It’s been seven years since NieR was released. A cult classic not appreciated in its own time, this innovative and off-the-wall action-RPG did so many unexpected things. It made us question what made people human. It mixed up multiple game genres, so we could experiment with gameplay. It offered moments of drama and levity. In every single way, NieR: Automata builds on the original and grows, offering a larger and more comprehensive experience. While we expect such things from sequels, it’s more satisfying than you could ever expect here.
With the original NieR, you could see it was experimenting with new concepts. There were bullet hell elements tossed into battles, requiring players to artfully dodge projectiles, but it didn’t always fit perfectly. It looked fine and functioned rather well, but there were times when I felt like it could be a little out of place. NieR: Automata is the perfect fusion of action-RPG and shooter elements. Everything fits stylishly together. When you see robots spewing out energy bullets, it seems natural and seamless. As characters transition from fights on foot to midair, there’s no stopgap. It makes sense within the realm of the game. You are as capable with physical attacks as you are with ranged. Yet, you can see where the original NieR influenced its successor.
NieR: Automata’s story is equally complex. We’re in a world where it seems like there’s a seemingly insurmountable objective to achieve. The world is supposed to be cleared of machines. In NieR, it was about restoring a father and daughter, despite the threat of a deadly disease. Here, we have characters like 2B and 9S attempting to clear a world of machines for the sake of humanity. In each case, things start out simple. Our heroes have a purpose. Nier’s is to save his daughter, while 2B and 9S is to fight for humans. It’s when they’re exposed to the world and their enemies that things get more complicated, as they’re forced to confront truths about themselves and their enemies. Each path you pursue opens up the story further.
It becomes a story about humanity and emotion. NieR was a great game, really. But thinking about the nature of characters could get rather confusing. You had to absolutely pay attention to everything to fully understand what Nier was going through. NieR: Automata is still a story with great depths that requires your full attention and patience to properly understand it, but it does a better job when it comes to accessibility. Part of this is knowing the nature of our heroines and heroes from the moment we meet them, as well as our enemies. But the storytelling also feels more grounded here. Things make more sense and it’s easier to see the motivations for all characters, understand why things are happening, and feel sympathy for everyone involved. 2B begins the game by telling 9S that emotions aren’t allowed, but we keep seeing these characters opening up and growing, showing soulful performances. We watch as they connect to one another and form these valuable bonds.
This doesn’t mean it’s all serious. NieR: Automata displays the same sort of humor and vibrancy as NieR. Some of this comes from its scenarios. One of my favorite moments was stumbling across a village of machines who desperately wanted to be human. They were dancing with flags. They insisted they weren’t my enemy. A jaunty tune played in the background, with the voices of children singing. Characters have personality. 2B can be as sarcastic as Weiss was in the original NieR sometimes, something that’s easy to appreciate when you’re going through what might otherwise be rudimentary missions.
Even the variety in paths and endings expands on what the original NieR had to offer. The first game did its best to provide all these extra options for players searching for truth. Or, at the very least, a truth they liked best. NieR: Automata goes above and beyond to expand on that notion. There are 26 possible endings, as well as multiple branching routes that change who people control. There’s this sense of diversity and growth. The first game did its best to explain itself, but sometimes it felt like you had to delve into supplemental material to understand everything. NieR: Automata shows us everything. We follow through the eyes of characters like 2B and 9S, seeing important changes and alterations to the story as a result. It feels like a fuller game, fulfilling the ambitions the original may have aspired to.
You always want a game to surpass the entries that came before it. There’s an expectation for sequels to be bigger and better. NieR: Automata is this game that just goes above and beyond. Everything about this game is better than NieR. The story is more accessible, even though it remains as deep as the original game’s. It comes across as less confusing and more clear, allowing you to better appreciate what characters like 2B and 9S are going through. I suppose you could say it feels more lifelike, which is unexpected considering these are artificial lifeforms. The gameplay is more cohesive, making the transitions between and fusion of action-RPG and shoot’em up elements more natural. It’s just a genuinely solid and wonderful game, one that builds wonderfully on the original.
NieR: Automata is available for the PlayStation 4. It will come to PCs on March 17, 2017.