In addition to the wonderful hack and slash combat is your robot pod companion that will assist you in battle. By holding down the R1 button it can fire a stream of bullets at enemies, launch missiles, and several other styles of attack depending on what kind of pod you have equipped. The pods may not seem the easiest to use at first considering you have to aim them while also trying to do a whole bunch of fast paced dodging, as well as hacking and slashing, but it becomes second nature pretty quickly. There’s always the lock on feature to help you as well, as long as you’re not playing on the harder difficulties, which removes lock on altogether. In addition to that, there are also special skills you can equip to your pod that operate on a cool down. Once you equip a skill on your pod, you just press the L1 button, and it will use whatever is currently equipped. These skills come in handy very often as they can be pretty powerful, and come in a wide variety of different types like lasers, a giant hammer, bombs, a shield and much more. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the pods, and they add a nice layer of depth to an already great combat system.
In addition to equipping weapons, you also have chips that you can equip to add all sorts of buffs and abilities to your character. Things like increased attack or defense power, more health, the ability to run faster and so on. My favorite chip was probably the shockwave chip, which adds a shockwave to your physical attacks, giving a bit of a long range effect, which works nicely on flying enemies if you feel your pod’s bullet attacks take too long to defeat them. The way equipping chips works is that you have a certain amount of space to install chips, and each chip takes up a certain amount of room, with the more effective ones taking up larger amounts. As you progress, you can buy more space as well, and even have another set up of chips that you can chose to equip besides. You can even remove parts of the game HUD through chips should you desire, as the HUD is tied to individual chips.
During the second story route of the game you also receive a brand new gameplay mechanic called hacking. By holding down the triangle button while playing as the character specific to this route, you can hack into enemy machines, locked chests and even some computers to initiate a really fun and simple minimalist shoot ’em up sequence. During this sequence, you usually have a group of enemies that you must take out before you can defeat the main core enemy to finish the hacking job. These scenarios are usually very quick, ranging anywhere from 3 to 20 seconds long. They come in handy very quickly, especially against very strong enemies, as a successful hack can mean devastating amounts of damage, or even one hit killing them. I really liked the hacking games a lot, and thankfully you can even replay hacking scenarios by accessing the quick travel terminals spread out all around the game’s world.
Speaking of the world in NieR: Automata, it’s large and open but not overwhelmingly so. Shortly after the game starts, you’re pretty much given free rein to go off and explore, maybe find some side quests or treasure. There is only one way to go when we’re talking story missions, but the world itself is fun and interesting to explore, and you’re never really told you can’t go somewhere because of story reasons. You generally always have the freedom to just run around to your heart’s content. While it’s not the most visually stunning game to look at, the level design is excellent, backed up by some nice weather effects, as well as particle effects in the air and many other little things to add more interesting aspects to the areas you explore. I think the most visually interesting part of the game for me is the ruins of the city you will visit right after the intro sequence. It looks like it’s been abandoned for so long, nature has grown all over the surrounding buildings, and everything just looks broken.
There are also a handful of side quests that you can take from many different NPCs you’ll find throughout the world, and the quests vary from being not all that interesting to extremely interesting and sometimes even absolutely adorable. One side quest that sticks out to me is helping a machine find her little sister who is currently lost in the desert. When you finally find the little machine girl in the desert, the banter that happens between her, 9S, and 2B is just so cute as she asks awkward questions that some adults may find difficult to answer. Thankfully all of your side quests are kept track of in the main menu, and the map usually gives you a general idea of where to go for each quest. I found the side quests that I did to be really cute and a fun diversion, especially once you unlock fast travel to make them less time consuming.
One of the most widely known things about the original NieR is that it had an incredible soundtrack, one of the best I’ve ever personally heard, in fact. I’m very happy to say that the soundtrack in NieR: Automata is just as incredible. The same sound team at MONACA is back again to deliver another emotional masterpiece. I can’t think of one song in the game that I didn’t like, and I was so happy to see Emi Evans’ vocals return and being used in so much of the wonderful music. Some stand out tracks for me are “City Ruins – Rays of Light”, “The Bunker Fortress of Lies” and “A Beautiful Song”, to name a few.
It’s not enough that the songs themselves are wonderful, but the way they’re mixed in the game is as well. Depending on what part of the story you’re at, different parts of the same songs might be used in certain areas. Some areas may have vocals played at one point in the story, and be instrumental the next. Sometimes when enemies are nearby, vocals will play in the songs, while when things are calmer the song will be an instrumental. Sometimes it’s even the opposite, with only the vocal part of a song playing, making things feel much more haunting and intensifying the current happenings in the story, while when enemies are nearby, it’ll play the full song complete with vocals and instruments.
I also must give praise to the voice acting of the game, which is excellently done in both English and Japanese, which you can freely choose. I played in English, and I was impressed the entire way through. Lines were delivered well and conveyed the more emotional scenes perfectly, making some scenes hit even harder. I have to give special honors to the English voice actor for 9S, Kyle McCarley, who really delivered a powerful performance in the last story route, powerful enough to really make 9S the stand out character for me, and even strike an emotional chord.
In case it’s not already obvious, I absolutely loved everything about NieR: Automata. It’s a wonderful game with a memorable story and incredible gameplay. The story may be slow to start, but it is absolutely worth the journey and I loved every minute of my 38 hour playthrough. NieR: Automata is a game I absolutely recommend to anyone that loves action games, a great story in a game, or just fun games in general, and is absolutely worth its $59.99 price tag.
Review copy provided by Playasia. If you would like to snag a copy for yourself, please use our affiliate link below: