Comparison Review: Nier Automata
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC
Review Console: PlayStation 5 & Nintendo Switch OLED
WELCOME THE ANDROIDS! - Introduction
Over the past year and a half, I’ve been putting my amateurish skills into providing in-depth reviews. I found genuine diamonds, too, as well as a couple of stinkers that belong in the bin. One core belief I’ve always held, even today, is that a perfect ten should be reserved for the cream of the crop - simply the best. I want the characters and setting to live rent-free in my head, causing every waking moment to be shrouded in unadulterated obsession. There must be a period of legitimate mourning as I search the internet to seek out videos of pivotal points just to relive that magic. There have been some close calls. To date, though, I have only done it twice - Persona 5 Royal and Nier Replicant. Join me as I find out if Nier Automata can grab the brass ring.
COVERT MEANINGS! - Writing
Yoko Taro is an insane man with an imagination I could only wish to one day emulate. How he can weave a story full of twists and turns that leave a person baffled and, in a couple of cases, breathless is admirable. That streak continues in Nier Automata. At first, it’s just a classic tale about the end of the world. Androids are battling against machines to make Earth habitable for humans once again. Look, I came into this adventure having already been crushed by the emotional rollercoaster that is Nier Replicant. I was prepared, or I thought, anyway. By the end of it, I was still pretty messed up. I can’t even begin to articulate just how powerful the events are. It didn’t matter that my heart was ready for a beating because I forgot one significant thing - I was at the mercy of a brilliant madman.
Hell, there’s this crucial moment that initially left me terribly disappointed. As I watched, all I could think of was how the execution was awful. It fell into this trap of a trope that eliminates any sort of drama. For spoiler's sake, I can’t exactly get into it. However, I will note that as my session kept on progressing, that specific instance took another form. See, a brand new context is introduced, and as a byproduct, there’s this substantial weight suddenly there. I couldn’t help but feel empathetic toward that particular character. My perception was wholly altered. I'm smitten by how it coxes me into a false sense of security with a rubbish first impression, then blindsided with a revelation that stuns me. Writing about the experience doesn’t do it justice. Although, when I shout vulgarities in wonder, I think that does.
HUMOR AND DARK TOPICS! - Writing
With such a grim premise, it’s great to have dabs of silliness to alleviate the tears that I reckon most of us will be welcoming. The banter between 2B and 9S is terrific. They’re responsible for the majority of soft chuckles or smiles that came from my lips. I will say, however, that as I’ve already given hours of my life to Replicant, the interactions between 2B and her pod pale compared to Grimoire Weiss. Now, it isn’t necessarily due to being outright horribly penned since my complaint is how robotic and devoid of inflection it is. Then again, your companion is not a conscious book and, instead, a literally mechanical one, explaining my away gripe as asinine. What I’m worried about is the divisiveness - that this spice of snark won’t resonate. For what it’s worth, I found the naivety of the programmed entity to be extraordinarily endearing.
Where the writing lets loose is in the side quests. The snorts and wheezes fly freely with the many absurd mini-narrations, like, for example, a child-like robot inquiring how babies are made. It’s hilarious to see how flustered 9S gets and how 2B leaves him out to dry, so to speak. Then there’s this woman with, I suppose you could say, an intriguing name. The wackiness is a nice departure from the much deeper scenarios you’re bombarded with in your session. It’s kind of fascinating to think about, really. The duality of Nier Automata is a spectacle to behold, and despite those stark differences in tones, the pacing’s clean, and nothing feels out of place, even if what’s said is a wee bit outlandish. I kid you not; I snapped many screenshots of a small offering of the quotables scattered throughout. They’re surprising but weirdly fit.
Of course, I must highlight the subject matter awaiting in the shadows. It’s profound and upsetting, causing me to stare with disbelief. I couldn’t wrap my head around the many avenues this game had no problem exploring. The various gut punches dished out left me gasping and distraught. Even in those moments when I knew something grisly was about to reveal itself, my heart still stung. Nier Automata did a spectacular, no, phenomenal job getting me to invest. So much so, in fact, that when given choices with dire ramifications, I struggled to make a decision. Even after begrudgingly picking, I wasn’t overly enthused about what I ended up doing. Again, I have to reiterate that Yoko Taro is a bloody genius, and his ability to tell such a captivating tale is inspiring. How he tactfully utilizes suicide, harnessing its full impactfulness, is commendable.
HIDDEN CONTEXT! - Writing
As the narrative flourished, I began noticing a few unanswered questions. I wouldn’t call them plot holes, though. I could discern what was happening from start to finish with no issues. Think of these as cliffhangers, where just enough information is given to spark intrigue and curiosity. It sounds iffy, but a facet I wasn’t privy to until much later in my session is by jumping into the pause UI before toggling to the Intel tab; there are snippets of exposition that further divulge the lore. It provides solutions, but the method this part is handled is not conventional. Not everyone likes this type of storytelling. In that way, I’m afraid it might alienate some from getting the full appeal Nier Automata has, which is a crying shame. This title is a masterclass with a delicious heaping of additional and occasionally beefy endings.
2B OR NOT 2B! - Writing
2B is irrefutably excellent, rounding out the stellar female twosome of her and Kainé of Replicant. The way her development transpires is incredible. She’s nonchalant, refusing to participate in idle chatter when there’s a mission to see through. All her answers are straight to the point, taking no nonsense. Watching her demeanor evolve into something different from what she begins with by the end feels organic. I adore how kickass she is while maintaining a slight bit of femininity. She’s a full package, and her relationship with 9S feels, and I overuse this word a hell of a lot, but it feels tangible. It’s so pure and authentic, shining a morsel of humanity into this desolate world. What was especially delightful was seeing 2B’s personality attempting to bust through her stoic attitude. Once the penultimate climax concerning her is shown, man, it had me speechless.
A BOY NAMED 9S! - Writing
The dynamic between 9S and 2B reminds me of a comedy duo. She’s the straight shooter, never silly, always serious. Yet, on the other side of the spectrum, 9S takes more of a lighthearted approach to life. His quips are lathered in innocence, and there’s a charisma that’s hard to ignore. The way his dialogue is written doesn’t have that manufactured feel. Instead, it comes across as natural, and his exchanges flow seamlessly. He feels alive. 9S is also the comic relief, and much like 2B, his personal development, as the kids today say, deserves a chef’s kiss. By the final chapter, he was almost unrecognizable. A part of him had been awoken by certain events, transforming him, and yet, buried underneath; I could still see the frightened but determined young boy - a boy that wears his heart on his sleeve.
STICK AND POKE! - Gameplay
Nier Automata, as uncomplicated as the gameplay loop is, has a disgustingly addictive combat system that dug its claws into me. It’s rapid and unforgiving, demanding that a player entirely focuses on the screen’s action. It starts simply enough, tossing a machine or two in your path. It isn’t until the mid-to-late game that proceedings begin heating up. That number boosts upwards to five abruptly, insisting I keep my eyes open. What’s incredible is that I’m, in no way, shape, or form, capable of multitasking. In fact, the chances I’ll falter hard are pretty high. Yet, I stayed slaying because of their very pronounced pre-attack animations. I immediately clued into incoming strikes, evading them with a swift, athletic, handless cartwheel. It’s accessible, allowing me to feel skilled. Despite my possessing slow reactions, I kept kicking booty.
Alright, time to address the elephant in the room. I know there’s a question on the tip of your tongue, and yes, I chose normal difficulty. However, do keep in mind that I got Ending A twice on different consoles, meaning I did attempt the hard mode. My findings were that the challenge was definitely there. I didn’t struggle, though. If anything, I reckon it was easier for me due to never feeling overwhelmed. I could focus on button mashing to evade. I eventually got into a groove, and it was when I dropped down a peg that I’d have trouble. I was dodging too fast for the slower pace. You’re likely curious as to why I’d bring this information up, and the reason is I want it to serve as a testament - proof of how mechanically sound the hack-and-slash system is. I do still contend with one aspect.
WAIT, WHAT AM I?! - Gameplay
Nier Automata is having a case of genre confusion. The action DNA is undoubtedly cemented, and for those that love bullet hell, I’ve got fantastic news as that’s here too. There are tons of encounters that had projectiles bombard 2B from every direction. Now typically, I can somewhat hold my own. That isn’t the case here, primarily because of the camera angle. It isn’t top-down, lending itself to creating blindspots within the 3D space. I couldn’t begin telling you the number of times I’d be vibing, pulling off evasions, only to get pelted from behind. Even on Normal, the blast has lethality to it, erasing half of my health bar in seconds or, in a few cases, three-quarters. It brought cheap deaths, but never to a ludicrous degree. What’s aggravating by perishing, I lost quite a bit of hours. Auto-saving doesn’t exist - manually do so whenever possible.
That isn’t all she wrote regarding the playstyle, of course, because during the narrative, things switch up. Sections played as a shoot’em up appear. It’s pretty standard for what it constitutes - gunning down machines and avoiding being destroyed. Having such a buffet of different genres helps to keep things fresh, which is appreciated as we’re looking at a 30-hour session, at least. I admit when I first heard about the smorgasbord that Nier Automata offers; I grew a bit suspicious. I was curious how contrasting methods would work or marry together without clumsiness. Well, Platinum did it, and even if I found one part tough, I never considered rage quitting. It was the opposite - I wanted to keep on. I can emphatically say that, without any hyperbole, the engagement is off the charts.
2B Customs! - Gameplay
In what’s likely one of the better mechanics in Nier Automata, given that 2B and 9S are Androids, I can modify them to my heart's content. Well, to a limit, anyway. See, each of them has a set quantity of slots available. These give you the opportunity to insert an item known as a Plug-in chip. They come in various configurations, containing unique perks that can turn the tide of battle in your favor. Some effects include but aren’t restricted to healing a tiny portion of health after eliminating an enemy, the ability to act like a magnet, grabbing all loot automatically, or a general increase to melee strength. Upon acquiring a chip, you’ll notice a number indicating the area, or sockets, it covers. Remember, there’s only so much space. It’ll become a balancing act to ensure that 2B becomes a savant.
Unfortunately, those same Plug-In chips, when found in the wild, come with an astronomical cost. If I wanted to adorn 2B with the-of-the-line, I have to mess with fusion. Let me tell you, when I see this feature in a game, I scream. Something about it is alluring, and it’s quite a similar story to Nier Automata. The strategic element it submits kept me motivated to grind. Oh, yeah, thanks to the RPG flare and the existence of leveling, there’s going to be a semblance of leisurely killing, too. Unfortunately, finding those same pesky chips can potentially prove troublesome. See, they don’t have a dedicated pool, meaning if a specific material is needed, no one foe gives it. It’s entirely random - I have no choice but to pray Lady Luck smiles upon me before she blesses me with a good get.
2B IS A CREATIVE BEE! - Gameplay
There’s an abundance of weapons scattered around the world, waiting to be grabbed, held, and swung against the metallic body of a machine. Sure, a couple can be purchased, but the bulk lies within chests and shrines. Some are acquired as prizes for fighting and emerging victorious from battlegrounds. It’s at this point that the third usage of grinding comes in, as to strengthen my arsenal, I had to reinforce them at a blacksmith. I got that initially; I brought y’all lousy news, so let me be the bearer of good. Through testing, I determined that this subset of items seems to be a dedicated reward, depending on the enemy. RNG is no longer around to pull the rug out from under you, prolonging a need to hunt arbitrarily. Lady Luck is a hindrance no more. I can progress with ease.
WHERE DO I GO?! - Presentation
Before I discuss graphical fidelity, I must rant about the state of the map. To be blunt, it’s utter garbage. Don’t get me wrong, the mini version at the bottom corner of the screen is handy. Most importantly, it’s not only usable but easy to navigate. Once you go to the pause UI for a closer look at the enormous variation, well, the waters muddle. See, it attempts to utilize elevation to communicate when there are cliffs. In theory, that isn’t a bad shout, but in practice, it’s a cluttered mess. I understand it exists to be quirky, channeling the strangeness that Yoko Taro adores to introduce. What he creates, however, is convoluted and hard to understand. Look, it’s well-documented that my memory is abysmal. Without a legible guide, I was chasing my tail - top marks for originality, but in function, it failed.
PS4 VS SWITCH! - Presentation
By now, I’m sure it’s evident the pictures I’m using in this coverage are a mixture of being from the hybrid and the PlayStation. First and foremost, let’s get the obvious out of the way. If we’re being objective, the PS5 is sharper, the resolution is crisp, and the details are pristine. Even the bullets shot by machines have a certain glean. 2B is also wonderfully forged. All her curves are curvy, and her hair has volume and texture. If we compare it to the little console that can, character models don’t have many discrepancies. It’s environments that suffer, looking exceedingly muddy. It’s worth noting the fast action does distract from the surroundings. Whenever idle, it’s a beacon. Cutscenes look identical to the naked eye, though, or at least, it does when on handheld, specifically with the OLED model.
DAVID VS GOLIATH! - Performance
I’ve been called a Nintendo shill before, and maybe this following opinion will only solidify that, but the overall experience isn’t terrible on either device. The optimization is beyond humans. Square Enix didn’t just nail it; they performed a damn miracle. Perhaps it was a blood ritual, but whatever it was, bravo on this port. Hell, Nier Automata maintains a rock-hard 30fps. Yes, the PS5 does output a firm 60, giving it the advantage of smoother movement, but I grew up during the early days of 3D - 30 was the norm. I didn’t pick up on any deal-breaking inconsistencies. Even when the screen was entirely engulfed in explosions, the Switch stood its ground. Still, I want to preface that by saying after a session of 50 hours, there were slowdowns. On the plus side, It was rectified by restarting the device.
OW, MY HANDS! - Accessibility
Alright, this next paragraph might be an isolated complaint. See, I’m clumsy and have a tendency to drop my Nintendo Switch. As a result, the Joy-Con I have can shift upwards if I play a high-intensity romp. Panic starts setting in, and then my grip tightens up, causing both to go upwards and the screen that notifies me to adjust my controllers to appear. It does disrupt momentum, stopping the high-octane action in its tracks.
In contrast, the PS5 suffers less squeezing, telling me the issue is the form factor. The absence of bulk with the hybrid means my hand positioning isn’t ideal. Due to my body’s weakened right side, it not only made holding it feels inconvenient but also challenging to maneuver the analog stick. That’s not a problem on Sony’s juggernaut, so I suggest buying a third-party grip for the Joy-Con that strives for comfortability.
PRISTINE AUDIO! - Sound Design
A commonality between Nier Automata and Replicant is the gorgeous music. There’s no disputing that fact, and if anyone tries to, well, they’re bloody liars. The orchestration is enough to cause your ears to climax and a pleasurable sensation to wash over your whole body. Your toes will curl at the serenity of the vocals. How it uses a custom dialect made exclusively for the title, known as Chaos Language, is brilliant. Despite incomprehensible lyrics, it doesn’t negate the chills rolling down my spine. The way Emi Evans flows with the instrumentals is beauty in its rawest state. This soundtrack ambushes the senses with a speedy assault of melodic musings. Whether it was the docile keystrokes of a piano or the strumming of a guitar, I was hopelessly immersed. Simply put, not very many soundtracks can wrangle the player's imagination, but Nier does.
It’s funny to think a complaint people typically have with voice acting is a compliment here. It’s kind of poetic if you think about it because that weirdness goes hand-in-hand with Yoko Taro. See, a few of the performances are robotic. Then again, of course, they are, but not frequently. In actuality, there’s a healthy bit of quirk to the characters, as well as whimsy. 9S is the encapsulation of happy-go-lucky and has a very contagious charm. The dub’s splendid. I know it’s a contentious topic, but for real, I’m blown away. As I noted earlier, the level of inflection is craziness. The actresses and actors knocked it out of the park. When you then accompany this facet with the hauntingly delightful audio, it adds the finishing touches to a recipe that creates a banger in sound design - it’s a tasty treat.
AND THE CATACLYSMIC VERDICT IS…
Nier Automata isn’t just a form of entertainment, but it will also sully other games for you. Once I’ve seen the quality of this glorious romp, it has me looking at other titles within the same genre with a side glance. I yearn for more, and that hunger is why I decided on a comparative analysis. I didn’t want the experience ever to end. Whatever your poison, it’s worth picking up on either console. Although, if you prioritize using the television, then the PS4 is hands down the optimal edition to buy. I’d also strongly recommend diving headfirst into Replicant. There are plenty of references here that might go unseen unless you do. Connecting whatever you’re playing to a speaker is also a necessity. The weaker ones on the Switch hold back the majesty of the songs - that should be illegal. Anyway, Nier is superb. Period. Get it.
NIER AUTOMATA IS A MUST BUY!
Special thanks to the Publisher for the Nintendo Switch review code used for the purpose of this coverage. The PlayStation 4 version of Nier Automata was purchased by myself.