I thought this game would be better. I’ve played a couple Yoko Taro games in the past, Nier and Drakengard 3. They were low budget titles, with good intentions struggling to come through a sea of shoddy tech and compromised game design. With PlatinumGames on board, I hoped this would be the first Yoko Taro game I could recommend without first having to rattle off a long list of caveats about how absolutely everything in the game sucks. But that unfortunately isn’t the case. Nier Automata might run smoother, have more polished animation, and the sense of being a higher quality product. But in the end, it’s still riddled with huge flaws.
Biggest problem with the game is how almost all combat, including the bosses, feel like copy-pasted placeholders. I’ve seen many comments about how the game is a bit easy and simplistic. That’s an understatement. In the first 30 minutes, you see what most of the game will be like. There are a few variations on enemy types, but they’re underused, and uninteresting to fight. They look neat, and do a nice job communicating their story. But fighting one type of enemy didn't feel meaningfully different from another. The only thing that mattered was whether they used physical attacks, guns, or beam weapons.
On top of that, the visual style and camera make it hard to tell when an enemy is about to attack. Because of the reduced color palette, and low contrast, actions tend to blend together into an unintelligible mess. The game works around this by having an auto-heal system, and also gives you the ability to carry 300 healing items. This meant I was constantly blindsided by attacks, spamming healing items, and sometimes I died anyway from things I never saw coming. Instead of a blend of different camera perspectives, I would’ve preferred fixed camera angles for the entire game, because those were the only segments where I found myself able to tell what was happening. When the game makes a pretense of being like other PlatinumGames titles, it doesn’t compare well at all.
As for the story, it flows in an awkward manner. For example, after the prologue, it’s like the air goes out of the story. It’s unclear just what the overall direction of the story is supposed to be, beyond the immediate objective. The reason this is a problem is because there’s moments, often after a boss fight, where the story meanders, where you couldn’t answer if someone asked you what was going on, what characters wanted, or what was happening. Instead the story feels like it’s full of nonsensical sidetracks, punctuated by sudden emotional peaks that feel like they come out of nowhere. As a result of this choppiness, key emotional scenes feel unearned. The game is fairly long, so it’s not like there wasn't time to explore its cast and themes deeper. But there just isn’t much here. Characters are barely developed beyond their introduction, and I’m not sure what purpose some of the side stories served for the story as a whole. You could cut hours from this game without impacting the story or characters at all.
I didn’t want to dislike this story. But on several occasions I found myself staring stone faced at people screaming and crying, without feeling an inch of sympathy. Only a couple character relations felt well done, like the interactions with the communication officers. But because of plot developments they’re undermined and forgotten about. The relation between the protagonists 2B and 9S was a total dud. Same for their relations with the antagonists. On top of that, the story has what feels like blatant continuity issues, where people learn things out of order, and act like idiots because it seems like they’re too thick to understand what’s happening until they’re told about it for the fifth time. I could see the concept of what they were doing, but the execution doesn’t exist in the game properly. It’s thin, repetitive, and not efficient or respectful of the players’ time. Not good enough.
When I played Final Fantasy 13 I hit a spot of existential terror, where I was wondering what I was doing with my life. The game had been so unengaging, that when I was grinding away in a field, the game turned from leisure into borderline panic attack. Nier Automata is the first game since then to inspire similar feelings in me. It was during the route C finale that those kinds of dark thoughts started creeping into me, as the combat had become so rote that I was staring at the screen glassy eyed, looking at but not actually seeing the game. Is that what the titular “Automata” is supposed to be? The player robotically plugging away at the game, not engaged with it on any human level?
I can’t recommend this. I think it's a bad game, and the story is a fractured mess of unearned emotions that border on the manipulative. But I guess the music was good, so that's something.