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My Love Affair with NieR: Automata (Spoiler Free)

My spoiler free experience with the game, and why you should play it.

Over the last week I’ve come to love the action RPG NieR: Automata so much. The annoying part is, I can’t talk about most of the game — due to fear of spoiling parts. NieR: Automata moved me so much though I shed a tear towards the end. That’s a rare occurrence for me.

Characters and Story

While I won’t mention too much story wise, I connected with the main characters, 2B and 9S right away. 2B comes across as a to-the-point, logical unit, whereas 9S is more happy-go-lucky. On rare occasions, I found parts of Automata tedious. 9S showed the same distain. However, hearing him being verbally shot down helped me relate and overlook the tedium — for the glory of Mankind.

While not fully voice acted, Automata’s writing felt tight, making me want to know more, and, in parts tugged on my heart strings. Every answer initially led to more questions. “Whaaaaat” almost became my catchphrase, due to some story reveals; the crazy, but beautiful, battles; and machines I met along the way. As the layers unwrapped, I almost wanted to shout at the screen, or, like more of a sane person, talk about the game to someone else. But I couldn’t through most of the story.

Endings

Look. I know I’m being frustratingly vague here. I really want to spell it out — but I can’t. No. Won’t spoil it. Where Automata really came into its own, for me, was after my first play though (ending ‘A’) and by ending ‘B’ Automata well and truly had its claws into me. It took me about 30 hours to complete all of the main endings; there are 26 different endings in total, most are small (at least one can be found within the first few minutes).

I could have easily completed Automata without realising it’s a sequel, as it stood on its own well. The ties to the original (which I haven’t played) aren’t crucial enough, story wise, to understand what’s happening. In fact, I’d probably say not knowing anything made my experience better, learning Humanities fate as I pieced together the past, and truths about what was really happening. Okay. I’ll stop talking about the story now. But there are some truly great moments.

Combat

Platinum have done a sterling job at creating a tight fighting system for the game. While the tutorials did little to teach anything other than basic combat, like using light and heavy attacks, I found myself organically learning new combinations and abilities. Some I didn’t figure out until 15 hours in! Because of the different variations, fighting stayed fresh for me, even though I was horrifically under-levelled for most of the game. Dying repeatedly in some boss battles gave me “just one more try” syndrome; it felt like I was gaining more and more ground each time.

Automata’s different play styles were great. The weapons felt powerful and watching numbers trickle off enemies was satisfying. Shifting between 3rd person, Contra style side scrolling, twin-stick and a more classic top-down shooting style was surprisingly fun. The first hour alone mixes these styles so well that heading into the games semi-open world, which focuses mainly on 3rd person mode, took me a bit of adjustment. However, these switches lead me to some spectacular, and memorable, boss battles.

Combat wasn’t always perfect. I found myself holding down RB (to constantly shoot ranged weapons) for most fights; on odd occasions the camera locked to obscure angles, meaning the boss wasn’t viewable apart from in specific places, and the frame rate sometimes tanked. These imperfections didn’t hinder my enjoyment though.

Customisation

It may sound odd, but I really liked how Automata kept the forth wall built, explaining simple things like the options menu, which — minor spoiler — is actually your interface, and the HUD, which is modified by adding or removing chips.

The game uses chips to customise abilities, which are upgradeable, along with the number you can install. Parts of the HUD, like Heath bars and mini-map take up chip space, along with power-ups such as auto-heal, weapon attack and movement speed boosts. It was refreshing being able to mess with so much. I spent an age fiddling, compromising parts of the HUD for combat buffs to find the perfect combination.

Much like HUD customisation, saving and even load screens are woven into the games lore. While being killed after 20 minutes of playtime, and having to start again, was frustrating, it made sense in context. Once I could save, dying meant I’d frantically have to find my old body to retrieve my precious chips, while trying to avoid my new body meeting a similar fate.

I didn’t die much, outside of boss fights, while playing on normal difficulty though, but having to recover my body, before I died again, added a sense of urgency and weight to deaths that most games don’t deliver.

Soundtrack

The score is one of my favourite in a game too. While some tracks are nondescript, most, especially battle music, really inject energy and emotion into scenes. Many of the score have multiple variants, with pure instrumental and vocal versions.

It’s one of the few modern soundtracks, other than Xenoblade Chronicles, I’ve listened to regularity outside of playing too. I’ve even had the odd song stuck in my head for days. NieR: Automata’s sound track really did finish off the experience for me.

Because of all these different parts, I loved playing NieR: Automata so much. From its varying combat and characters, to its story and bittersweet [E]nd that closes the book so nicely. In its release among massive titles like Zelda, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Mass Effect Andromeda it’s easy to miss NieR: Automata. Nevertheless, give it some of your time and you won’t regret it.

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