Well the headline says it, I love this game. "But why Scroo? We need to know." I hear none of you asking but I'm going to tell you anyway. Below is my review for yet another game I played and praise a lot.
Alright so as I said from my early impressions article, NieR: Automata, is something that I looked at as interesting but only really paid it mild attention way back when I was first hearing about it in late 2015. I've had no previous experience with NieR or the Drakengard series so this was my first taste and I'm glad I decided to snap it up. I'll just get it out of the way here and say, this title is worth full price for whichever platform you're playing on. Yes it's got its issues and I'll go into them, but the good outweighs the bad and shines resplendent as the noonday sun over it.
This is a story set far in the future about an Earth that has been abandoned by humanity after an alien invasion that left hostile, self-replicating machines behind in their place. Mankind couldn't hope to stand against them so those who survives fled to the Moon and colonized.
YoRHa, a fighting force of sentient androids were created to wage war against the machines and reclaim Earth for humanity. They are fiercely loyal, can live, fight, and survive completely autonomously. Hence Automata. YoRHa itself is not an acronym and has no special meaning that I could find. A translation saying that it means "passing leaf" is out there and the game's director, Yoko Taro, says that there's a reason for the word to be shown as it is but it's a secret that he's keeping. Also in the same vein NieR being shown with a capitalized "R" has no meaning other than being stylistic.
Right to business then. NieR has a large cast of characters and most of them are pretty well fleshed out. Even the side characters and a couple of the games bosses are deeper than one would think about normally.
The main characters are the female android YoRHa battle unit, 2B and the male android scanner unit, 9S. I want to say straight off the top that I consider 2B to be one of the strongest female protagonist roles that I've seen in a long time. Her development throughout NieR is really something to see for yourself. She's pragmatic because she has to be. It's regulation. But there's always a hint of higher emotional connection to her world and a few times when it comes out in force. It's clear from the start that she and in fact YoRHa are not to be trifled with. They will perform their duties and sacrifice themselves if they're asked. I think it's also important to note that there is some sexualisation of the female characters but 2B nor anyone else is ever objectified in the game.
2B and other "B" units are fighters. 9S is a scanner, like other "S" units. He's used to working alone and scouting enemy positions while providing support for front line field units. He's also pretty excited to have a partner for this mission and 2B's friendship with 9S evolves over the course of the games story. They each have "O" units, operators that they report to back at a space station called "The Bunker" that orbits Earth.
Secondary characters mostly include members of the Resistance. They're a bunch of androids who live and work on Earth providing intelligence and helping YoRHa with supplies and serve the purpose of quest givers and store fronts as well as upgrading equipment. A few of them start feeling like friends that you'll miss when you have to move on.
All the android characters are so well written that they feel almost but not quite human. That symbolism is even in their character models, the eyes are the windows to the soul. YoRHa wear blindfolds.
Speaking of Symbolism
So I know this whole section might seem like a spoiler but I promise it isn't.
There's a lot of religious imagery in NieR. Some of it is more subtle that others but it's all pretty heavy handed. I'll give a few examples. At one point there's a "baby" machine in a cradle who is labeled as a king. There is a fairly constant flow of crucifixion shots showing dead android bodies, sometimes in droves. There's even a machine sect that forms a religion claiming to have found God, with the ultimate goal of becoming as gods themselves. Hell, even two of the main bosses in the game are called Adam and Eve.
At first I was little confused by the choice to show this kind of thing. But part of what is immediately evident is that machines are a little more than they seem. And it's widely considered one of the major turning points of humanity's intelligence that we formed religions in order to seek a better understanding of the world we live in. So it helps bring the machines into a more relatable place by simply having these scenes in the forefront. If you're sensitive to that I suppose it could be a little shocking at times, but all in all I feel like it fits thematically.
Game Play and Combat
The world is fairly open with large areas of a fallen Earth to explore. For the most part that exploration will be a third person rollick through ruined cityscapes and desert sand dunes and forests. Where NieR starts becoming really unique is when it changes from a third person action adventure game to a side scroller platformer, or an isometric shmup. Or a side scroller bullet hell. Or drops you into a mini game in the middle of a boss fight to progress the battle. Luckily there's also fishing to do when you're near water if you feel like things are just moving a bit too quickly.
I have to admit I wasn't -at first- a very big fan of the mode changes. It felt like a break in the flow of what I was enjoying already, and I can certainly see that others may be put off by that fact. But I actually grew to like the various transitions that a stage could go through at any time.
Combat is reflective of whatever mode the game puts you in but is comfortable feeling in any aspect. I will say that I feel like NieR would best played with a controller. At least in the shmup and bullet hell portions because digital movement and aiming isn't wonderful feeling. I still used a keyboard and mouse and found it to be just fine for basically everything and there are button mapping options if you don't like your layout. Getting used to controlling your Pod (a little floating robot helper) took some effort but once it was dialed in I really liked having it by my side.
I have to say, I was slightly disappointed by the lack of fauna in this world. What we get is an Earth devoid of humans and it's even mentioned that animals and plants have gotten bigger because of environmental changes. But there are only four animal types left it seems: Moose, that seem pretty normal sized actually and Boar, that have become these horse-sized creatures. Both of which are rideable with the proper inventory items by the way, pretty cool. Then there are birds which are just props in the set and the fish that can be caught in bodies of water.
If you're interested in seeing some game play I'll include a link at the bottom of this review to both my early impressions article and our secondary YouTube channel where I've got some videos uploaded.
Yeah a whole section for the menu screens. There are options on options in here. Some of them are kind of confusing but for the most part it's pretty intuitive. There's even a pretty cool integration of the menu options when starting the game just after the tutorial section.
Equipping weapons and viewing options and stats is all pretty easy to manage. It's when you look at your upgrade chips that things get questionable. First let me explain the chips themselves. As you play you'll find these upgrades, through enemy drops mostly, that can be installed to upgrade your android body's efficiency during combat. They focus on attack, defense, support, health increases, auto-use of items, targeting boosters and so on basically forever because there are loads of these things. Once you have enough of the same kind they can be fused together at an upgrade shop for a fee and then installed to further increase their effectiveness.
Great. Now though, you need to organize them and keep in mind that you'll have limited space for them to go. That's where I lose my mind because what you're presented with is what it looks like when you go to paint store looking at very bland color swatches for your boring office space. The colors represent the various focuses you've got upgraded and the way you place those colors represent their priority to your android systems. I have no idea how to place them myself to make them more effective. Luckily there are auto place buttons with different basic styles in mind. It's weird and there are no tutorials on how to manage this kind of thing manually.
Music and Sound
Guys, NieR: Automata has a very nice sound track. Music is beautifully composed and differs for each area. There is one theme that got on my nerves a little and that was in the Desert Housing area where what is admittedly a pretty song just plays on loop for far too long. Every track does this by the way, but that's the only one I began to dislike a little.
Sounds are pretty much just general action game sounds: clashing swords, pew pew laser fire, big explosions and combat connection noises for hitting the various machine enemies etc. But all sound good enough to be convincing and fit the anime theme pretty well.
Voice acting is pretty superb all around and is voiced in each supported language if I'm not mistaken. Again though this fits an anime theme and that's evident because the characters have dialogue and personalities that are very anime. So if you're not into that, it might be a little hard to get around.
Things looks pretty darned good here especially when you take into consideration that this is primarily a console title and an open world game. Textures look nice and for the most part good and sharp but there's a lot of tiling. This doesn't detract too much from the overall look of the game and actually I mentioned in my first impression video that I feel like they did simplicity right here.
You'll notice that the color palette seems washed out but I think that's by design. Remember that the only inhabitants of Earth are machines and androids now and that's not a very natural state of things. So the further you get from nature the more washed out the colors are. Areas that are forested have a bit more color saturation and feel warm, the robot factory on the other hand is relatively grey and cold in its appearance. While the Bunker (a space station) is so far from nature that it's presented completely in grey scale. And I swear that this something I touched on in the first impression article, the images are there but the text is gone. Well anyway I'll put them here as well to demonstrate what I'm talking about.
Character models and animations are really impressive which is wonderful and it gives them an even more believable feel. Collision is handled well, you'll almost never get any object popping through another. Then there are smaller but still important details like clothing getting wet when the character does and staying that way for a while. Or the super cool reaction animation when 2B notices the camera getting into an uhhh... uncomfortable position.
Ok so here's where things get tricky. NieR: Automata has a small host of strange issues ranging from crashes and hangs to choppy cut scenes and improper aspect ratio displays. I've seen it referred to as a technical mess but I don't really feel that way. I get that if you're one of those people having major problems with running the game you may have a different opinion and that's understandable. But really no game has been released in perfect order for at least a decade, probably more. Not that it's excusable to release broken content, but this mainly seems to be indicative of the less than perfect PC port. These things need to be fixed there's no doubt.
I am a PC user and I'm playing NieR on PC. I've had virtually no problems at all. I don't have a monitor capable of higher than 1080p and it displays natively at 1920 x 1080, but the game when played in that resolution will first downscale the screen and then re-scale it to fit the monitor size causing some weird blurring effect. It's pretty lame. But the good news is that 1600 x 900 looks super sharp and runs beautifully with zero issues. I'd suggest if you're having that problem yourself to just try running it that way. There is also a fan made patch that claims to fix the resolution issues with about 30 seconds of work, but I haven't tried it myself because I find no real reason to. Square and Platinum are working on resolving things officially in the meantime.
As to the cut scenes, yeah they're a problem. It's not game breaking but nothing you can do will change the fact that they were recorded and rendered at a lower frame rate and they will look choppy. I guess some people have it worse than others which is no good but again it's not game breaking in itself. Immersion breaking though is another story.
When it comes to general optimization things are great. With Vsync off the NieR runs well into the 100 plus fps area and with Vsync on it's a pretty consistent 60. I would suggest using Vsync though since there do seem to be some pretty hardcore scan lines without it. Again this depends on your monitor and its refresh rate. Regardless with as much going on as can be at once on the screen I very rarely noticed any kind of frame drops; even while recording footage.
What Makes NieR: Automata So Great
Alright I've saved this for last because there's a possibility of some very minor spoilers here. That said I'm going to try and keep that to a bare minimum when I can't avoid it altogether.
NieR takes itself pretty seriously. Except for when it doesn't. This game contains a lot of different endings and lots of those are silly and premature. Like if you catch a Mackerel when fishing and eat it, you'll die. The credits will stream by at great speed and you'll find yourself looking at the start screen. Don't worry though your game is auto-saved and continuing will have no negative effect. It's good for a quick laugh. There are something like 21 of those types of endings and I happen to really like that bit of humor. But there are also a few true endings and I won't go into them.
Once you have played though your campaign and watch the credits roll at a normal speed Square will suggest that you play again from your current save. This will start a new game plus mode but this time instead of playing as 2B, you'll play as 9S in a mostly new campaign that carries over your items and quests and equipment. You'll see his events leading up to and following 2B and that's pretty damn cool I think. But it gets better. Once you've played through all of 9S' campaign there will be a third and totally new campaign with a third playable character. One you've been introduced to very briefly earlier in your first play through.
Then after that there's a fourth campaign that actually picks up from where the first campaign ended and opens up another act to play through as 2B and 9s again. Each of these is said to be around another 10 to 14 hours of play time and show players new map areas, cut scenes, bosses and story elements.
I know! Effing awesome right? This stuff could have all been paid DLC. But what we get instead is a complete game that we can pay for and play thereby unlocking our extra content by earning it. That, dear gamer nerds and game publishers, is the way games should be made and released. If I had more thumbs they would all be up and I hope people buy NieR: Automata and show support for that kind of excellent business.
Now it should be noted that if you do not want to play new game plus the ending you'll see after the final boss is satisfying and feels complete. So regardless of your decision, it's going to work out. I'm currently on my second play through and I'm enjoying it. I will say that I'm not as big a fan of the way 9S plays as I was 2B; the hacking mini games can get a bit tedious. I'm focusing on building him more toward physical combat now and he's perfectly capable. But that's just me. The positive there is that each character plays differently. Needless to say replaying NieR is incentivized by unlocking all this cool new stuff.
NieR: Automata is a great pick and I recommend it fully. I really hope that people are picking it up to support the fact this a complete game that didn't have its content ripped out and turned into paid DLC or season pass nonsense. Thank you Square and Platinum for doing that.
If you're into JRPG environments, third person action games, shmups, and bullet hells I'm pretty sure you're going to dig it because NieR has it all. This is of a full $59.99 new release title but I think it's worth it. Of course guys this is all just my opinion but I encourage you to try it yourself and form your own.[You can read my first impression article here if that interests you]
[Here's the link to the TwinstiqLP YouTube channel]
System Requirements for NieR: Automata are as follows
- OS: Windows 7 /8.1 /10 64bit
- Processor: Intel Core i3 2100 or AMD A8-6500
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 VRAM 2GB or AMD Radeon R9 270X VRAM 2GB
- DirectX: Version 11
- Network: Broadband Internet connection
- Storage: 50 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectX® 11 supported
- Additional Notes: Mouse, keyboard and game pad (XInput only). Screen resolution: 1280x720.
- OS: Windows 8.1 /10 64bit
- Processor: Intel Core i5 4670 or AMD A10-7850K
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 VRAM 4GB or AMD Radeon R9 380X VRAM 4GB
- DirectX: Version 11
- Network: Broadband Internet connection
- Storage: 50 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectX® 11 supported
- Additional Notes: Mouse, keyboard and game pad (XInput only). Screen resolution: 1920x1080. Depending on the monitor and PC graphics card environment and setup used, this title can expand its display resolution to 4K. However, please be aware that 4K resolutions are not officially supported.