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I would describe Nier: Automata as being a game about duality, deceit, and opposition. Perhaps not what you’d expect – or even desire – of a game description. You cannot really ascertain what sort of mechanics make up the gameplay with those words. Though “opposition” seems to somewhat describe the very nature of a conflict, it is broad enough to also encapsulate the likes of Super Mario or even a Madden title.

Nonetheless it is on these three concepts that Nier: Automata lays its very foundations. Like the indie game Toren – a game I analyzed in-depth on my YouTube channel and even this very blog – it takes thematic content typically intended for a narrative and carries those ideas through to the gameplay.

Let’s begin with the notion of duality. Every Android is paired with a Pod. That Pod acts as a monitor, a tool, and even an advisor. It is also an additional weapon. Every Android is also paired off with an Operator, a voice transmitting from the orbital bunker to relay commands and information from higher-ups. The lead protagonist 2B is paired off with 9S, a recon android that the player later takes control of.

The gameplay between the two androids is quite different. While each of them is paired off with a Pod and thus have extra special attacks, 9S is lacking in a secondary melee strike and thus has a more limited chain of combos available. Instead he has a hacking ability that steps away from the melee combat and into the twin-stick shooter design that makes up the hacking “mini-game”. While there are plenty of “shooty-bits” that take place outside of hacking – plenty of which you experience playing as 2B – they share the same base design as hacking. Enemies fire two types of bullets, with darker projectiles passing right through your own attacks and lighter toned projectiles being destroyed upon impact.

The abundance of additional abilities and lack of obstacles in the “regular” combat are where the two shmup styles diverge. The regular battles are differentiated through enemy patterns and a greater quantity of foes. Hacking, however, is often more of an action-puzzle. While weaker foes simply have a single, unprotected core to defeat, stronger enemies and locks will contain a variety of obstacles, turrets, and ships that must be avoided, shot around, and defeated before the core – a sort of “boss” – is exposed. So while there’s a sort of duality between melee and “shmup” gameplay mechanics, there’s also a duality in how those twin-stick shooting moments are executed.

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I want to step away from discussing the game’s themes a moment and jump instead to a different form of duality. The notion that games must either be more narrative focused or mechanics-based. It seems that there’s this preference for many to experience a story via gameplay, or for the gameplay to get out of the way of telling a story. Sometimes it is merely a matter of different skill levels, where some players want to experience the story within the game without difficulty curves, spikes, or plateaus interfering. Others find cut-scenes interrupt or get in the way of the game itself, or that less mechanically inclined titles do not deserve the moniker of “game” at all.

For the more mechanically minded, Nier: Automata can at first seem shallow. There is no complex combo system and enemy attacks are often heavily telegraphed. Dodging such strikes is not only easy, but unlocks the ability to either perform a melee air-juggle or unleash a charged projectile blast. One doesn’t even need to make much use of the pod or its special attack in order to clear out foes.

However, this not only ignores some of the unspoken finesse of the game, but also misses out on the RPG aspects of Automata. If the player takes the time to learn simple tricks such as mid-air dodging and how many attacks they get while mid-leap before slamming back down to the ground, then they find themselves able to reach many seemingly impossible ledges and prizes. Moreso, the “chips” within the game can allow them to create a variety of customizations to fit any situation. Create a pre-set based on melee combat, one based upon ranged, and another on hacking that can be swapped at any moment, allowing yourself to dominate all situations.

Which is, for some, the real satisfaction. While others prefer a more reflex-based challenge where their very own skills determine victory and thus accomplishment, others find satisfaction in dominating opposition based on choices made and intelligent customization. While Nier: Automata can provide both, it may require playing on the Hard difficulty to truly capitalize on these.

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Regardless, challenge and difficulty are hardly proper ways to analyze a game’s depth. I would shy away from saying Nier: Automata sacrificed mechanics in order to get its narrative to work, and used that theme of duality to expert effect to provide some variety. While more difficult fights are provided in the form of numerous enemies, stronger foes, and electrified defenses that must be timed or nullified, it is unlikely the game would carry as well for thirty or forty hours if it relies purely on a single set of action mechanics. Through its design, Nier: Automata provides an experience that can appeal to role-playing fans and action fans alike.

Or, perhaps more accurate to director Yoko Taro and developer Platinum Games, it creates a design for people that simply love games, period.

Side quests, melee combat, twin-stick mechanics and character customization make up the many bits and pieces of Nier: Automata. It allows the gameplay to remain as engaging and rewarding for as long as it takes to get through the full narrative.

An endeavor that is greatly worth it, and carries many instances in which mechanics and narrative theme are fused together effectively. Unfortunately, as stated before, it would give too much of the game away. One small detail revealed towards the end of the narrative puts two separate side quests into greater significance, telegraphing to the player important details to come. Completely optional, with said details being delivered through gameplay.

One day, when I am more confident in my read on Nier: Automata, I will create a video on it. I will go into detail about everything I can discussing its depths and excellent execution. An execution that is only made possible by teaming Yoko Taro up with a studio like Platinum.

While I must conceal my full thoughts, there is no duplicitous deceit here. Nier: Automata is an incredible game. Many will enjoy it, few will replay it, but it is a title what will rest warmly in the hearts of many players and be referenced for years to come.


 

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