NieR: Automata tells the story of androids 2B, 9S and A2 and their battle to reclaim the machine-driven dystopia overrun by powerful machines.
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The TL: DR of this review is that I didn’t like it as much as Replicant and think that playing Automata in the west is a significantly inferior experience, but still a good one that is worth experiencing.
Honestly, it took me around a day to catch up with all the side material to Automata and Replicant that fill the gaps between those two and recontextualize most of Automata’s lore and characters. This franchise is a lot to say the least.
It took me 5 years and 4 attempts to beat this game. What got me into it again was Replicant last year, which I really really liked and after that newly added E ending, I knew I had to go back. I don’t regret it. Although my play time could have been cut a lot shorter, because I thought that to acquire the final ending you’d have to collect every single weapon, like in NieR and Drakengard and already hunted 70% of them down until I found out that’s entirely unnecessary.
These games aren’t necessarily meant to be fun but throughout my playthrough I caught myself comparing Replicant to Automata quite frequently, asking myself what made me enjoy Replicant as a whole more. I think it boils down to the banter between main story missions. The pods just aren’t Weiss and they’re not meant to be, but I still think that the protagonists of Automata work worse because they don’t get the same space to develop throughout the runtime. While doing my research I also came across the fact that a lot of the character backgrounds as formerly mentioned, are hidden in short stories as well as the stage plays, which explains my feeling of incompletion after finishing the game.
I feel that a lot of my initial critiques of Replicant/Gestalt have been addressed through the fact alone, that Automata only asks you to play through the initial story twice, instead of 3 times and the worst offender of repetition in this title isn’t even close to being as bad as the Junk Heap. The third playthrough being a completely new experience kept things as fresh as they will get in a game directed by Yoko Taro.
What breaks Automata for me really is how much of the story you have to seek out in other media and given how sparely they are available here in the west and mostly only translated by dedicated fans, is just inaccessible to a degree that I think a lot of players will understandably miss out on that content. If not for the fan translations huge parts of the fanbase still wouldn’t have a clue of what half of the events in Automata really meant or where the agency of certain characters even stems from. Because if you piece it all together it makes for an incredibly dense and well-crafted story, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation, but the base game alone feels incomplete more than ambiguous, as the first one did. I wish more of this was in the actual game, even though I have a lot of respect for the work that went into realizing 2 well crafted spin-off stage plays. The short stories could have been implemented super easily like they were in Replicant tho, or the one with Devola and Popola. They could have made them a collectible, even retrospectively patching them in would have been the preferable option imo, but like this you actively have to look out for more information on the (sometimes intentionally) unanswered questions.
I like Automata, even for the visual style and soundtrack alone. The latter didn’t work as well for me as it did back in 2017, probably because I have listened to it devoid of context for 5 years now, taking it’s vibe and mentally coding it to my personal experiences and imagination, more than the actual game world. I took a a lot of visual inspiration from the game and love every piece of concept art so much, that it transcended the actual work itself. That’s neither here nor there concerning my critique, just a funny little concept I can think about from now on. How a lot of elements from Automata got so separated from the original text, that for me returning to it’s origins made me feel uncanny.
I don’t think it’s perfect, the actual ending didn’t blow me away like it did many other players and gameplay and structure leave quite a bit to be desired for me personally, though it might just be the little extra that pushes me over the cliff to play through all of Drakengard.
I enjoyed Automata’s themes a lot and even found appreciation for the weirdly named machine bosses and other sublte details that fill this universe with so much great thought provoking subtext.
Honestly one of the most overhyped games I think I've played. I found the plot predictable and while 2B and A2 are interesting characters. Both had fun if repetitive gameplay with some great boss fights, which is lessened thanks to your robot companion shooting everything from afar. 9S gameplay, however, was a boring slog where you hold a button, play space invaders for a few seconds, and then the enemy explodes. The soundtrack was great, however. The plot kept me in but there wasn't much to think back on, just dropping some vague themes and not doing much with them. Overall a decent game I don't regret playing, but probably won't be revisting