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Game Reviewed: Nier: Automata
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Platinum Games
Category: Third-Person Action
ESRB Rating: M
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Your average gamer may not even realize that Nier: Automata is a sequel to another game. Nier came out nearly a decade ago, to relatively little fanfare despite its unique premise, compelling story, and beloved soundtrack. But if people didn’t know the name Nier before, they almost certainly do now, as Automata garnered critical acclaim as a sleeper hit with one of the most deep and philosophically complex stories in modern gaming.
The game follows androids 2B and 9S as they journey through a far-future, post-apocalyptic world in which the few remaining humans wait patiently on a moon base for the androids to clear the Earth of hostile robots and make the Earth habitable again. But as the andoids continue their campaign against the machines, they start coming across evidence that the machines are gaining sentience, and the question of exactly what makes something “alive” to begin with gnaws at them.
Nier: Automata is one of those games whose story defies brief explanation. That premise is only the beginning of the story, and by the time the player finally reaches the end of the fourth and final act, the game has gone deeper and further into its premise and the underlying thematic questions than I could ever imply here without spoiling things.
With that note about the story, if you’ve read any of my other reviews you likely know my verdict already, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the game is appropriate for your children. Let’s take a look.
What Parents Need to Know
The player will use a variety of weapons, including many styles of swords and various abilities such as a rapid fire gun, missiles, and holographic spikes, to battle robotic enemies. Most of these enemies are visibly robotic, and will explode in showers of nuts and bolts (though as the premise may suggest, some of these enemies can feel pain and sometimes respond disturbingly to this destruction). But a few other enemies (such as a few androids the player must defeat) look entirely human, down to simulated flesh and blood. In a few cutscenes these androids bleed profusely from wounds, or are dismembered in some way (though rather than flesh and bone the stump contains visible robotic parts).
Some android bodies are seen impaled on spikes or hung up on cross-like structures. Rather than traditionally bloodied bodies they look more like damaged, empty dolls; no less disturbing, really, but less graphic nonetheless.
Multiple times, robots are seen intentionally killing themselves.
Language such as “f*ck” and “sh*t” are heard in the dialogue on occasion, along with lesser expletives.
Androids have humanoid bodies, and some characters are dressed in fairly revealing clothing. Their lower regions are seen on occasion, but they have Barbie doll anatomy and no graphic nudity is actually seen (though they do have defined buttocks).
At an early point in the game, a group of robots is found trying to simulate uniquely human behavior; this includes some robots seeming to simulate sex, despite not looking even vaguely human and having no parts to actually do the deed.
The game starts off with the protagonist, 2B, musing that she often wonders if life’s neverending spiral of life and death was set in motion by a god of some kind, and if so, if she would ever get a chance to kill him. The rest of the game plays with the idea of a creator in various ways, but never confirms any kind of magic or spirituality for certain.
Part of the game’s exploration of life and creation plays out in the way the game’s characters--both robots and androids--interact with the idea of their creators. The androids live out their lives based entirely on the commands of humans who seemingly created them to wipe out the machines and make Earth safe again, and the machines themselves, as briefly mentioned in the sexual content section, begin developing intelligence and trying to mimic humanity in various ways. This reaches a peak when a group of machines seem to come to the conclusion that what separates them from their creators is death, and begin zealously seeking to die while chanting, “Become as gods.”
Two human-like machines are named Adam and Eve, and the apple is used as symbolism throughout their scenes.
Because of the nature of the story, the player and other characters do plenty of things that are later revealed to have been morally problematic at best. One character later in the story essentially goes mad, and the player must control them as their actions become more and more questionable. This is intentional, of course, and the player is meant to feel uncomfortable about what’s happening.
This game asks some seriously deep philosophical questions about the nature of life, religion, and consciousness. As the player watches a race of machines gain sentience and struggle to find what gives them life, and come to terms with the nature of their creation and purpose, the player is forced to reflect on the same issues, and the results can be quite profound.
On a technical level, Nier: Automata is an excellent game. The gameplay is fast and enjoyable, the player can customize how they play in a great number of ways, and the game moves between a variety of entirely different genres of play with ease. It’s a lot of fun to play.
On an artistic level, Nier: Automata is beautiful. The character design is evocative, the voice acting is believable and powerful, and the music (much like the game’s predecessor) is uniquely gorgeous among video game sountdtracks. The game is a joy to behold.
But above all these things, on a narrative level, Nier: Automata is an astoundingly deep and thought-provoking game. Over the course of its many optional sidequests, and through the twists and turns of its long, multi-chapter narrative (the full story is relayed over the course of four entirely different replays), it asks evocative questions about what it means to be alive, how one relates their identity to their created purpose, and how one even defines life, thought, and consciousness. It is, without a doubt, one of the most thematically rich and deep stories I have ever encountered in a video game. And that’s my specialty, so that says a lot. Add on one of the most bittersweet, hopeful, and downright touching endings I’ve ever seen--and one that could only be accomplished in the interactive format of a video game--and you have an experience that won’t just give you an enjoyable few hours; it could enrich your life by playing it.
That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone should play it immediately, however. The story and its content are mature enough that a young enough child is unlikely to understand them, and may be disturbed by some of its content even before getting into some of the more grisly scenes of violence or occasional use of adult language. Most older teens, however, may be a better fit, and adults should have no problem.
Assuming you and/or your child are of an age to process the complex and sometimes disturbing nature of this game, I highly recommend you give it a shot.