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My Game of the Decade: NieR Automata

As April 2020 comes to an end, I've mulled over all the games that I have played over the last decade. Games have always been one of my favourite pastimes and one that I would never give up. I've been playing games ever since I was a child, playing games from Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda to Dead Space and Overwatch. But none has ever enraptured me as much as NieR Automata. From the moment I booted up the main menu to the credit scene, I was charmed by what the game had to offer in terms of story and many more. As such, NieR Automata immediately became my treasured game of all time.


Thus, when I found out that Square Enix, the publisher of the NieR Series, was remaking the prequel of Nier Automata, I was giddy with joy. Now, before I go through the news of the remake of the original NieR, I'd like to first explain and show you why NieR Automata is my game of the decade.

Warning: There will be spoilers of the story!

I'll first go through the introduction of the NieR series and how it came to be. To the surprise of many new fans, the NieR series wasn't actually its own standalone series. In fact, the story of how NieR came to be is due to a certain ending that a player can get in one of Yoko Taro's (director of NieR and its sequel, NieR: Automata) games, the Drakengard series.


Drakengard
In a way, you could call the NieR series a spinoff of Drakengard. Drakengard had 3 titles in its series, namely Drakengard, Drakengard 2 and lastly Drakengard 3. To reach the beginning of the lore of the NieR series, you'd have to unlock the elusive final ending E of the original Drakengard. After reaching that ending, you'll find yourself at the start of the NieR universe. The NieR series then begins with the original NieR. 

However, there's actually 2 versions of the prequel to NieR: Automata. The reason being is that NieR was originally a Japan-exclusive title called NieR: Replicant and due to its success in Japan as well as demand from the western market, Square Enix decided to make a western release called NieR: Gestalt. However, there's no need to be confused, there are no major differences in both games other than the change of characters between the two. NieR: Replicant was released with the main characters being a brother and a sister, while the western version released with the main characters being a father and his daughter. Other than that and some slight differences in dialogues, both NieR games have no major differences.


NieR Replicant vs NieR Gestalt

If that explanation was too wordy and confusing for you, I'll link an amazing video that takes extra care to explain the entirety of the Drakengard series as well as the NieR series.



ValkyrieAurora's Lore summary of Drakengard to NieR: Automata

With the background of the NieR series out of the way, I can now explain one of NieR: Automata's biggest selling point for me, the story.

Last spoiler warning!

Some fans of Yoko Taro might already know that his stories were always convoluted and complex. Even I, who only played the original NieR before the release of the sequel, thought the same. As such, I wasn't expecting some happy go lucky story for NieR: Automata. And while I thought so, I also did not expect the story to resonate so deeply with me. 

The story follows two androids, 2B and 9S, in their escapade in neutralizing enemy robots that are found all over Earth. As they battle against robots, they seem to realize that robots possess something that they shouldn't, sentience. Puzzled by this finding, they try to seek out answers to these riddles, only find themselves questioning their own existence. 

2B meeting 9S in the flight unit for the first time

When I first started diving into the world of NieR: Automata, I was expecting to be another fighting game with a subpar story, like others in the market. I was gravely wrong. From the start to finish, I was more intrigued by the story than anything else. I couldn't set my eyes off the developments of the characters as well as the story. It was such a unique take that I had not seen before. The game tries subtly to connect your emotions with the story with choices that can lead you to different conclusions. Many times I find myself sitting in front of the screen, thinking to myself whether that was the correct choice for me.

When I first stumbled upon Pascal's village, which is a village filled with many conscious and sentient pacifists, I was baffled on what to do. Eliminate them as they were still part of the enemy robots or leave them be? Many times I was confused about what was the right or wrong thing to do as I didn't want my choices to end my experience for the game horribly.


An illustration of Pascal's village

Even in sidequests, which I do find as interesting as the main story, I tend to spend a few minutes more to understand and execute than I would in other games. In my humble opinion, this game managed to get the audience to put themselves in the main characters' shoes and thus enabling players to have a connection with the characters. That was something I appreciated a lot in NieR: Automata. As much as I would like to talk more about the beautifully written story by Yoko Taro, I would also like you to experience it by yourself so I'll now be talking about another aspect of the game that I adore, the characters.

2B




An illustration of 2B

Since I spent more than half of the game as 2B, I naturally appreciate this character. You might be thinking, "Of course you like her like everyone else, she's a beautiful anime character!". Well, sure, that's one of the things I like, but that's not most of the reason why. To me, if you were to put another character in her stead, I highly doubt that she would be able to do as well in terms of character building and her contribution to the story. This is because her attitude and personality fit really well in her position, a tool with only one purpose and that is to kill her enemies. 

Part of it is because she has an amazing voice actor that is able to convey 2B's emotion as well as her train of thoughts well. Furthermore, her character development was done perfectly. She did not change a lot, but she definitely did change, which is essential to me since I rather dislike flat characters in a story. You can see her personality and the way she sees things change over time, especially with the character which I'm about to mention.

9S


An illustration of 9S

9S is 2B's sidekick that always sticks with her all the time. Seen as a playful and chatty sidekick, the two are like sides of a coin due to their contrasting personalities. While 2B is mostly cold and aloof, 9S can be as social as one can be. He can be seen interacting with his Operator that takes care of him regularly with jokes and praises. However, underneath that mask, 9S is actually very unforgiving towards the enemy robots. 

Contrary to many other players who play this game, I don't dislike 9S. I've seen many complaints on how 9S is really whiny and annoying towards the end, which I can understand after playing the entirety of the game. However, I do believe that most humans, if not even androids, would act and feel the same way. Other than that, I don't really have any other impressions of 9S.

A2


An illustration of A2

A2 only gets introduced into the story after you beat Endings A and B. As such, you get less playtime and screentime of her. However, the game compensates you in subtle hints in the first two playthroughs as well as the ability to play as this character in the third playthrough. A2 was the first batch of YorHa units sent to Earth as an experiment. However, in the midst of her mission, the situation gets awry which led to her learning the true nature of the YorHa Project. Due to this, she chose to become a rogue android with only one goal in mind, which was to eliminate as many robots as possible.

As I've only played NieR: Automata, I don't know as much of her as others do. However, I do adore her character in NieR: Automata, which is enough for me. When I first met her, I was mesmerized by her appearance. Not by her beauty, no. But by her garb. 

How many battles has she fought to reach that state? How many lives of her friends has she seen reaped right in front of her eyes? How many countless times has she struck an enemy robot down, only to find another in its place? Even the way she presents herself shows what she's been through and how she got here. I first thought she had ulterior motives considering how the game first presented her as the enemy of androids but I was wrong. All A2 ever wanted was to end her mission after years of hunting alone and you could see that from her relieved expression at the end of Ending D as she falls down along the debris.

All in all, I could have not asked for a better set of main characters other than these and I believe Yoko Taro did a great job in not only creating an appropriate set of characters but also in choosing the right Voice Actors for the job. To me, the voice acting is as important as the character itself as it adds more than just a voice to the story. It adds personality, emotions and thoughts that couldn't be achieved through mediocre voice acting. 

Speaking of mediocre, the graphics in this game is definitely not so. The graphics in this game is astounding. Even after 3 years, I still open up the game and appreciate the amazing visuals the game has to offer. Along with many picturesque environments and levels, the amount of detail that went into making sure every aspect of NieR: Automata feel like the post-apocalyptic world where androids and robots battle each other every day.

Here are some screenshots of within the game of my favourite areas and locales. 





The Abandoned Factory


City Ruins


City Ruins


Desert


Desert


The Amusement Park


The Forest Zone

The Copied City

Flooded City

Flooded City

The Tower

As you can see, the visuals are stunning. The more I look at it, the more I appreciate what the team at Square Enix has done for the game. The areas and locales fit the story very well and I admire how the story allows you to fully explore an area and discover its secrets before moving you to an entirely new area with lots more to explore. Furthermore, the graphics help a lot in making the game more enjoyable in combat, which is the point I want to discuss next.

With Platinum Games overseeing the combat system in NieR: Automata, I definitely had no qualms about how the combat was going to be before I started the game. And I wasn't disappointed at all. The style of the combat system is similar to other games under Platinum Games' belt, such as Bayonetta. While it cannot be compared with a game like Sekiro where skill plays a lot in beating the enemy, NieR: Automata makes up with diversity in its combat system. 

With a lot of weapons such as greatswords, combat bracers, katanas to even an iron pipe, you'd surely have your preferred weapon, especially since the weapons can unleash combos as well as pair well with pod programs that can give you an edge in the next fight.


2B fighting an enemy machine lifeform

If I were to describe it, it feels spectacular to play since the combat is very smooth and easy. However, if you are looking for a challenge, harder difficulties are more rewarding in terms of satisfaction since you need more than just hack and slash to defeat the enemy.


A player showcasing his skills in an event

All in all, the combat system is definitely one of the game's selling point for me because of its enjoyable fighting style.

Moving on, the sidequests in this game are more than just sidequests! The story in each sidequest is as interesting as the main story itself and I couldn't help myself but explore the world of NieR: Automata to complete every sidequest so that I could catch a glimpse of more world lore. 


A machine lifeform caring for animals

You could find yourself in the forest finding materials on how to treat animals so that a machine lifeform can take care of its animals. The next thing you know, you could be escorting a little machine lifeform that ran away from its mother due to her biased affections towards his elder brother. On the way back, you get hit with questions that you yourself don't have the answer to. Like what I mentioned previously, the game does a perfect job of connecting the player with the character by asking philosophical questions from machines who are not even supposed to have sentience.



A mother machine worried for her runaway child

My favourite sidequest was Emil's Memories. Upon finding a flower called Lunar Tear, Emil, who is a special machine lifeform, rushes to the scene in order to uncover his long lost memories. While attempting to recollect, he implores that you contact him as soon as you found more of the flowers. Upon finding all, he gives you a key to an elevator that brings you to a secret location. There, he tells you his story of how he was created to defeat the aliens that invaded Earth and his decision to protect that location that was dear to his heart. All while a sombre yet beautiful soundtrack rings in your ears.


Emil's secret location

This brings me to my final aspect of the game that I really appreciate. This section alone probably factors about 40% of why I absolutely adore about this game. The OSTs in this game are masterpieces in my opinion. Every single soundtrack in the game had always fit the situation and locale well. When I was running through the City Ruins, a light and pleasant OST accompanied me in my adventures. While riding the train to the amusement park castle, a playful and joyful OST excited me further considering how I was in an amusement park.


City Ruins OST




Amusement Park OST


My favourite soundtrack, however, is the one that I mentioned previously in Emil's secret location. The irony is that this OST was originally from the prequel, NieR, but was brought into NieR: Automata for that particular sidequest. 

Kaine / Salvation OST


All in all, the music in this game definitely raised the game up my list with all the amazing works done by Keichii Okabe, the main composer and arranger for the NieR series.

As such, NieR: Automata became my favourite game of the decade not only for the story and gameplay, but also for many other factors as well. And while this is my favourite game ever, I can't say it would be the same for you. This game resonated really well for me because it managed to answer many questions in life I had unanswered and also gave me an enjoyable time as well. While others might find NieR: Automata just another game in the market, I'll forever hold this gem in my heart.

Before ending, I'll leave the trailer for the upcoming remaster of NieR: Replicant at the end for you all to decide whether you would consider picking up the game or even NieR: Automata.


NieR: Replicant ver 1.22 teaser trailer



Written by Kai Yuichi


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