Connect with us

Game Reviews

‘Nier: Automata’ – A Melding of Gameplay and Story

Published

on

The first Nier was met with middling reviews when it was released around 7 years ago; it was an ambitious title, with great ideas, that fell a bit short on its execution. Nier received quiet the cult following because of its somber and complex plot, interesting characters, myriad of clever gameplay choices, and references to other games. It didn’t sell well though, and what fans it had feared there would never be another game like it helmed by the same director, Yoko Taro. Taro continued Nier’s story through the form of other media like books and a stage play, but a new game seemed like an impossibility. Five years later, at E3 2015, Taro announced a sequel to Nier that was being made in collaboration with Platinum Games. Nier: Automata is the result of their hard work, and it has all the charm and nuance of the original game, but with all the style a developer like Platinum is known for.

Nier: Automata follows the stories of three androids: 2B, 9S, and A2. 2B and 9S are members of a resistance group called YorHa that fights against machine lifeforms that forced humanity off the surface of the earth long ago. 9S typically does his work alone, but gets paired with 2B when the rest of her unit is wiped out in an operation gone awry. From there the story begins to focus on the business and personal views of the two androids as they explore more of the Earth’s surface and encounter more and more machine lifeforms. A2 is a YorHa unit that went rouge after uncovering information about the military group she used to be a part of. Her story doesn’t take off until closer to the end of the game, but it doesn’t detract from the overall narrative, even if she feels like a weaker character until around the end. Automata’s story covers a lot of topics from the typical “what does it mean to be human?” theme popular in science fiction, to things like the absurdity of violence and war, and learning to look at things from another’s perspective.

They really are cute little robots.

Automata peppers these serious subjects with some absurd images and situations. Enemy designs range from cute to intimidating, and it’s the former that has a larger impact on the player. It’s really hard to not get attached to the smaller machine lifeforms after you’ve had a chance to talk to a few rather than slaughter them. Robots and androids both seem to reason like humans, and as 2B and 9S venture further into machine culture the odder side of things begins to surface. The more you get into Automata’s story the harder it becomes to not feel emotionally involved. A lot of this comes from how good the translation and voice acting is, 9S being the best example. He goes through the most changes and realizations out of any of the main cast, and his actor is able to carry the emotion behind every line. The characters feel natural whether they are calculating ridiculous plans or spouting existential melodrama. It takes a lot to get away with some of the crazy plot twists Automata does, but its quality script and acting do just that. Despite this though, the plot does have a couple of hang ups, but that has more to do with how Taro approached writing in the game’s multiple endings.

Yoko Taro’s writing is rather spotty at times, mostly because he tries to include so much into his stories. The original Nier left way more questions than it did answers to a lot of its smaller plot points, and Automata follows pretty closely in its footsteps. Every now and then small things will pop up that feel out of place or make little sense unless you’re familiar the first Nier’s story. It’s somewhat easy to pass these things off with the rest of the game’s crazy plot, but there are some sections and references that might have players unfamiliar with Nier scratching their heads in confusion.  Thankfully, the main plot centered on the three androids doesn’t suffer from these issues as they have zero ties to first game. You can enjoy the story and characters Automata has to offer without having played its prequel, but a some of the side-material will probably be lost without some understanding of Nier’s lore.

Automata’s world and story also blends into its gameplay in a way that many other games do not. Automata is an action RPG at heart, but it combines elements of many different genres across its 30-40 hour story. Combat combines elements of hack-n-slash action with bullet hell, with differing amounts of each element depending on who you’re playing as. 2B and A2 are combat model androids, so their sections play like a simplified version of an action title with hints of bullet spam. You can’t just mash your way to victory as enemies often pile on you in groups, forcing you the weave in between bullets and dodge melee attacks before landing your own. 9S is a support unit, so his combat abilities are much weaker than his female counterparts’. The scanner android’s primary way to deal with machines is to hack into and destroy them from the inside. Hacking sections play like a twin-stick shooter, and give 9S a unique twist on fighting. Playing as 9S reveals a bit more of the story, since he sees visions from the lives of the machines he hacks into. It’s in his sections where those themes mentioned earlier start to ground themselves in the plot.

9S’ hacking segments have a minimalistic look to them, but their difficulty ranges from easy to painstakingly hard.

Weapons and characters are upgradeable in typical RPG fashion, but each with a special twist. Every weapon has a story tied to it, and more of that story is revealed with each upgrade. You can increase the capabilities of the androids through computer chips. It’s a pretty hilarious concept in execution, because you gain more room for skills by buying more RAM rather than leveling up your characters. You can also mess with your androids basic functions by adding or removing certain chips, one of which leads to a joke ending. There’s a lot of thought put into every gameplay decision in Automata, and it’s what makes it such a fun and charming title. The amount of thought and polish that Platinum put into the gameplay is enough to overlook the minor hiccups in the writing.

The game’s presentation is also exceptionally well done. Automata’s world is post-apocalyptic, but its palette is surprisingly varied. No one area looks or feels like another, and it helps flesh out each individual section as its own thing. In particular, some of the better looking areas include an abandoned carnival brought back to life by peaceful machines, and an old castle that’s become overrun by forest and foliage in the centuries since its construction. 2B and 9S have plenty of ways to interact with the environment as well; they can ride the giant boars and moose that inhabit the human-less planet, get wet with rain and river water, and trip over rocks and shrubbery if they run into them head on. This all cycles back into the attention to detail Platinum put into the gameplay, and makes the over world fun to explore and mess around in despite occasionally rare frame drops.

The real crown jewel of Automata’s presentation is its music. Keichi Okabe and Keigo Hoashi have pulled together an orchestral and vocal soundtrack that is as varied as all the locations in the over world. Every track perfectly matches its location, and brings out the emotion the player should be feeling for that particular part in the game. The vocal renditions of certain tracks are where things really start to have an impact on the player and bring out the sense of fantastical wonder and tense drama that Automata’s world has to offer. If there were ever game that deserved an official soundtrack release on Square-Enix’s online store, it would be Automata.

All of the positive things in Nier: Automata outweigh the negative. Its story is absurd, yet interesting, its characters feel human despite their mechanical makeup, and it’s all layered with unique gameplay elements that keep it feeling fresh and fun. Automata makes a very strong first impression, and it’s able to carry that weight through its myriad of story arcs and endings.

Taylor is a writer from Atlanta, GA. His passion for games extends across genres and generations. When not playing or writing about games, he's probably reading science fiction.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement

Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

Published

on

Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Published

on

Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

Published

on

Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending