NieR: Automata - Reviewing Other Reviews
With the release of NieR: Automata - Become as Gods Edition for the Xbox One, a new portion of gamers who haven't yet played it on the PS4 or PC will get their chance to experience this one of a kind game. There are already countless articles after its initial release talking about how underrated this game is, even following its critical and commercial success. Co-founder of PlatinumGames, the development studio behind the game, said in a Tweet that the success of NieR: Automata, with producer Yoko Taro, saved PlatinumGames.
After completing the game and investing more than 40 hours into the game I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite PlatinumGames title and one of the best action role-playing games to date. NieR: Automata's combat is often compared to Bayonetta or Metal Gear Revengence, also developed by PlatinumGames, or the fast-paced combat of games like Devil May Cry. I believe that Automata is better than all those games mentioned above because of the game's story, original soundtrack, and themes. I would give the game a 9.5 out of 10, and in this review, I will be breaking down the different arguments from other popular publications that gave it anything less.
First off let's start with the lowest scores. The Financial Post gave the game a 5.0/10 and GameCritics.com gave it an unfavorable review which is converted to 65/100 on Metacritic. These two reviewers had on thing in common, which is that they only played through the game once, even though they knew that the story is told through multiple playthroughs. Chad Sapieha, the reviewer for The Financial Post, doesn't say how long he took to play through the first time, but mentioned he didn't want to "start 25-hour plus game all over again" so I'm assuming that's how much time he put in. I'm sorry but I have to call him out on that BS. On my first playthrough, playing on the harder difficulty for most of the game and completing a lot, probably about half of the sidequests, I completed it in about 13 hours. I don't know what he was doing since he hated the side quests, environments and even combat. He also didn't mention anything about difficulty. Therefore based on his review I'm inclined to think he ran through the game on the easiest difficulty, only focused on main missions, and didn't bother talking to characters to discover the lore. Not only did he dislike the integration of side-scrolling and shooter elements, he didn't like the combat because it was not "diverse". Anyone experimenting with weapons, plug-in chips and pods can see that this combat system has a ton of depth. Basically, this review shit on every aspect of the game, which he didn't even bother to finish.
GameCritics.com didn't give a score out of 100, but its review was unfavorable. I can say its better written than the previous review and understand the points he is making. His main argument is that the second replay of the game, when you control 9S, is unnecessary and the game should be condensed to game half the length, so about 20 instead of 40 hours to complete. This reviewer genuinely didn't enjoy the game the first time through and as a result, the second playthrough he began only accentuated these aspects he saw as flaws. In my opinion, I liked the unique approach that the repeating storyline provided. It's true that with only playing the game the first time the characters seem shallow, and the ending is underwhelming. But after playing the game the 2nd time you get more details of the story and added scenes, that help you see things from another perspective. It's like watching a great movie a second time, and picking up on more details after you know the end. Also going into the length of the game, I'm used to longer games with 30-60 hours worth of gameplay, so 10 hours or so are always used to build up the plot and characters anyway. Imagine trying to review a huge game, like Skyrim, only after 10 hours of gameplay. People automatically are turned off when they hear they must replay the game. Think of it as different acts as you will continue your save and get to carry over your progress anyway. The enemies will also be a higher level so you don't just fly through the game.
The next three reviews come from more popular sites with scores between 7.75/10 to an 8.0/10, and since I strongly believe this game deserves better than that, I will go over their main arguments as well. Starting with GameInformer that gave Automata a 7.75 out of 10. Regardless of your feelings of GameInformer being owned by GameStop, and possibly being influenced by larger titles with deeper pockets. The article is nicely written and lays out each argument clearly. First, the reviewer mentions that the combat isn't all that engaging, even though you are obtaining new weapons, chips, and pods. I understand this argument, which mainly as a result of normal difficulty generally being too easy. Most battles can be won by button mashing, especially if you out level the enemies by completing side quests. However, after playing on the hard difficulty I experimented more with combinations between light vs heavy weapons, close vs far ranged weapons and the special attacks for the pods. The plug-in chip system also gives you access to new ways to take on your enemies, ranging from life recovery, defense, damage, and even effects such as shockwave, that gives your sword strikes projectiles. Together with crafting chips to utilize the least amount of space, so you can equip more and higher rank ones, paired with item buffs that give you temporary benefits during combat, the system is extremely engaging for those that want a challenge. The next argument is that the progression system doesn't offer much depth. Unlike other traditional games where leveling up gives you a tangible stat boost, many of Automata's progression comes from collecting and upgrading plug-in chips. There is some farming and collecting of resources to upgrade these chips, but as mentioned above I think this has a lot of depth and allows you the control to customize your character to your play style while always feeling stronger with each upgrade. The last argument here also touches on the repetitiveness of the story being its downfall. I felt like the game picked up during the 2nd playthrough, with the added scenes, and got even better from there. For those that are worried, I don't think it's that bad, it's nothing on the level of Bravely Default, which is the pinnacle of repetition in my mind.
The next review and a site I used to frequent often is GameRevolution that gave it a 4/5. The reviewer acknowledges that the game is great and even consider it for game of the year, but one flaw really stood out to them. This flaw is the poor difficulty scaling from normal to hard mode. This is something that I also actually agree with, but don't think that it should be brought down 20% just for this. The article points out how normal is much too easy, which leads to button mashing, but those wanted more of a challenge and utilizing more of what the game has to offer is hit with a huge difficulty spike, often resulting in being one or two shotted by certain attacks. In my first playthrough, I had to change the difficulty from hard back to normal, which I eventually left it on, because I encountered this same wall. Even though all enemy attacks can be avoided or dodged, I think that hard difficulty is better suited for subsequent playthroughs because you will need to know enemy attack patterns, what chips are best utilized for the fight, as well as the use of items, which is a lot to manage for new players or even players on their 2nd play through. In my opinion, normal mode is just too easy and could have bridged that gap to hard difficulty.
The next site also gave the game an 8.0/10 and this review is from Polygon. Other than the easy difficulty holding your hand too much, one point that they bring up in this review that can be an issue for some people is that the maps/environments often have invisible walls that block your way. There are building that looks like you can run through or terrain you can jump or climb unto, but you are left often testing it out to your disappointment. This is an annoyance which can lead to frustration, as the movement is fluid and fast-paced, so this ends up slowing things down. I thought of this as a minor annoyance and didn't significantly detract from my experience, and not something that should bring down the score that significantly.
The next two reviews are higher and more aligned to what I think the game deserves but let's take a look at what EGM and IGN have to say about its flaws. EGM (or Electronic Gaming Monthly) gave the game an 8.5 out of 10. One criticism on the game is that the world can feel underdeveloped or not as fleshed out. While they went for the open world feel, the world just doesn't feel big and accessible. I understand this point of view and if you're looking for an open world like The Witcher series, you will be sorely disappointed. Working with a smaller budget and shorter development cycle compared to other triple-A titles, I think this aesthetic fits the game well. Considering the game's plot, buildings and infrastructure are crumbling after centuries of humans no longer inhabiting earth. By no means is this an indie title, but the semi-open world is effective at creating an environment that feels desolate and uninhabited. Another point EGM brings up, which I saw in other reviews is the tedious or generic side quests that are offered by NPCs during the game. For me personally, I thought that the side quests were interesting and a positive for the game. While many do boil down to kill certain enemies or located certain objects, I feel that many concluded in a satisfying way that invoked the same thought-provoking ideas of the main story. Some side quests are genuinely funny and endearing, like finding and escorting a machine's missing sister. While others make you feel conflicted, such as when you are tasked to take out machines or hostile androids, but after more information is revealed you are left questioning your own sense of morality. Most of the side quests are given through text, but that doesn't mean it's any less important to the main story. It's most likely due to the production budget and time mention earlier.
The last review I will look at is from IGN probably one of the most popular sites for gaming content, which gave Automata an 8.9 out of 10. While most of their review praised it for all its features and style, it focused on the convoluted story and development of the characters that lead to less payoff in the story. This is a valid criticism and many players will have, but I think that this comes down to players taste in games. If you enjoyed other Japanese games like Final Fantasy 7 or Kingdom Hearts that are often described as also having a convoluted story, then you would actually see the story, and how it connects to the previous Nier and Drakengaurd series, as a draw to the game. I'm in this category and I spent a good week after completing the game reading and watching a lot of story synopsis's to make sure I didn't miss anything. Not to say that the story has holes that require you to go outside of the game, but the story is ripe for theory crafting and interpretation. The second argument about the characters, and needing to get into the second playthrough to begin feeling connected to them is also another aspect of the game that I appreciated for being different. It is true that the first playthrough feels superficial, but it makes the end result even more impactful. Starting out the game you first assume that the androids and robots alike have no feeling and emotion, but by the (final) end of the game you feel for the struggle and development that each of the main characters go through. It's amazing how the same scenes you play through on the first time invoke completely different emotions by the end of the game. The English voice actors did a great job of conveying the state of mind each character is in.
As you can tell by now I think that this game is a masterpiece and if a sequel is indeed in the works I can't wait to see where they take this franchise. I would have given this a perfect 10, but do agree that it does have flaws after reading so many reviews. However, the story, combat, style, characters, OST and overall themes of the game make up for any of these downsides. If you have not yet played the game, you owe it to yourself to play, and complete, this game. Like the lowest scores reflects, playing the game after seeing the first ending is only a fraction of what the game is about.
Thank you for those that stuck with me this far. I know I mentioned in the previous post that reviews are subjective, so let me know what you would give the game, and what review you most agree with. See you all again soon. Glory to Mankind!
Links to reviews cited: