the conversation, but so far we’ve met with limited success. (–S)
When I first mentioned the game to them, I’d only played it a short while and I was interested, but not yet affected as I eventually would be. It was more like “oh, I started playing this game. It’s a bit weird, and there are way more panty shots than I expected (when you expect zero, anything more seems like a lot), but it’s pretty fun to play.” By the following week, this had escalated to “holy crap, this game is a load of fun to play, and is actually well written and interesting plot-wise!” And by the time I beat the game, I was pretty much ranting about it with far greater fervor than any of the group’s Persona 5 discussions†.
† It’s true! He’s shown great fervor. I’d go so far as to call him ‘fervorful.’ If that’s a word. Fervorious? (–S)
I wanted people from my group to also play the game, to the point where I promised them a free game of equal value if they picked up Nier:Automata, played through the whole thing, and said they didn’t feel it was worth full price. I REALLY wanted them to play it. Finally, tiring of my babbling, Matt suggested that he’d play the game provided I wrote a 2000 word review for his site (I’m only at about 700 so far? Really?!) So here we are. My review of Nier:Automata‡.
‡ I even sweetened the pot by offering to forgive his outstanding debt of $7.42 if he hooked a brother up with some sweet, sweet Armand-prose for the site. (–S)
Let’s go back to Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen though (wait, what? –S). Very much like Nier:Automata, this was an impulse buy that was meant to be a short distraction from the monotony of DA:I. I knew nothing about the game, but the screenshots looked kind of interesting, and I watched a 10 minute Youtube review for the title before making the plunge and picking it up. DD:DA is a weird fucking game. It’s terribly flawed, to the point where most people who pick it up will quickly give up in the face of wildly unpredictable difficulty spikes, a mind-numbingly dull story, comically bad voice acting, and a near impenetrable set of rules and game mechanics that DD:DA never bothers explaining to the player. It’s a hot mess. It’s also become one of my all time favorite games, because despite its myriad of issues, it’s just a lot of fun. Once you get past all its problems, it has one of the most exciting combat systems I’ve enjoyed, to the point where the combat can carry the whole game. The various classes all play differently, and you can switch between them freely, meaning one minute you’re a warrior swinging massive swords around and climbing onto the backs of thirty-foot tall monsters to stab them in the eye, and the next minute your wielding spells like massive tornadoes that tear up the entire countryside. It’s really something else!
DD:DA was Capcom’s attempt at doing a Western style RPG, and while they didn’t exactly pull that off, they created a strange hybrid that feels like neither a JRPG or the Skyrim-esque open world game it’s trying to mimic, but something entirely its own. It was refreshing, and exciting, and it opened me up to considering more Japanese titles for future gaming. It was also everything Dragon Age: Inquisition wasn’t. DA:I has some great writing and plot stuff going on, but god damned if it doesn’t waste time with what feels like thousands of meaningless fetch quests that don’t serve the game at all, and only distance the player from the game’s stronger aspects. I’d loved Dragon Age: Origins (played through it all 4-5 times), and while I wasn’t wild about Dragon Age 2, it was fun and engaging enough for me to see it through to the end. My two serious attempts at Inquisition were both massive failures though, leading instead to me playing much better games, so there is that.
1,100 or so words. More than halfway through and I haven’t even talked about Nier:Automata yet, except to mention the dumbest thing about the game, the panty shots. This is intentional. The problem with writing about the game is that I think the best way to play it is to go in with as little information as possible. This is a game with a lot of tricks in store for the player, and I really don’t want to spoil it at all. So I need to write about the game without actually telling you anything specific and that doesn’t take two thousand words. Maybe I can do it with the 750 or so remaining though. So without further ado, here is why you should play Nier:Automata.
It’s so good, ohmygodguysseriously. Nope. Let’s try that again.
Nier:Automata is a sort-of sequel to the game Nier, which came out on the PS3 and XBOX 360. Nier was a weird spin-off of another game, called Drakengard, a sort of beat-em-up meets grand-scale warfare plus sometimes you get to fly around on a dragon and fuck shit up. It’s an interesting and neat game that’s largely unplayable due to terrible controls, and if the game designer is to be believed, at times intentionally tiresome gameplay. Drakengard has a bunch of endings, and if you follow the story from its best ending, you get to the next Drakengard game. If you follow the plot to its worst ending, however, it leads to Nier. Oh, and Drakengard starts off some time after the events of Drakengard 3 (an arguably much better game) which also has a bunch of endings leading to different plot lines… it’s… complicated.
Nier’s plot is absolutely bananas and has many different endings just like all these other games, and one of those endings (which, if I understand correctly, is mostly detailed in a Japanese book called Grimoire Nier) leads to Nier:Automata, which takes place, like, thousands of years after Nier but is still very much tied into the plot of that game and the two mentioned Drakengard games§…
§ What is happening I don’t even (–S)
…look, you don’t really need to know any of this. You can still enjoy Nier:Automata as I did, ignorant even of the existence of all the other games. If you have played those other games, you’ve probably already played Nier:Automata as well, and don’t need me to tell you any of this.
So why should you play Nier:Automata? Well, in many ways it’s a lot like the first Nier game in the way it tells its stories, and mixes up gameplay mechanics from various unrelated genres, and has, like, just the best god damned music. It’s also developed by PlatinumGames, a studio that knows how to make a hell of a tight gameplay experience; indeed, it completely
trumps eclipses the previous game’s near unworkable controls.
Wait, was the previous game Nier, or Drakeng… I’m so confused. I like what you did with “trump” there, though. There’s a reason we’re friends! (–S)
Nier:Automata is an absolute joy to play. Controlling your characters in combat is fast and visually impressive with wild, cinematic action in every fight. Despite Platinum’s reputation for making tough-as-nails games, Nier:Automata is carefully balanced to be approachable by both casual gamers and masochistic lovers of impossible challenge modes. The music, as mentioned, is phenomenal, and can be almost overwhelming in its pure emotional expressions of joy and sorrow. The writing is tight and consistent, with characters that are compelling and believable badasses with all the right sorts of flaws to bring out their humanity. It can be surprisingly funny, while wallowing in much heavier emotions at other times. The graphics aren’t mind blowing, but even in their simplicity the game world is impressive and fun to explore. It feels like a game that was made on a limited budget, but one that used that budget to its absolute maximum effect.
Its strongest aspect, though, is how it tells its story. Not specifically the story itself (though that’s fantastic) but the way in which it tells the story. The game’s director and writer, Yoko Taro, who was also responsible for the aforementioned games that led up to this title, has an understanding of video games as a storytelling medium that is unlike the vast majority of game designers out there. Nier:Automata doesn’t play out like a movie where you control the fight scenes but are otherwise watching a linear story. It doesn’t give you decision trees that affect the outcome of the plot but are largely just an updated Choose Your Own Adventure book from the 80s. It’s not an open world where you can do anything at your own pace while ignoring the main plot like a Fallout or Elder Scrolls game. In fact, for the first ten hours or so, it’s just your usual video game, not too different from the first example of what it isn’t listed above – fight some stuff, get some plot, fight more stuff, get more plot, so on. Then you reach a point in the game where many people are likely to think “well that was fun, what game should I play next.”
When you hit this point, the publisher Square Enix takes a moment to tell you “hey, I know you think you’re done with this game, but maybe keep playing?” So you keep playing, and you see some stuff you saw before, but it’s different now. I don’t want to say more on this because I’ve already said WAY TOO MUCH, but you should take their advice. If you see it through to its proper ending, you’ll find a story that draws upon every aspect of the video game as a storytelling medium, used expertly to push what this game is from a fun action RPG to a truly unique experience. Well, actually, the original Nier did a lot of the same tricks as this one, but there is a greater sense of refinement here. And also, like, nobody really played the original Nier so this should be a new experience for most people.
Yoko Taro designs his games so that they constantly surprise you and up the stakes. Every time you think you’ve seen what Nier:Automata has to offer, he’ll throw something new into the mix that pushes everything to new heights and has the player exclaiming “what the fuck!” out loud as they stare dumbfounded at their screen. At least, that’s how it played out with me. It’s a tight experience from beginning to end, crafted with love and a master game designer’s 20+ years of experience. This is the product of a lot of skilled people working together under one creative genius’s guidance to produce something unlike just about anything most of us have previously seen. Not only is it worth your time to play this game, regardless of what sorts of video games you prefer, but I encourage anyone interested to buy it at full price and let the gaming world know that we as gamers want something more than just Hollywood movies with computer graphics and repetitive gameplay.
Nier:Automata single-handedly restored my faith in Japanese games (But… what about Persona 5? –S). I’ve explored dozens of other titles from other Japanese designers since playing this one, looking to see what else I might have missed since moving firmly into the world of Western video games, and while I think Nier:Automata stands out above the vast majority of these other games, I do feel like my gaming options have expanded greatly. I can’t give the same blanket recommendation for Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen the way I can with Nier:Automata, but that too is worth looking into if it sounds at all interesting.
As for Dragon Age: Inquisition… I wonder if I’ll ever see that thing through to the end. Stupid single-player MMOs.
Okay. There you have it. Well over 2,000 words. Now go play Nier:Automata, Matt!
Honor demands that I do so, and also that I publicly manumit Armand from the burden of $7.42 he’s owed me since forcing a bunch of us to buy Terraria. Armand, sir, your wish is my command! It may have to wait until I’m done with Persona 5, but in the scheme of things, that’ll be just a blink. I hear Persona 5 is a really short game.
Send manifestos about how awesome Persona 5 is to Armand.