It is criminal how underrated Yoko Taro has been throughout his long, video game career. The stories he created in Drakengard and the original NieR are some of the mediums finest, but he never really got the attention he seriously deserved. Taro has always crafted stories, characters and worlds filled with intrigue. Mysterious games that entice the player into exploring and uncovering all its deep-rooted secrets. Drakengard and NieR are at the stage where I think we could all agree to consider them ‘cult classics’, but it was never the story that held those games back. They never felt quite fluid enough. Both in terms of how it played and in terms of how they looked. Yoko Taro games always had top tier storytelling, but they unfortunately always seemed to fall short in other departments. So now we move onto NieR: Automata. For all the creativity, flair and passion Yoko Taro has, his repertoire still lacks that one game – that magnum opus, so to speak. We come to 2017 and his most ambitious project yet. Sandwiched between a plethora of incredible and iconic games this March, it was always going to be hard for NieR: Automata to stand out amongst the crowd. But, we’ve the creative, storytelling genius of Taro and with the addition of astoundingly finesse gameplay that Platinum Games can create, maybe there was hopes for NieR to come out of March as its most memorable game.
So where do you begin with NieR: Automata? I feel it right to look at what’s on the cover, the forefront of everybody’s mind – the gameplay. Gameplay is the weak point of the original NieR, but with Platinum on board, the worries about combat were almost non-existent. For good reason, too, Platinum have a great track record when it comes to gameplay, and they did not disappoint when it comes to NieR. In arguably their most well-tuned game, Platinum took the android/human/alien/robot war event thing and ran to the fucking hill and back. I’ve never felt something so fluid and crisp, even Rocksteady’s Batman games pale in comparison to the hack ‘n’ slash chaos of NieR. The most comparable game, in terms of combat, would be Platinum’s own game, Bayonetta. Bayonetta was famed for its fantastically fluid combat. Despite all the upside of NieR’s fantastic combat style, it does still fall short of what Platinum created eight years ago with Bayonetta. NieR does not fall short in a sense of the game lacking enjoyability or flow of the combat being weaker, but it does fail at reinventing the in-depth combo system Bayonetta once bestowed upon us. In fact, NieR doesn’t really have any combination moves, at least past a very basic level. There is nothing to learn, research and master as the game goes on.
The reality is, comparing the combat systems to Bayonetta is one of the few ways I have been able to find criticism of NieR: Automata, and that is a massive nit-pick. I always go into games looking for strengths and weakness’, because it is my job as an unbiased reviewer to inform people of my subjective opinion. The more I went back to NieR, the more engrossed I found myself in the game and the world it was set in. It was a refreshing to change to be in control of a video game protagonist with a seriousness about them. In comparison to Alloy from Horizon, Ryder from Mass Effect Andromeda or even Link from Breath of the Wild, 2B (NieR’s main protagonist) was a breath of fresh air. It feels in many ways that the era of serious, objective minded heroes has been tossed aside for the supposedly more engaging comedic, witty or snarky lead characters we have seen so much of in the past few years. 9S (2B’s sidekick, if you will) constantly tries to open 2B’s eyes to his adorably sensitive side, which she constantly fails to understand.
That does not mean, however, that 2B’s character is without depth of varied emotions. There is a part early in the game, where 2B and 9S encounter a village brimming with machines. 9S is quick to draw his blade, but it is 2B who is the one willing to show compassion and listen to the machines insisting they are intent on finding peace. It creates an interesting dynamic, where 9S is constantly trying to win 2B’s affection or shows sympathy for his own kind. In contrast to him, the seemingly cold and mission orientated 2B is more willing to show solicitude to other machines outside of her own, but seems to be lacking any empathy for her own kind. It’s an enthralling dynamic The dissimilarity between the two characters and the way the pair show their empathy towards others is one of the game’s most interesting and underappreciated pieces of storytelling.
It’s one of many, well told minor fragments in NieR: Automata’s story, but it’s the tiny, long term character developments (not just in the main characters) that really make the game feel engrossing and alive. That is not to say the main story suffers for that detail either. Yoko Taro clearly had a clear vision in mind when he went about creating NieR’s main story and it shows. Not just through the strength of the games storytelling, but through the consistency of it as well. I often find myself frustrated by games that take the ‘multiple ending’ approach, but disregard the journey the player must take to get to any one of those finales. My initial worry was NieR would fall into the same trap, but thankfully, the game tells its story well and it will always make logical sense – no matter the outcome. It blends charming and comedic with serious and robotic characters flawlessly, giving the games world a serious sense of realism as opposed to forcing personality heavy characters. What Yoko Taro does best in terms of personality design is; he creates different characters with different emotions and traits. Some may not be as interesting as others, but a lot of games try too hard and give every character you meet a bubbly, humorous personality. Without the serious, ‘boring’ characters, everyone becomes a boring character. Versatile characters are what make NieR shine above all else. It shows care and detail from the creator – every weapon has a damn backstory to unlock for Christ’s sake!
We could sit here and discuss Yoko Taro’s intelligent storytelling choices all day, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of the games equally well-crafted soundtrack. Keiichi Okabe is the composer with the honour to call NieR’s soundtrack their own. It’s hard to describe what makes NieR’s soundtrack so beautiful. Thinking about it, even listening to it made me realise that the soundtrack in NieR is so good because it fits everything you see so well. When I listen to the Machine Village theme for example, I can envision the scenery and the characters. And that’s how all the music for all the games areas and moments makes me feel. The allow the memory of the game to replay itself in your mind, just through the music. It’s honestly one of the most wonderful experiences.
I went into NieR: Automata with a lot of interest and intrigue. I wasn’t sure if Yoko Taro would deliver another stellar story, or if Platinum could bounce back from their dubious 2016. Now, on the other side of the journey, I can’t quite find the words to describe just how well rounded and fantastic the whole experience was. I looked back at Breath of the Wild and that game was an epic adventured cranked to the max. NieR was that, plus a whole lot more. You feel the characters’ emotions, you watch them all develop. You see the world change, you watch the history of everything unfold and see how the future may progress things. Platinum Games mastered the action-RPG gameplay and Yoko Taro was nothing short of a maestro in terms of the games storytelling. NieR: Automoato was a wonderful experience that everyone should aim to enjoy at some point in their life. I don’t play through many games twice, but this is one I see myself returning to many times over the years.
Final Rating: 100%