RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Aug 26th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under action rpg, playstation, ps4, xbox, xbox one, pc, rpg

2B holding 9S with a 3rd character you don't need to know about yet.

The year is 2003. The PlayStation 2 is lighting up sales charts the likes of which no console had ever seen before. It was now a few years into the console's lifecycle, so games were starting to really flood the market. Square Enix released a game called Drakengard, the first game directed by a now well known eccentric, Yoko Taro. One of the design elements of the game included multiple endings, one of which seems rather nonsensical at first. (The following will include heavy spoilers to one of Drakengard's endings, and the reason for this detailed description will follow soon after.)

Ending E for Drakengard shows the main character, Caim, his dragon, Angelus, and the monstrous antagonist, travel through a dimensional boundary and end up in modern Tokyo. This ending leads directly into the first game in the NieR series. Its rather confusing to understand what has lead to the events of NieR: Automata, since the beginning is the ending of a game in an entirely different series. The long term consequences of Ending E from Drakengard are shown in the first NieR game. Its lead to a complete collapse of society on Earth, to the point where mankind is barely clinging to existence while strange monsters roam the countryside. A new virus called the Black Scrawl ravages through the remaining population, including the main character's daughter.

In a change of pace, none of NieR's endings lead into NieR: Automata's story. The entirety of the first game is the set up. The first NieR game has a time jump of over 1,300 years (one Japanese version is 1,400) from its introduction in a crumbling, modern world. NieR: Automata jumps the timeline forward almost 8,000 years from the first NieR. In real terms, the events of the previous games seem to be worthless, but they can be critical to understanding how the Earth from NieR has become so far gone. The story of NieR: Automata begins in a ruined, but operational, factory. This factory is pumping out robotic machines, much different in appearance and ability than the android stars of the game 2B and 9S. The player finds out quickly that the other machines are the result of an alien invasion of Earth. This invasion lead to the remnants of humanity retreating to the Moon, building up an armada of androids under Project YoRHa, and fighting multiple wars to retake the Earth's surface from the aliens. 2B and 9S are representatives of new models from the project, and the game starts with 9S' first mission as 2B's support in the factory.

The narrative for the story is heavily inspired by both the Drakengard series and the first NieR. The game is played with story loops as part of the design, with the idea being that more details are revealed during the 2nd playthrough and further. Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter and Dead Rising also have similar narrative design, with repetition being used as learning opportunities just to beat the game for the first time, or save more survivors. The narrative design is more casual for NieR, difficulty dependent. Like Dead Rising, the player keeps their levels and for later loops, but the enemies scale upwards based on progression in NieR: Automata. Automata also saves the player's completed side quests, so they only need to be done once. For the first loop, players control 2B through Chapters 1 through 10. In the second loop, the perspective changes to 9S, and the story goes from Chapters 1 through 17. Playing the game only once leaves you with an incomplete story. This is also true of the first NieR, but instead of changing perspective, the player is given more scenes for further character and story development with subsequent plays. The main theme of the story is existential philosophy, but the game rarely makes any definitive statements based on the philosophy. Instead the player is given those chin rubbing, thought provoking moments of reflection. The game's story ends up making few definitive statements. The creators played around with ideas to flex their cerebral muscles, it leaves players with few reactions they can have beyond, "Wow, that's crazy."

2B and 9S are two different models of android. 2B is a fully focused combat model, while 9S is a hacking and support model. Despite these design differences, in terms of actual gameplay, 9S is the far superior combatant. 2B has more options for weapons and weapon loadouts, but the hacking ability of 9S allows players to dispatch otherwise difficult enemies with more ease than extra firepower. Even Grimoire Weiss' gameplay role in the first game is brought back through the support pods that the androids use. The abilities of each character can be tweaked by adding special chips into the character, while pods have their own customizing options. These chip loadouts are carried between the two characters, so any switching done as a result of chapter selection may require a few small adjustments to get the most power out of the current character. Chips of the same type and level may also be combined to create more powerful versions of them, but those may take more space than the lower leveled version. The androids can also be equipped with chips that add to the UI, letting the player directly control the information that is displayed on the screen. If more space is required, some UI can be removed, especially late in the game when experience and level essentially means nothing. There are other chips included which are required to remain in place; otherwise a player could cripple their android, or instantly kill them by removing the operating system chip. Game over.

In the first NieR, combat was rather clunky. Bosses were marathons since they had massive health pools. Automata's combat is smooth, fluid, and quick. The designers at Platinum Games are specialists of the type of combat the first NieR wanted to be. The first NieR had plenty of bullet hell mechanics added in, with Treasure's arcade shooter classic Ikaruga being named as a direct inspiration for Yoko Taro to not only add the bullet mechanics into NieR, but also tie gameplay elements to musical score. This focus on music shows, as both games in the NieR series are renowned for their soundtracks. The shooter mechanics are much better in NieR: Automata, especially with the flight suit sequences which are literal shoot-em-up levels, complete with bosses. The game introduces the player to these shooter levels and mechanics right away. Starting a brand new game has players controlling 2B in her flight suit, with a squad of other combat model androids, as they approach the factory. Only 2B manages to make it through to the end, rendezvousing with 9S in the factory proper. This first section is hellish for brand new players. Not a single save point exists in the parts of the factory the player must get through at this point in the game. This makes starting the game on harder difficulties extremely annoying, leading to players turning the difficulty down for this section, then back up for the main game. Players must make it through the shooter introduction sequence, through the factory, and beating a massive boss with multiple phases with only a limited supply of healing items. Since players control 9S on the second playthrough, his introduction in the factory shows him waiting for 2B and the squad to get through the enemies and successfully land. 9S gets his own shooting sequence to meet up with 2B. This helps to keep the 2nd playthrough fresh, as players learn how to control an entirely new character while blowing through familiar scenery and enemies. 9S also has a much different and more aloof personality than 2B's ultra serious starting demeanor.

NieR: Automata is a great game overall, with its most glaring issues being the design of the introduction sequence and its inability to do anything with its narrative structure. The game does answer some of its most major questions throughout the main story, but the side quests are varying in quality. One of the side quests involves a few female machines who have a crush on a stereotypical philosophy major machine named Jean Paul. He stands around and has a haughty demeanor as a result of his ability to think and phrase questions about existence in a poetic way, all while coming to no clear conclusions. The more the game is played the more it feels like that one machine's attitude and inability to commit to any answers was steeped into every bit of narrative design in the game, which seems like some intentional irony on the part of the creators. "I think, therefore I am," has slowly morphed into, "I think, therefore I am superior." This machine's attitude is not limited to just this game either. Persona 5 had a recurring minor character, the Pompous Male Customer, an online critic with a swollen ego who hangs around the coffee shop and acts like the most intelligent critic in the history of critique. While the Pompous Male Customer feels more like a playful jab to the amateur critics that inhabit every square inch of the modern internet (the author is counting himself in this census roll), Jean Paul seems like more of a direct statement of the state of modern amateur philosophers; at least in the Japanese mindset.

While the game is worth playing to any who find its gameplay systems or story appealing, despite its issues, it just feels like the story becomes more event focused than thought focused as the player progresses. Actual existential philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Sartre, Heidegger, and others believed the feelings of dread, confusion, and hopelessness are the starting points to the individual journey, the eventual goals are authenticity in belief and freedom of the human individual. Freedom is touched on throughout the game, since the androids are programmed to a specific goal while also having a small semblance of free will to humanize them, and there are a few groups of machines who splinter away from the main controller to pursue their own versions of freedom. Authenticity comes up throughout the two main androids' character arcs, with 2B slowly opening up to 9S over the course of the game, on top of other bits of positive character development. NieR: Automata was released in 2017 for the PC, PlayStation 4 to critical acclaim almost across the board, and its well deserved all around. An Xbox One release was launched in 2018. The game is a unique experience and should be tried by any who find the ideas interesting. If a game highly focused on similar themes is desired, there is yet to be one with a more engrossing story than Panzer Dragoon Saga (coming soon?)

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Great write-up! I like the comparison to Dead Rising.

When I saw this game announced, I really was floored. I would've never thought NieR, of all things, would ever get a sequel. Automata turned out to be one of those rare games that really lived up to the hype in pretty much every way.

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