Going into Nier Automata, I had a pretty keen sense that I would enjoy it. I’d heard rumblings of it’s strange twists and layers, I’d played the intriguing free demo, and had already fallen in love with PlatinumGames' combat style from Bayonetta 2. Even with that, I was not prepared in the slightest for what the next 70ish hours would throw at me.
Before we dive in, fair warning - Nier Automata is a game that is best experienced with as little knowledge of what’s going on as possible. If you’re unsure about the gameplay and aesthetic, play through the demo. If you’re unsure on the story, play through until the end of the first major quest in the desert. Come back and read through this when you have.
The story and setting for Nier Automata is so unique. The pitch is simple enough - thousands of years in the future, aliens attack Earth with an army of robots, forcing humans to retreat to the moon, who then build an army of androids to go take the planet back. Even as a basic overview, this barely scratches the surface of what’s going on in this world. I’d rather not spoil anything, but suffice it to say that the game takes you through twists, turns, revelations and most importantly questions in such a way that you are engaged entirely throughout.
The way the gameplay switches up constantly keeps the game fresh. Most of the main game has you play standard 3D open world action RPG fare, but certain areas will be side scrolling, top down or shmup-like. The RPG side of the game - the quest structure, the upgrade system (a brilliant mix of choice in how to play and deciding what upgrades matter to you) and the progression through it’s dense world keep you from ever feeling like the game is a slog.
The world itself is a well built set piece - while it seems ridiculous that a forest, desert and sea could actually sit next to each other, all of the distinct areas are tightly constructed. This creates less of a sprawling feeling and more of a familiar space, one you can learn quite easily by the time you’re through. No area of the world is built without purpose, and there is always some secret within arms reach.
Getting to the “true” ending of the game is a trip in itself, and trust me, you want to get there. It’s no secret that there are 5 main endings to the game, but they are more like chapter breaks than true multiple endings of the same storyline. Starting over after ending A isn’t just a simple new game plus; the game changes in fundamental ways. Endings C, D & E are also a whole other thing. To say any more would spoil the structure, but again, trust me - there is so much more to the game than ending A.
A lot of open world games use side quests as meaningless filler, but in Nier Automata, every single one is worth doing. I’m talking all of them. The highlight of the game is often the writing, and each and every side quest deliver important and intriguing context. Rarely ever is world and character building this engaging.
The music in this game is also truly incredible. I have a few favourite video game soundtracks - Undertale, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Stardew Valley all have amazing scores - but Nier Automata’s is next level. Each distinct part of the world, all of the various boss fights, even just the regular overworld music - all of it strings the game together so beautifully. The final credit sequence brought about a swell of emotion that has never happened to me before with a game.
I love this game so much that I went for the platinum the proper way, even though it’s the first game ever to let you buy most of the trophies with in game currency. I love this game so much that I will happily listen to the soundtrack repeatedly outside of the game. I love this game so much that I read through all of the codex entries for the enemies, weapons, archive data... even the fish.
Nier Automata is a game that is going to stick with me for years. I will often put games down once finished, never to return; but with this, I will gladly come back and play all the way through again just to re-experience the story, side quests and characters. This is the kind of game that deserves having a book’s worth of deep dives into every aspect of, from it’s world to it’s characters to it’s story to it’s side quests. This is one game you should definitely not pass on.
Nier Automata is a masterpiece.