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Far Gone with NieR: Automata

There’s always a question when a new game in an established franchise comes out if it’s accessible to new players.  Usually this is less to do with grasping the mechanics & more to do with understanding the story.  Obviously, this all depends on the game in question.  Arguably starting a story in the middle isn’t ideal.  But not all sequels are directly related to the previous plot.  One could more easily pick up the story of a new Castlevania game versus staring with Metal Gear Solid 4.

But that gets a little tricky when discussing NieR: Automata, which is a kinda sequel to NieR, which was a spin-off to the Drakengard series, which itself is known for having multiple endings & diverging timelines.  To put it into proper context, NieR follows the fifth ending of the first Drakengard that involves the PC & his dragon following a giant humanoid monster coming into our world, spreading a plague to mankind upon its death.  And then in NieR we learn that to save itself mankind split their souls & body to wait out the plague, but then the bodies began to think they were their own entities & began killing the “shades”.  So, yeah, it’s kinda confusing.

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NieR: Automata picks up after the final ending of the original NieR an unspecified time later, following mankind having to flee to the moon when aliens used robots to invade, creating replaceable androids to fight the war for them.  Through several routes, we follow three of these androids, designated 2B, 9S & later A2, as they continue to wage an endless war against the machines.

Unlike the previous NieR, Automata was developed by PlatinumGames, & matches with the style of their previous games, most noticeably the likes of Bayonetta.  It’s very combat-heavy, with bombastic hack-&-slash action.  I’ve heard it described as a “spectacle fighter”, & that’s an apt description.  But it still maintains the feel of the previous entry by having a smaller open-world setting where you can travel around collecting sidequests that grant material to improve your weapons & combat abilities.

On a sidenote, can people please stop pronouncing it as “auto-ma-tah”, like a car.  It’s “a-tom-uh-tuh”, the same way you’d pronounce automaton, as it is the plural version, or autonomy, if you’re unfamiliar with the term.


Narrative: To answer the question posed previously, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary that you’ve played the previous games in order to understand Automata’s story.  It certainly helps, but the events from the previous game don’t really have a direct impact on the current storyline outside of world-building.  It provides some extra context in term of historical events & maybe even some characters, but you should find enough flavor text along the way to get a general grasp.  The game really is more about the androids’ struggle.

883956-nier-automata-windows-screenshot-interaction-between-2b-andThat being said, I don’t feel Automata explains its own story as well as it could, at least toward the end.  In the beginning, everything was good.  I could follow the plot, & things that didn’t make sense weren’t supposed to make sense, hinting at things not being what they seemed until later in the story.  But it wasn’t until the tower, the final mission in the game, that it kinda fell through somewhat.  Who was I fighting?  What was going on?  Where did these AI come from?  It made a bit more sense after reading some of the unit text that’s updated, but I feel if the player has to read it in a separate text blurb, it’s not good storytelling.

Other than that, I did enjoy the story for Automata.  It ask a lot of philosophical questions without being too postmodern about it, instead focusing on how those questions impact the characters.  It’s not navel-gazing, which I abhor, but instead shows how each person emotional deals with heavy questions with no clear answer.  To that end, I liked the characters, & how they evolve over time.  I liked that you don’t know everything going in, & discover along with them.  I also enjoyed the overall structure of the storytelling.  I knew going in how NieR made the player go through the story three times, revealing more with each playthrough.  And Automata followed that same pattern.  There are three “routes”.  Routes A & B are the same story, but told from 2B & 9S’s perspectives respectively.  Initially the plot is the same, but towards the end the characters are separated, so it’s nice to fill in the blanks between routes.  And Route C picks up after those routes, switching back & forth between characters to the finale.  Given that each playthrough isn’t unreasonably long, it’s a good way to tell the story, especially given the themes of history repeating itself & the utter futility of the androids’ war.  And I have to admit, I didn’t see that final revelation coming.

Overall, NieR: Automata has an intriguing story that mixes humor & melodrama as well as enjoyable characters, but can be a bit confusing at times.

Score: 4


Mechanics: If you’ve played PlatinumGames’ games before, you know to expect fast, visceral combat, & Automata certainly delivers on that.  There are a plethora of melee weapons to find & upgrade, & I liked that fully upgrading them adds special benefits, ranging from improved health to making your enemies fight for you.  Combat is very enjoyable, with a familiar flow for those who’ve played PlatinumGames’ games before.  Furious slashes, dodges & long-range attacks.  While I wasn’t as crazy about 9S’ hacking abilities replacing 2B’s combat options, it was nice that both characters have different styles that suit them.  9S is a “scanner” unit after all, versus 2B’s “battle” unit designation, so it makes sense, & prevent things from going stale on multiple routes.  The scanning mini-game is usually pretty fun & short, suddenly switching to a bullet-hell shooter type.

NieR-Automata_201606_SS_Boss_02_ONLINE-e1466200507150I also thought that idea of adding chips to your androids for various benefits was a nice idea that fit with the characters.  Being living computers, basically, it makes sense that they can swap in and & different upgrade programs for various benefits.  Some are more passive, like increasing your health or damage output, but others let you slow time if dodging correctly, reflect damage back, or make robots “scream” when they die (for whatever reason).  You have limited space, but you can set up three different sets of chips, so you can have one that focuses on improving combat whereas another focuses on exploration benefits.

My only complaint with the combat is the lock-on system.  While it mostly works fine, I found that it can be hard to target a specific enemy when there are multiple on-screen.  It auto-targets the closest enemy, meaning when you run around (as you should in such a fast-paced game) it’ll switch targets even if you don’t want it to.  This is a major pain as you’re usually facing groups of enemies & trying to whittle down one specific one.  It also doesn’t automatically switch targets if the enemy you were targeting dies, so you have to release & then hold the trigger again.  Given that you’ll probably also be holding down the ranged button while switching between attacks and dodges, your hands will start cramping up pretty quickly.  I did find I could mitigate this by using the auto-fire chip, which will automatically start ranged attacks when in range & keeps you locked on, but you can only use that on Easy mode.

h8hylxju55b01On the flipside, I did enjoy that once you complete a sidequest during a specific route, it’s gone forever, so each route essentially has its own sidequests.  But if you don’t finish them within a that playthrough, they will show up again in the next, so if you’re underlevel you can come back later.  This is an entirely personal opinion, as I’ve seen some people complain about this feature.  Personally, I like not having to redo the same sidequest, as most of them are pretty basic.  You talk to a character to get the quest, then go & kill a certain enemy or collect a certain thing, then turn the quest in for a reward.  Although none of them felt pointless, & do contribute to your understanding of the world you’re in, they’d hardly exciting.  Some are even escort quests, so I’m personally very happy not to have to repeat them.  It might suck if you do, though, because that means you’ll have to delete your save data & start all over, losing all your level progress.  But for me, I liked it.

Overall, NieR: Automata has fast-paced, enjoyable combat that varies depending on the character you play as & a nice upgrade system, but the lock-on system could be improved, & some people might not like the more linear structure.

Score: 4


Aesthetics: Like its combat, Automata is a very stylized game that takes liberties with its presentation, matching that of its predecessor.  It likes to switch camera angles on you, mostly being from a regular over-the-shoulder angle, but sometimes going top-down, or even side-scrolling, usually based on the environment.  While this can be jarring, the changes do make sense & you can learn to read what you’re going to encounter.  If you’re fighting in a narrow corridor, it’ll go side-scroller, & you’ll be swamped from both sides.  If it’s top-down, you’ll probably have to navigate a space.  It’s both a mechanical & stylistic choice, & while somewhat frustrating does highlight the scenery brilliantly.

maxresdefaultIf you know anything about the Drakengard & NieR games, you’ll know they have amazing music, & Automata is no exception.  It’s one of those soundtracks I can definitely see people downloading.  It always seems to fit the moment, & even varies in subtle ways depending on the character you’re playing as.  I thought it was a nice touch that the music goes all 8-bit when you’re in the hacking mini-game.  Though the tracks do sometimes get stuck in a certain song until you leave a scene.  This isn’t usually a problem unless it got stuck on the one track I didn’t like, which was the “kiddy” song, as I called it.  The English voiceacting is also okay.  A bit melodramatic, but that fits with moment.

Score: 4


Replay Value: Very high.  As I mentioned above, the game has three routes you have to play through to get to the actual end of the game.  After completing the third route, you unlock chapter select, where you can pick a specific starting point, which is very helpful when trying to get all the other endings.  Did I mention this game has 26 endings?  Because I does, A-Z.  Most of them are “fail” endings that you can sometimes get on your own, either by not going directly to an important objective & “running” away or by pure stupidity (like taking out your OS chip).  They are pretty funny though, so it’s not a problem booting up a chapter & quickly getting them.  The game gets very snarky about it.  But there are 5 “real” endings.  And, as I said before, sidequests you’ve completed don’t respawn so it’s not a problem mainlining another playthrough to grind for supplies or trophies.

Score: 5


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: Despite some minor complaints, NieR: Automata is an fun, fast-paced action that doesn’t take itself too seriously while also touching on existential issues.  There’s a lot to love for gamers who enjoy action games.

– GamerDame

Title: NieR: Automata
Console: PS4, PC, XB1
Rating: M
Developer: PlatinumGames
Publisher: SquareEnix
Release Date: March 7, 2017
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Filed under Action, PC, PS4, Reviews, XBox One

Game Review: Okami HD

Readers from the earliest days of this blog might recall a rare rant post on how the Wii’s motion controls sucked & clearly weren’t intended for calligraphy writing.  The game in question was the Wii version of Okami.  Thanks to the HD re-release on current consoles, including an upcoming release on the Switch, I purchased an entirely new copy in the hopes that using a regular controller would make the game easier.  And shock of shocks, it actually did, thus continuing to prove motion controls are little more than a gimmick to entice new gamers.  Not only did I breeze through levels that had previously given me trouble, but I was able to complete the game.

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In Okami, you take the role of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, incarnated as a wolf.  Your job is to vanquish the darkness that has taken control of the land of Nippon with the help of your Celestial Brush, allowing you to literally draw on the canvas of the world.  Initially your task focus’ on slaying the eight-headed dragon Orochi, who was mysteriously released from his prison & demanding human sacrifices.  But later you uncover that Orochi was the just a pawn to something much darker.

Okami’s game style is very much inspired by The Legend of Zelda games, where you travel through various locations & dungeons earning new ways to advance.  But whereas Link picks up new weapons & items, Amaterasu unlocks new brush techniques.  The Celestial Brush is your primary tool in the game, allowing you to pause the world to draw various designs, resulting in different effects.  For example, you can slash foes by making a short, straight line across them, or you can creating a massive fireball by drawing an infinity sign.  As you travel, you’ll bring light & life to the dying world, earning Praise by creating miracles & leveling up your Godhood.


Narrative: Despite being heavily rooted in Shintoism, foreknowledge isn’t required to understand & enjoy Okami.  The game does a good job at building its world, so even if you don’t know a thing about Japan it won’t matter.  It essentially functions as any other fantasy realm.

okamiI’ve heard many claim that the game feels twice as long as it needs to be, & while I do understand where they’re coming from, I felt that the actual ending of the game is much more satisfying.  You defeat Orochi about half way through the game, only to learn there’s something bigger on the horizon.  Some people might find that frustrating, as up until that point there’s been no indication that there was something more, but the further you progress, the more you realize there are answers to questions you didn’t realize were there.  The closest thing I can compare it to is in the first Mass Effect game when you spend most of the game chasing after Saren, only to realize that he wasn’t the most dangerous threat.  Only Okami finishes its story in a single game.  In the end, all the characters have a proper conclusion.  And the ending nicely concludes the overarching themes of vanquishing darkness & restoring humanity’s faith in the gods, which was ultimately what lead to the problems in the first place.

All the characters are nicely quirky & memorable, & I felt the plot, for all its bouncing around, paced itself very nicely.  It felt like things unfolded at a nice pace.  And while Amaterasu is a classic silent protagonist (being a dog & all), I have to give Clover Studios credit for managing to give her a personality despite literally not being able to speak.

Overall, while a bit it may seem needlessly long to some, I felt the story was very engaging, characters were interesting, & the conclusion was satisfying.

Score: 5


90a30a48860806e141f3c2c1dba0716b1510147048_full-1Mechanics: The biggest unique selling point of Okami is the Celestial Brush.  Back when I played the game on the Wii, I found the controls a bit frustrating given that the brushstrokes need to be fairly accurate to accomplish what you want.  And while I did still experience some issues with the game registering my strokes, I am happy to report that it worked a million times better using the traditional PS4 controller than the Wii-mote.  On paper you’d think the Wii would be better, but using a regular joystick worked sufficiently well.  The process is actually simpler than it sounds, as bringing up the canvas pauses anything going on in the world to give you time to find the right angle.  It’s a lot of fun to see basic shapes create massive changes in the world or damage enemies.

Combat as a whole is pretty fun & fast-paced, & best of all sometimes avoidable.  Some encounters you can’t escape, typically when they’re introducing a new type, but in most of the overworld encounters are indicated by “demon carpets” floating around the level that you can just avoid if you’re not in the mood.  You can also attack with weapons, as your ink isn’t unlimited, & while there are only three styles of weapons, you’ll find yourself using all of them depending on the encounter.  That leads to another aspect I enjoyed, which was the boss fights.  I liked that they all played out differently, with specific strategies revolving around the brush strokes you have at the time.  Just learned how to create wind?  Here’s a flaming skeleton cow that you can only hit once you’ve put the fire out.  Just learned how to harness lightning?  Here’s a boss who will obligingly hold a metal sword in their mouth while storm clouds dot the sky.

However, I did have two main gripes about the combat.  One is that, for a lot of the bosses later in the game, fighting them is a waiting game.  You end up just dodging their attacks until they do the one thing that leaves them vulnerable.  I know this is how a lot of bosses work in these Zelda-style games, & usually this only applies for the first stage of the boss fight, but it’s still a little frustrating.  Secondly, the combat only really works when you’re facing a few enemies at a time.  Generally this isn’t a problem because most fights are one-on-one or up to three.  But the demon gates… oh the bane of my Okami existence.  The Demon Gate Trials are an option side mission where you must defeat several ways of ramped-up enemies in a succession of fights.  It gets very chaotic very quickly, especially in the later levels when most enemies have only specific weaknesses.  Or, y’know, they pit you against multiple ramped-up versions of a boss.  Granted, these fights are entirely optional, but you have to complete them to earn stray beads to get an item for New Game+ that’s essentially turning on God Mode.  I guess I would say it’s less a problem with the combat itself, & more just hating the trials.  They get ridiculously hard, & you can’t leave the arena to get more supplies or you’ll have to start from the beginning again.

Other than that, I enjoyed most of what the game had to offer.  I liked how you level up your Godhood by earning Praise by helping out people & creating miracles.  The side missions are varied enough, though I disliked the races & digging champ minigames, though with some strategy (& eliminating the Wii-mote) they were tolerable, optional, & not numerous enough to be more than a momentary annoyance.

Overall, while later enemies can be a bit cheap & tedious, & Demon Gates are suitably demonic, I found Okami’s gameplay to be a refreshing take on an old formula.

Score: 4


Okami_HD_ScreenshotAesthetics: I really, really love the style of this game.  The art direction in phenomenal.  The art style is a unique mix of woodcut, watercolor & cell-shading.  It looks like a moving ink painting, which fits the themes of the game perfectly.  Personally, I’d rather use a game like Okami to showcase what HD should be rather than something more realistic.  It’s an absolute treat to watch the world turn vibrant with each bit of progress you make, truly making you feel like your restoring beauty into the world.

The music is also very nice, fitting the Japanese themes.  I liked that all of the main characters you interact with have their own themes, which all fit their personalities perfectly.  And while I can’t speak to any voiceacting, as everyone speaks in meaningless noises, the animations do a good job of showcasing what the character is tying to emote.

Score: 5


Replay Value: Moderate.  It’s entirely possible to see everything there is to see in Okami in a single run, but it’s definitely the sort of game that can be enjoyed multiple times.  Once you beat the game the first time, you unlock New Game+ which brings over all your experience & most of your items.  There’s also the challenge of finding all the stray beads to earn the String of Beads, which when equipped grants invulnerability, unlimited ink & 10x damage, meaning I’m going to have a lot of fun stomping enemies the next time around.

Score: 4


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: Although there are a few annoyances later in the game that prevent it from being perfect, Okami is a tragically underrated game that shines as an example of being uniquely beautiful & compelling.  Hopefully with all the HD re-releases, adventure game fans will give this one a shot, though preferrably without motion controls.

– GamerDame

Title: Okami HD
Console: PS2, PS3, PS4, Wii, Switch, PC, XBox One
Rating: T
Developer: Clover Studios
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: April 20, 2006

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Filed under 4, Action, Adventure, PC, PS2, PS3, PS4, Reviews, Switch, Wii, XBox One