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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

In the Shadow of the Colossus: Game Review

The concept of solitude provokes many different reactions in people.  For some, it’s a fearful state to be avoided at all costs.  The thought of being alone provokes anxiety for those who draw energy from interacting with others.  Yet for some people, such as myself, solitude is actively sought out.  The quiet drowns out the chaos of the outside world, allowing for inner reflection and peace.  But even for those who enjoy it, too much solitude can drive one mad.  Even the most introverted person still requires some social interactions.  So what happens when a game tries to instill a sense of solitude into those seeking stimulation?

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Shadow of the Colossus was one of those games I’d been hoping they would remake, as while I missed out on it the first time around, I was quite aware of the game and studio’s reputation.  In Shadow of the Colossus, we take the role of a young man, not explicitly named during the game but referred to elsewhere was Wander, who enters a forbidden land to make a pact with a disembodied voice to resurrect a dead woman.  The voice, an ancient spirit referred to as Dormin, agrees… if Wander can release pieces of its power sealed away inside Colossi scattered about the land.  And by release, I mean murder.

Shadow of Colossus can be best described as an adventure/puzzle game, except the puzzles revolve around how to kill the Colossi.  These beasts are far too large or dangerous for Wander to take out by normal means, and must instead use his stolen holy sword to find their weak points.  But when the beasts are as big as buildings, getting to said weak points proves to be the biggest obstacle.


Narrative: On the surface, Shadow of the Colossus has a pretty bare, straightforward story.  Kill colossi, resurrect dead lady.  However, it’s surprisingly good at showing or implying details, leaving a lot of things to the player’s imagination.  For example, we’re never outright told what happened to Mono, the lady you’re trying to resurrect, or even what Wander’s relationship with her is.  Dormin mentions she had a cursed fate, so was she sacrificed?  Did she die from the curse?  Is she Wander’s partner?  Sister?  Condemning yourself and going against your clan isn’t something you’d do for just anyone.  What happened after the credits end?

SOTC-Screenshot-2018-01-31-13-53-33A lot is told simply by the action of the story.  We see the bond between Wander and his horse, Agro, who for the most part is your only companion during the game.  Not just any horse would charge under the feet of a raging giant.  At least my impression is that Wander isn’t really a warrior.  While good on horseback and with a bow, he’s a bit ungainly with his stolen sword.  Not to mention how he flails and trips around… at least when I was playing him.  We also see the growing cost of Wander’s deal with Dormin as we proceed, hinting at a sense of dread.  Some people might not enjoy this open-ended approach to storytelling, but it’s clear the developers wanted to leave a lot to the player’s interpretation.

Overall, while not the most nuanced story, it frames the actions of the game perfect, giving us all the motivation we need to continue even when we don’t want to.

Score: 4


Mechanics: As with the story, a lot of gameplay is simple.  Stripped down.  You hunt down your next target, find a way to expose their weak points if necessary, climb on,  & hang on for dear life as you stab away.  All you have at your disposal is your horse, bow & sword, but that’s all you need.  A good chunk of the game is simply riding around the beautiful but empty landscape to reach your next target, which admittedly is quite enjoyable.  As mentioned above, it really helps the lonely atmosphere of the game to have this vast, untouched space to move around in.  It’s beautiful, but you’re not supposed to be there.

DprCR5gWsAAX09ZThe majority of what could actually be labeled as “gameplay” revolves around slaying the colossi, which is where the puzzle aspect comes in.  Ultimately the goal is the same in each fight: stab the glowing glphys to widdle down their health.  However, getting on the giant beasts is easier said than done.  I appreciated that each colossi had its own strategy for getting to the weak points, starting simple and growing more complicated as the game progresses.  For the most part, I liked the progression in difficulty.  The colossi begin pretty docile, but become more active in combating the player.  Whereas in the beginning it’s just a matter of not getting stepped on & climbing up their leg, toward the end you’re navigating labyrinths of platforms.  And for the most part, with some observation and patience, it becomes clear what you need to do, though there were a few times when I was doing the right thing but in the wrong place.  I think my favorites were Avion & Cenobia (5th & 14th respectively).  While all the flying bosses were fun, Avion had some real speed, & was quite the adrenaline rush as I tried to hold on while it’s going upside-down, & while Cenobia is one of the smaller colossi, I liked having to lead it along a path in a game of The-Floor’s-Lava.

That being said, Shadow of the Colossus is not a perfect game, & I feel like most of the problems I had with it came down to control issues.  Even when the bosses were at their most frustrating, I feel it always came down to just a few issues that should’ve been tweaked in this remake.  Firstly, Wander needs some more weight to him.  I get that he’s supposed to be this little guy who’s not really a warrior, & he’s holding onto the back of giants, but he shouldn’t flail as much as he does when they start thrashing.  It doesn’t matter how big or small the colossus is, once they start shaking his legs go flying & you can’t move.  I can’t say I have experience riding something trying to throw me off, but can’t I have a button to make Wander dig in his heels or something?

Secondly, it can be oddly hard to move around just normally when holding on to the colossus.  I recall that in the original version, each bit of fur on them was essentially its own ledge, & while I don’t know if they carried that over with the remake, it certainly feels that way.  Wander doesn’t always move the way you want him to & sometimes has a hard time grabbing the correct limb.

I also have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Agro.  On the one hand, I liked that once you get him up to speed, you don’t have to control him.  Just point him in a direction & he’ll keep running.  I also liked that he won’t run off cliffs.  But it would’ve been nice if he’d also turn away from running into walls, especially in the one fight in a cave.  He also has the annoying habit of slowing from his run if you turn him, meaning that on some of the fights when you’re trying to keep up with the colossus, you basically have to hold his run key, the left stick, the button to stay focused on the colossus, & the fire key.  This might not have been so much an issue if the camera wasn’t complete crap most of the time, which appears to be a problem carried over from the original version.  Like Wander, the camera’s too “light”, & unless you’re holding the stick down, will automatically begin recentering itself.  You can’t look around, which is bad when you’re trying to find where to go during a boss fight.  Why can’t the camera stay where I put it?  The addition of a button that focuses on the colossus is helpful, but as I mentioned, it’s hard to hold that & all the other buttons at the same time.

So overall, while the adventuring and fighting with big monsters is a uniquely thrilling experience, the little but persistent frustrations with the controls keep it from being a perfect experience.

Score: 4


Aesthetics: Rather than simply being an up-res, the remake’s assets were built from the ground up, & the hard work is clearly on display.  This is a beautiful game in all respects.  I’m not usually one to take screenshots on a console, but I made good use of the feature while traveling around the valley.  The land teems with picturesque plains, artistically lit caves & dense, misty forests.  Even when I accidentally took the long way around to reach the next colossus, I never minded because I was too busy gawking at the scenery.  And given that half the game is riding around, that’s a good thing.  Even the areas you can’t reach only add to the ambiance.  The colossi are similarly stunning in their own right, really creating a massive scale.  While we’re never told their exact origin (did they always exist or came about from the spirits inside them) they appear molded from the very rocks, soil & grass around them.  And I enjoyed that each had their own unique design, which also hints at how to defeat them.

DprCRBJXoAE0bzPThe sound design matches the gameplay, varying from quiet ambiance to pulse-pounding scores.  When you’re simply riding around, there’s no music, only the sounds of nature & Agro’s hoofsteps.  But the music kicks in when the colossi appear, the beautiful orchestral tones setting the mood perfectly.  It really fits clinging for your life on the back of a massive beast.  The dialogue is all in Ico-brand gibberish, but for what little there is, it does its job of telling the story.  Though I do particularly like how Dormin’s voice is composed of multiple voices, both male & female, adding to it inhuman nature.

Score: 5


Replay Value: Moderately high.  Depending on how quickly you defeat each colossus, conceivably you could complete the game in a day.  But there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had through multiple playthroughs, with New Game+ letting you carry over upgrades you’ve earned, & Time Attack challenges that unlock new gear.  While sadly you can’t change the outcome of the story, it’s still work revisiting & enjoying multiple times.

Score: 5


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: I was not disappointed when I finally got to play this classic game.  It’s well worth any gamer’s time, even if there are a few persistent problems that hold it down from perfection.  While I never played the original, I feel confident that this is a great remake, as well as just a great game in its own right & a must have for all gamers.

– GamerDame

Title: Shadow of the Colossus
Console: PS2 (original), PS4
Rating: T
Developers: Team Ico & Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio (original), Bluepoint Games
Publishers: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: October 18, 2005 (original), February 6, 2018

 

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Filed under 4, Adventure, PS2, PS4, Reviews