And so, it begins! Lister Potter III’s ongoing collaboration with jfrahm.com continues with the immersive Zantok Plays game review series. Enjoy!
Hello everyone, and welcome to what will hopefully be a recurring feature here on jfrahm.com that I am calling Zantok Plays.
What does Zantok Plays mean? Well, simply put, it’s when I (Zantok) play a new game and write a review about it! I should mention that this doesn’t mean the games I write about will necessarily be new. It just has to be a game I’ve never played before, so if I ever get around to playing Earthbound it just might be featured here. I also want to just mention at the top here that I’ve never written a review before, be it for games or anything else, so this should be interesting! I have a few ideas on how I’d like to handle some things, but we might see some aspects of this evolve over time.
Alright, so let’s get into things here. I recently held a poll for a group of friends where they got to vote on what game they wanted to see me play. Unfortunately, I ran out of steam on the winning game (Bug Fables), and so I turned to Nier: Automata which got fourth in the polls and decided to play that instead. And that’s where we are.
Graphics & Gameplay
Going into Nier: Automata, I knew virtually nothing about the game. I knew it was an actiony hack ‘n slash type of game and that it had multiple routes and endings that I needed to go through, so I had a few notes on things I needed to do and when to do different quests. But as far as any story-related content, I went in unspoiled which I appreciated. That said, this review will contain spoilers so fair warning!
First off, this game looks amazing. The environments and characters all looked really great. I’m not one that likes to make everything about graphics, but I really have to give the devs here some serious credit for how great this game looked. Beyond just how the models looked though, the atmosphere for each location was just great. At one point in the game you visit an abandoned amusement park with robot enemies (called Machines) dressed up in jester-like outfits all dancing around and singing and I found it deeply unsettling. It was cool how they made it, but I was definitely uneasy every time the game wanted me to go back there.
The combat and the controls for it took some getting used to for me and in truth I had to customize the controls before they really started feeling right. That said, I found combat to be fairly fun. It was interesting in that it was like they took a hack ‘n slash and a bullet hell and they merged them together while also having some segments of the game seamlessly transition from fighting in a 3D environment to a 2D environment.
There’s also top-down aerial combat where you’re fighting off waves of enemies. That was fun. I never played the previous Nier title so I don’t know if it was like this in that game or if its new to Nier: Automata. Either way it was pretty fun. As for melee combat, you’re able to swing two swords for light and heavy attacks while also shooting enemies with a little floating companion called a Pod that can just fire an endless stream of bullets. That little guy came in so handy for me when playing the game especially when I got the Pod that could fire missiles and gave it the Wave special attack. Great for crowd control!
Some games I feel like can get bogged down in the customization of your characters. Depending on just how much customization there is, and how intricate, it can just feel like too much. Nier: Automata however didn’t suffer through that which I was greatly appreciative of. Being an Android, you can equip yourself with a variety of different chips to increase your attack power, defense, evasive capabilities, and then my two personal favorites the ability to generate shockwaves when you swing your weapon and the ability to auto-use recovery items whenever you are low on health. If I wasn’t able to have my items be used automatically mid-fight this game would have been a LOT more difficult for me. Quick tip though, don’t remove your OS Chip. Just trust me on that.
A Story to Remember?
Alright, so that’s how the game looks and how it plays. So what about the story? To be perfectly honest I felt very lost throughout the course of the game. Maybe I’m missing some things from not playing the first game, but I was told it wasn’t strictly necessary so I went in without any knowledge of it. You start off as a member of Project YoRHa whose purpose is to fight the Machines that aliens deployed in a war against humanity some odd years ago as the last remnants of humanity live on the moon until it is safe to return. But for the longest time I was left with questions of why and what that was all about. There’s supplemental material that you can read outside of the game that helps to answer some things, but we’re strictly talking about the game itself here.
Nier: Automata’s story is split into three routes. In the first route we play as 2B a combat model Android who is partnered up with a scanner model called 9S. It starts out simply enough with meeting up with a resistance force and doing missions for them, but things first started getting weird after a fight in the desert revealed a machine that looked like a naked human. That’s where I ended my first day of playing as that was just too weird at the time.
Something I really liked though is when the story introduced a village of peaceful machines who didn’t want to fight despite being told up until that point that the machines were all bad and didn’t have any thoughts or emotions. Pascal was a particularly fun character that I enjoyed. The rest of the story pretty much progresses with 2B and 9S fighting against machine threats and trying to uncover the game’s mysteries such as why there are peaceful machines and what’s up with the weird human machines. At the end of the 10th chapter we have what’s initially presumed to be the final boss and end of the game with the credits rolling at the end. However that’s not the case.
If I hadn’t known going in that this game would have multiple routes I would have been very disappointed at its short length and might have dropped it after that. However once you “beat” the game for the first time you’re sent back to the beginning, but this time playing as 9S with 2B as our supporting character. For the most part the next 10 chapters play out the same as they did in the first playthrough however there were times in the first route where the two characters were separated and in this second playthrough we actually get to see what 9S was up to during those times.
The game also introduced the idea of hacking as a gameplay element which is something that only 9S can do. There are special chests you can hack into to get treasure and you can even hack enemies to either blow them up, have them attack their allies, or assume direct control of them. Hacking is more or less played like an old arcade space shooter. It’s an interesting idea, but outside of opening up chests I rarely used it outside of the times when it was required by the story or when I just did not feel like dealing with a certain fight.
To be perfectly honest I didn’t care for the second route that much. It’s an interesting idea and it did provide new context and cutscenes that weren’t in the first route, but I would have rather had some of those scenes be included in the first route and just not had the second route at all. There was just way too much of doing the same missions from the first route that I felt annoyed by it. I wanted to experience new content and while I got some, it felt like the majority was just old content with a few new short cutscenes providing context we never had before to try and make it feel worth it.
Like the end of route 1, after completing route 2 the game rolls the credits and then you move on to route 3. Route 3 however is an actual continuation of the story. I’m not going to spoil too much about the game’s third route, but I will say I found what it did with the characters fairly interesting and it answered some of the questions I had been pondering while creating new ones at the same time. The game has multiple endings along with one being a “true” ending, but if you’re interested in doing that I’d recommend beating the game however you desire for your first run as after you beat the game you unlock a chapter select so getting the other endings is easy. There’s still some ambiguity in the game’s final act, but I feel like that was intentional so as to keep players talking about the game and coming up with their own interpretations.
I feel like the game’s biggest strengths are its combat, character customization, and the characters themselves. The game’s biggest weaknesses I feel would include the control scheme, the map, the menuing, and the second route as a large whole. The map and menuing aren’t that bad, but there were definitely times that I got annoyed by each, and the controls are truly a non-issue as you can use 3 different built-in loadouts and even customize the controls to your specifications which is honestly a huge plus now that I think about it. It’s mainly the second route that I frown upon and think could have been handled differently.
Wrapping up my thoughts I’d say that all-in-all I found Nier: Automata to be a pretty fun game. I struggled in the beginning and there are still aspects of its story that I have questions about, but for the most part I feel satisfied. As far as scoring the game I’m going with a simple 1-10 scale for now and we’ll see what happens in the future. I’ve actually been sitting here debating between giving the game either a 7 or an 8 with neither quite feeling right. I think for now I’m going to give this game a 7/10 score. Maybe I’ll go back and change that at some point as I write more reviews and get a better feel for what my scale is going to be, but I feel like 7 works here. 7 to me feels like a “good” game and that’s what I’d classify Nier: Automata as. It’s a good game that I would consider going back to someday and recording a Let’s Play for.
Settling it for Smash
Before we close out this review there is one last thing I’d like to do. When possible I want to end each game review with a look at how content from the game could be utilized in Super Smash Bros. as a nice little tie in to Jonno and I’s podcast Super Cast Bros. When it comes to characters there is only one real choice, 2B. I imagine 2B would use her two default swords that she starts out the game with and can use each for her various normal attacks, smashes, aerials, and such. What I think would make her interesting as a character is the Pod that accompanies her in Nier: Automata.
I envision the Pod being the source of all of her special moves. Nier: Automata has three pods that can fire either like a gatling gun, a continuous laser, or a volley of missiles, but there are also a variety of special weapons that they can use. These special weapons are what I think 2B’s specials could be in Smash. Which ones I haven’t quite figured out yet, but the Laser, Spear, M Shield, Wave, Wire, Slow, Bomb, Gravity, and Missile would all work rather well. It’s a shame we lost Custom Moves in Smash Ultimate as there’s some good potential here. If I was to just quickly pick things out I’d probably go with Laser on the Standard Special, Wire for the Side Special, Missile for the Up Special, Wave for the Down Special, and then Gravity for the Extra Skill. The Final Smash is a little bit harder to run with, but I’d probably go with a cinematic of 2B self-destructing to take out her opponents. Or maybe swinging the giant saw blade arm of the Engels boss from the first chapter.
You could also have A2, a character important in the third route, serve as an Echo Fighter to 2B as they have similar capabilities in Nier: Automata. 9S wouldn’t work in the role as he can only use one weapon while 2B uses two. 9S however could work fairly well as an Assist Trophy along with his own Pod. Maybe he could use his hacking to shut down an opponent’s special moves or have his Pod use some of the abilities that 2B’s wouldn’t use like Spear or Bomb.
As for a stage… there’s three locations that I think could be a good option. The City Ruins are the central area of the game and where you spend most of your time running around in Nier: Automata so it’s a logical choice and it’s even what 2B’s stage is in Soul Calibur VI. That said I think there are more interesting options those being Pascal’s Village and the Amusement Park. Of them I think I’d go with the Amusement Park as the more interesting location.
Naturally there’s plenty of good music to choose from such as Memories of Dust, Amusement Park, and Possessed by Disease. As for Spirit Battles I think I’d go with A2, 9S, the Commander, Pascal, Adam & Eve, Engels, Jackass, Simone, Grün, and Emil. As for Mii Costumes I’d just limit it to 9S and maybe A2 assuming A2 doesn’t get in as an Echo Fighter alongside 2B. Although now that I think about it a single piece of Mii Headgear based off of Emil or one of the generic Small Stubby Machines would be pretty funny.
Well everyone I think that’s a wrap on our first Zantok Plays review! I hope you all liked it and please feel free to comment with your own thoughts on the game, the review itself, or what you think we could get from Nier: Automata in Smash!
Words by: Lister Potter III