One thing’s certain about Nier: Automata. This is a game surrounded by high expectation.
The first Nier might have flown under the radar of a lot of RPG fans at the time of its release in 2010, but its story, convincing characters, and otherworldly soundtrack has acquired a cult following over the years. Nier was a unique, emotionally-rich tale, and those who played it will surely remember its melancholic and ethereal atmosphere.
Following Nier’s level of emotional storytelling should be quite the challenge. The first game included a few narrative bombshells, some of them personally involving the player. For instance, after reaching the end of the game, the new game+ playthrough offered a whole new perspective on the story.. at a price. Now able to understand the language of and the circumstances their enemy suffers, the player realises their actions were far from virtuous. It packed an emotional punch that is hard to forget.
Director Yoko Taro is well known for his unusual and often dark storytelling. “Certainly the first game was very emotional,” he confides, “it was a very ‘wet’ kind of story. What I’m trying this time is a much more ‘dry’ approach, looking at the themes of the unfairness of the world and the harsh, prejudiced realities that these characters are facing.”
And Nier: Automata’s world does indeed seem unfair. In the same post-apocalyptic setting as the original Nier but thousands of years in the future, a war is waging between machines from another world and the remnants of humanity. 2B, the main protagonist, is an android, part of a unit force named YoRHa that is sent to Earth to help humanity reclaim the planet from the invaders.
This time too, players might want to go further than their first playthrough. “It’s a slightly different system this time around,” Taro explains. “But people who have only played through to the first ending of Nier: Automata have probably not even seen half of the story.”
Chipping in gameplay customisation
With Platinum Games in charge of the development of the sequel, you can safely expect the typical sleek action gameplay that the talented studio has become known for. Based on a new three hour demo, the gameplay proves to be one of its most flexible. A good illustration of this is the plug-in chip system. Collect chips, plug them into 2B (she’s an android after all) and you can access anything from new attacks, UI changes, and quite a few Easter eggs.
Producer Yosuke Saito points out the ability to heal through attacking enemies as a personal favourite. Taro, unsurprisingly, chooses a chip that tricks the player. “If you take it out, it immediately kills you and sends you straight back to the title screen! The great thing about it is that there’s no warning at all, even if you haven’t saved – as soon as you take it out, you’re dead.”
To be fair, it’s adding these kinds of details that have made him so well known in the industry. He has always found ways to implement unique ideas that make his games special.
Nier’s as much RPG as it is an action title. Character development, weapon purchases, side-quests and even fishing are included (“At Platinum, we’ve been making action games for a very long time, so we’re quite driven to make other kinds of games. Because of this, we’ve put a lot of love into the RPG elements of the game.”)
For those that are RPG lovers but not necessarily combat proficient, an easy difficulty setting installs a number of chips that automates your fighting prowess. “By using those you can really just walk around, and it will automatically fight and attack enemies for you.”
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Really Hard mode: one hit equals death. It is, in Platinum’s words, “for the real hardcore action-gameplay fans”.
Following a cult game such as Nier is no easy feat, yet it looks like Square Enix and Platinum Games‘s first collaboration will be up to the task. When I ask about Yoko Taro’s directing approach near the end of my interview, designer Takahisa Taura confides that “no one trusts you as much as this guy does in the whole world of gaming.”
Truth be told, boasting a combination of Platinum’s sleek action-gameplay with an RPG core and a story and soundtrack that appear to uphold the spirit of the first game, we definitely trust that Nier: Automata is in very good hands indeed.
Our friends over at the U.S PlayStation Blog have an exclusive 25 minutes of Nier: Automata in action. Check the video out here.