Thoughts from Nier: Automata

Possible Spoilers

Played Nier: Automata directly after two or three weeks of trying to playing through Nioh and struggling not to die from boredom, and I was hooked from Friday night to yesterday night, getting endings A, B, C, and D over the course of around 40 hours.  I watched ending E online, not sure at what point my saves would get cleared, but I guess I could add the E ending to my save quickly as well.

Overall

The game is structured in an interesting, but risky way, in my opinion.  From the beginning to the first ending and credit roll took me about 14 hours, and while it was certainly fun, I found it, to be honest, a little forgettable.  There were still plenty of questions left to be answered, and while there some moments of unease and drama, it didn’t feel completely satisfying.  It was a good idea to put the developer message at the end, recommending further play throughs.

Were I in the developer’s position, I would find it hard to resist making it more immediately obvious that there is much more to experience in the game, say, by putting ‘End CH 1’ or something directly after the ending A cutscene.  I find it rare that a game gets significantly more interesting in subsequent playthroughs.  Whereas other games I’ve played generally have the meat of the game in the first play through, with following runs mostly focused on fine tuning and min-maxing, playing Nier: Automata only once would be a real mistake.  The game leaves out the strongest moments until the third playthrough, and the atmosphere becomes significantly different.

I’m not sure, but I feel the musical tracks for familiar areas became more intense in the third playthrough.  It was a nice touch (if it’s not just me imagining things).  I’m unfortunately not educated enough to comment on the music more than ‘it was really good, I liked it a lot.  Fantastic.’  Almost every time music was playing, I enjoyed it, especially the contrast between machine voices and… non-machine voices.  I wouldn’t say Pascal’s town theme vocals aren’t fitting, but I’m not sure I’d say I love it.  Another nice point I noticed were the spooky tracks that played whenever reaching a dark point in quest dialog.  Going from pleasant hub music to a funeral chant when someone talks about killing their friends really hammered the point home.

The way you can modify your chips, I find EXCELLENT.  Being able to modify the HUD through the chip system made changes to the UI feel natural story-wise.  Changing your skill build on the fly with no penalty (like having to respec, or being locked into a build by a level up system that makes you choose stats) encouraged experimentation with skill style, and there was a good variety of skills available.  I had a defensive HP + regen set, a speed set for moving about, and an offensive set for blowing things up as fast as possible.  I only wish there was a dedicated button for switching chipsets, and I would even favor it over the dedicated weapon switch button.  I’ve never encountered an enemy and thought to myself, ‘I really prefer to handle the different enemies in this area with two different weapons’.

One example I can kind of think of as far as weapon switching is spears.  I found myself using 9S’s spear throw can fairly useful, yet the spear counter move sucks; it just pushes enemies across the map.  I forgot if I can instead launch the enemy upwards on counter with R2 as 9S or if that would just be hacking, so that might just be me being bad.

Gameplay

Bearing in mind I’ve not played Drakengard nor Nier Gestalt / Replicant, I found the way the game frequently switched the mode of play engaging.  Scrolling shooter, top down shooter, 3rd person action, platformer, could all be used to describe different sections of the game.

What it has in gameplay variety though, I felt slightly lacking in depth in some departments (Reminder I really liked this game).

It may be that the patterns improve on harder difficulties, but this comes from a Normal difficulty playthrough.  The bullet patterns were by and large uninspired save for some slightly brighter moments for me (the amusement park boss).  Traversing them perfectly in 3d felt either droll or impossible.  Droll, because adding a 3rd dimension to bullet hell patterns means there is way more empty space available between the bullets, and impossible because you can only see so much of the screen and I didn’t feel it was possible to anticipate some of the faster moving attacks.

I didn’t like the fact that the dodge button felt combined with sprinting, but I don’t have a good alternative for that.  Now that I try to find what’s wrong with it, it’s probably fine.

It didn’t affect me for all that much time, but I HATED that you can lock on to friendly units.  It’s very frustrating trying to protect a friendly only to have myself lock onto the friendly over and over rather than the enemies.  I suppose that’s shame on me for playing on Normal, but I don’t see why I would ever want to lock on to something I don’t want to hit.  At least, not in the scenarios presented to me in the game.

Combat mostly came down to dodging, pod program, and R1/R2 presses for combos, counter, and juggling.  That’s definitely not a problem, and I’m oversimplifying.  But I wish each pod program ran on a separate cool down so that I could use multiple programs.  I could be embarrassingly wrong here, and they do have different cool downs.  A lot of the time though, ranged combat for me boiled down to firing a Gatling gun waiting for laser to become available.  Melee combat is fine, but ranged combat was a little boring.

The fact that there is a chapter select that allows as much selection as the one in Nier: Automata is very much appreciated.  It must have taken time to arrange and design things so that something that convenient is possible, and I think they definitely deserve credit for that.

Something that just seems to be eternally persistent in video games, however, are boring side quests.  I don’t think collect ‘x’ fetch quests should ever be an option when deciding how to supply the player with more things to do.  Of course, not all of the side quests are like this, but the ones that are should really not exist, or be replaced with fewer, deeper side quests.

Difficulty

There are 4 difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard.  I spent the first 2 hours of my experience with this game going through the introductory section of the game on Hard, over and over, dying shameful deaths.  I was expecting a Dark Souls / Bloodborne type of experience, dying repeatedly while learning (which I now tend to do for any action game), but having to get through the cutscenes and shooting sections just to mess up and get 99% of my HP taken away by the wheel-claw’s side swiping attack ended up just being too much for me to bear.  I did get through the claw, hoping I would be able to save my progress.  I didn’t see a chance to save, got killed by a surprise crowd of mobs, and was sent back to the beginning.  “Everything that lives is designed to end…”.  It was just too much, and I turned down the difficulty to normal at that point.  Looking back, now that I’m 40 hours more familiar with the game, I could probably handle Hard at this point, but that’s for another time.  When I just started, it felt beyond me.

On the other hand, during my playthrough of Normal difficulty, I died maybe twice throughout the game.  The difference in damage taken between Normal and Hard was vast (at least from what I could tell by the introduction section); and I think it’s too vast.  Normal felt too easy, but what little I tried of Hard felt grueling.

Story

I really don’t like how they killed 2B off.  As players we were given a lot of time to become very invested in 9S and 2B.  The struggle to get the infected 2B to the mall was frustrating and stressful, but maintained a glimmer of hope.  Then, all concerns for 2B are blown away as she’s confirmed dead.  I didn’t feel attached to A2 anywhere near as much as 2B or 9S, and when the game started presenting me the option of picking 9S or A2 to support, I went for 9S to start, switched to A2 just because I felt I should at least try it, then resolved to only pick 9S afterwards (I only got to pick him one more time afterwards anyway, I think?).  9S’s sequences were far more dramatic, and to have them punctuated by A2’s relatively boring personality detracted from the C/D route experience.

The idea that weapons store an android’s body was somewhat of a surprise to me and came out of nowhere as far as I’m concerned.

I was also hoping for some kind of plot development where android command had a reason other than desertion to exterminate certain Yorha units, or a strong reason to desert Yorha.  I don’t think it was made concrete though.

Ideas

Two groups killing each other on behalf of something that doesn’t exist
Humans are gone, aliens are gone… Given that does it make sense to fight?  9S’s descent into madness was stirring.

Self-Preservation

What qualifies as human
This is a common theme when artificial intelligence gets involved, but I’m not yet tired of it.  Should rights and laws be extended to anything that can speak to our emotions?  What really makes a human is how they think, not what they’re made of.

9S constantly rejects the possibility that machines can truly have emotions throughout the game, denying Pascal has a ‘heart,’ reminding 2B to ignore any machines’ cries of anguish, and other similar moments.  The problem is,  how can you tell, from the outside, whether something has emotions on the inside?  How can you tell apart a digital simulation of emotion and the flesh equivalent?  If the emotions are basic… does that mean it should be denied humanity?

How important is it that humans look human?  Androids and machines were the same at the core.  9S has no more of a heart than Pascal does, and he’s aware he’s not human.  When he discovers Yorha aren’t based on human AI, it becomes even clearer they’re not all that different.

How emotions form
I guess this is a continuation of the previous topic, but I think the idea that emotions aren’t uniquely human was highlighted.  (Well, any pet owners knew that already too)  When Pod 42 and 153 (numbers are wrong? I don’t know) grew fond of 2B and 9S, it showed emotions can come from anywhere with enough ‘intelligence’ and shared experience.

Questions

There are still things I didn’t resolve for myself, either from lack of insight, not having information from other games, or just not paying attention.  I’ll have to go back and read through the logs I picked up, or maybe some threads online.  I have some ideas but nothing serious.
Why did Yorha have to be designed to end?
Why did machines try to be human?
Why does A2 bother hunting down the forest king?
What makes the rogue Yorha go rogue?
Why did the machines kill the aliens?

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