Paint It Black: A Stark Contrast To Traditional Storytelling
Samurai sword-wielding androids battling an alien robot force on a desolate earth thousands of years in the future sounds like a tough sell. Toss in the oftentimes crude Japanese humor, haunting soundtrack and multiple gameplay adjustments and it sounds like an even more difficult sell.
But it works, it all works so well.
Mentioned by most gaming outlets as a dark horse for 2017 Game of The Year considerations, “Nier Automata’s” story begins with a desolate earth, eradicated of humans by alien machines. Humans, forced to travel and inhabit the moon, send android forces back to earth to fight their battle for them. Simplistic sounding, yes, but I’ll get into the how and why the manner in which it was delivered was out of this world.
The visuals of the game are best described as a historic painting revered for centuries. You know it’s beautiful because people tell you it is. You understand why it is described as beautiful, yet, for some reason you can’t fully commit to the opinion. In “Nier,” there were plenty of times when I thought “this is a darn good looking game,” and also “jeez, it looks like this part was just slapped together,” all in a matter of minutes of play.
It’s clear developers Platinum Games focused more on story structure and gameplay than level design. Thankfully, it’s easy to forgive them for it.
The menu screen and in-game skill tree are simple enough for the basic of gamer to pickup quickly. I was able to max out my chipset (the category that deals with most of your characters primary upgrades) in about six hours (shorter if you really want to focus on it).
While simple, there are enough options for your pod, a companion robot that offers range attacks, defense boosts or high-impact skills. Most are over-the-top animations, such as the three-story tall hammer that appears and crashes down on your enemies. The zany aspects of this game, however, work so well. Some of the best parts come from the Japanese quirks infused into the gameplay, such as the anime humor, unnecessary underwear shots of the protagonist and bombastic approach to weaponry and destruction. I love that it is all blanketed by a deep and purposeful soundtrack.
Each area has a very specific ambient sound meant to drive the gameplay and emotion. As the story(ies) evolve the soundtrack becomes a secondary or even third character in some respects. I’ll remember this haunting soundtrack for sometime, it was that good.
Players will assume control of a number of characters throughout the course of playing “the complete game.” Primarily, however, your options will be androids A2, 2B and 9S. A majority of the game will be played out as a third-person action adventure, but many times gameplay will switch to entirely new genres. Personally, I loved the variety the game offered. You can be fighting in your flight suit in “Resogun”-like combat, hacking machines in a “Pong”-like mechanic and hack-and-slash in “Devil May Cry”-like fashion, all in a matter of one sequence.
Fighting, while tricky to get used to at first, will be similar for each character. It may seem like a chaotic hack and slash in the early goings but fear not, the fighting mechanics are as tight and refined as you care to make them. I felt midway through my second playthrough that I had mastered the controls.
Did I say second playthrough … yeah, about that.
There Are How Many Endings?
Remember that dynamic storytelling I mentioned earlier? Well, it comes in the form of 26 different endings. I’ve never seen 26 video game endings let alone 26 in one game.
Let’s begin with the beginning.
Not knowing how the ending system works can make one feel quite lost in this game. It doesn’t help that the game begins by basically saying we’re not going to let you know how to save your progress. For anyone beginning for the first time, be sure you carve out a good 90 minutes of available playtime because it will take that long before you reach the moment of your first save.
This isn’t much of spoiler, but if you die before your first save one would assume their progress had been saved up until that point. But it wasn’t. Seeing as how you’re playing as an android, when a player dies (s)he comes back as a different android body with the previous androids memory installed. Upon reentering the field of combat you’d be wise to find your deceased android corpse and collect your belongings because they’ll just be sitting there, waiting for you.
As I became more invested in this game I decided to look up a trophy roadmap to guide me on my journey. After witnessing how complicated the saves and endings was going to be I didn’t want to progress too far and miss something important or screw up one of the primary endings.
When all is said and done there are five endings that are considered core endings, the canon if you will. Reaching the first three primary endings will consume the majority of your playtime. It took me about 37 hours to finish my third playthrough. However, once I learned of the story mechanics I sort of just let all of the sidequests go by the wayside and focused primarily on the main storyline. In hindsight, I wish I had simply played the game how I play I most open world games — rotate between main and side missions to increase the longevity of the game.
Once you’ve completed the third playthrough a number of easy access points are granted to players, including a chapter select option and trophy purchase.
You Can Buy My Love
Another first this game presented was its option to purchase Playstation Network trophies with in-game currency. For most players who care about trophies this idea is blasphemous and they’d never partake. I, on the other hand, am intrigued by the idea of purchasing some hard-to-complete trophies so that I can add another platinum trophy to my PSN collection. Sure, in the back of my mind I’d know it was a trophy with an asterisk, but others wouldn’t. Regardless, I plan on finishing as many trophies as I can, in legitimate fashion, before succumbing to the cheap and easy way out.
The only way to do this legitimately is through use of the chapter selection screen. Again, a little confusing to use at first due to the fact that chapters are shorter or longer depending on which playthrough and which character you want to return as. Like everything else, it becomes easier to navigate once you dabble with it for a while. I recommend making a save after the final playthrough, however, and leave that save untouched, just in case you screw things up with one of the other 21 endings.
Update: I’m happy to report I only purchase two trophies, but in the end I’m sorry I did. I would have much rathered I came back to the game down the road and grinded for them the legitimate way.
In The End
I can see why “Nier Automata” was always muttered by gaming influencers when discussing Game of the Year. Don’t let the fact that this game was never actually nominated for the game of the year fool you; in most years it would have easily been nominated and maybe even had won, but 2017 was a different beast with spectacular releases.
As I write this review I still have a good 15 or so endings to seek out and I’m itching to complete them all. That’s probably the biggest compliment I can give this game. Thinking about replaying a game over and over isn’t usually in the cards for me; my attention span is too short. But this game, this story, these characters, gameplay and soundtrack … it was a pretty awesome gaming experience that I can’t wait to return to.