10 Things Wrong With Nier: Automata

2017 had a plethora of good games. It’s really hard to say which game blew everything else out of the water. For many, Nier Automata was that game. Platinum games are known for the strange and confusing games they develop. Nier is no different. This diamond in the rough is probably the best game they have developed. That is hard to say because of the stroke of genius that is Bayonetta 2. However, Nier is far from perfect. Here are 10 things wrong with Nier Automata.

1. The Long Haul

Compared to other games this year, this is the hardest one to immerse yourself in. Persona 5 captured your interest with its over-the-top style, and unconventional gameplay. Nier is the opposite. Eight hours into the game, I have failed to see the appeal. I know the ultimate payoff is the ‘true’ ending of the game. However, the journey there is a bit painful. You will be met with very little story at the beginning, and you should prepare for fetching and bringing back items to fulfill side quests.

Other games this year had long introductions, and some were a bit slow. For example, the plateau area in Zelda: Breath Of The Wild takes several hours to get through. This area is the most boring part of the game, but you are left to your own devices. You can explore the area around you, get used to the mechanics, discover the game mechanics organically. Nier has a very generic opening: you control an android who is skilled at combat. You are the only one left out of your unit, and you have to go fight a giant robot. For a game that has been praised by many, the introduction is disappointing and discouraging.

Screenshot from Nier Automata. 9S is facing the ruins of several tall buildings.
Get used to seeing this.

2. The Weirdest Tone

Bayonetta had its share of serious moments, but it was peppered with comedy. The developers had a great balance in the tone that it set. Bayonetta doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s what so great about it. Even in the most serious moments, Bayonetta has plenty of wit about her. Nier doesn’t have that balance. It is presented as a very serious game. Then you get random moments that are out of left field. The moment that stuck out the most to me (besides robots humping each other for unknown reasons) was when 2B’s operator calls her crying and has a meltdown because another android didn’t reciprocate her feelings. I know there is supposed to be a metaphor with behavior like this popping up throughout the game, but it is just awkward.

3. Fast Travel Comes Late

This is more of a pet peeve. I believe that most games should have some sort of fast travel function. Lacking this function has kept me from going back to older games because I really don’t want to backtrack through the same area. It’s a waste of the player’s time. Unless there is a new area to explore, at which point you have to backtrack; that’s fine. But if you are creating an open-world game, fast travel needs to be an option. It is an option in Nier, but several hours too late. This got even more tedious when I had to go back and forth between areas just to deliver items. Then, all of a sudden, you can start fast traveling after a certain point in the game. There was absolutely no reason to not introduce fast travel earlier in the game.

You can’t fast travel from any given position in Nier. You have ‘access points’ that you can save at. They look like old vending machines. You are able to use these machines after the first boss, then eventually you can fast travel to other access points. It seems almost like a joke that you can’t use the fast travel function until later in the game. If it is, it’s in poor taste.

4. Annoying Controls

Aside from fast travel, there are some quirks with the controls. One of them is the fact that you have to continuously hold down the ‘lock-on’ button if you want to target a particular enemy with your pod gun. When that enemy dies, you have to press the button again to ‘lock-on’ another target. I don’t understand why you can’t simply tap the button, and not have to worry about holding it down the entire time. Because while you are doing that, you are trying to use your melee attack. You have two melee buttons for your light and heavy attacks. Then you have to hold down another button to fire your pod gun, and you have to press another button to dodge attacks.

I looked more than once for a setting to make the ‘lock-on’ automatic, like a lot of newer games, but there was no such option. It would just be nice to streamline some of the mechanics. What is even more frustrating is that there IS an auto ‘lock-on’ chip that you have in your possession at the beginning of the game. However, this can only be accessed if you are playing on easy mode. Why is this an easy mode feature? This isn’t a skilled based mechanic but needed for convenience sake.

Screenshot from Nier Automata. 2B and 9S stand over the body of a dead android.
You are going to find a lot of dead androids.

5. Skill Maintenance Is A Pain

When it comes to games that have a skill system, I like to manually select which skills to equip. I don’t like to auto-assign because I enjoy managing my character’s strengths and weaknesses. In Nier, I quickly decided to auto-assign every skill. It seems like they were trying to simulate a computer; you use ‘chips’ AKA skills to fill up the memory on your android. So, you have to arrange the chips in a certain way to maximize your skills. I don’t understand why they had to present this feature this way.

The chips are arranged in a single column, and there are very small lines that represent the chip you are placing. This takes a lot of time and patience. It is just a process that is so dated, that it shouldn’t be in a recent AAA game. If they were trying to make it an immersive experience, they missed the mark.

6. Enemies Are A ‘Dime A Dozen’

Get used to fighting tin cans, because that’s mostly what you are confronted with in Nier Automata. Most of the enemies are these old, rusty robots with red eyes that swing their arms at you, and shoot projectiles. There are different variations of these robots, but it’s very underwhelming. Even the ‘Goliath’ class robots are boring. They look like transformers covered in mud. I know this is supposed to be a post-apocalyptic world, and things are supposed to look in poor condition.

It’s not just that, they look so generic. Even if that is part of the story, it doesn’t make me more interested. The few enemies that aren’t tin cans, look like androids. They look like discarded Final Fantasy characters. They just have really poor character design, and it is so uninteresting. You don’t have to have intricate character design to make them interesting. However, in a game of this scale, they shouldn’t be generic and they should have some agency.

Screenshot from Nier Automata. 2B and 9S standing on top of a roller coaster. They are fighting two robots that are flying above them in clown garb.
The ‘coolest’ enemies of the game.

7. Where’s The Story?

Have I previously stated that this game is a slow burn? I started to play it because of the story. Nothing else really stood out. I enjoy the theme of existentialism in media, because, as a society, we don’t want to ask that question. We try to have meaning in our lives because we are self-aware. What it means to be a human is a question that Nier ponders, and it’s refreshing. However, you really aren’t hit with that element for quite a while.

The foundation of the story is quite slow, and, frankly, confusing. That aspect is fine, and what’s cool about Nier is that you play as different characters. You are encouraged to replay the game for more story elements. Most games don’t do that; even my favorite games this year (Persona 5, Zelda…) don’t have this mechanic. As a casual player, you can’t expect to beat the game once and understand what is going on. That’s the gift and curse of this kind of story structure. It’s original, but it’s hard to execute in video games. I think the reveal of the story is worth it, but it crawls to that climax.

8. Stupid Endings

There are multiple endings in Nier, and most of them are a waste of time. I accidentally got an ending by going the wrong way during a mission. As I was walking away from Pascal’s village, I received a voice-over from my pod. As I was running, the audio cut off, and the screen went black. The ending was a simple sentence about how 2B and 9S abandoned their mission, and mankind was destroyed. Then the credits fly by really fast. I was able to load up my save from a few seconds before this event, but it was utterly a waste of my time. Again, it’s a poor joke. I don’t care how it supposedly fits the narrative; that sentence and seeing the credits go by really fast is just another annoying aspect of this game.

9.  Lack Of Depth

Nier fails when it comes to content outside of the main story. You can’t interact with much of your environment. There is picking up materials randomly found while roaming the area, but there isn’t much outside of that. You can ride a moose, and I guess that’s fun? The other option is grinding, but you don’t have a lot of enemy encounters. Some robots aren’t considered hostile, and if you attack them, they are pretty low-level. So, it makes it pointless to even take them out.

The side quests are lackluster. You are constantly dealing with fetching things for people, escort missions, or combat trials. I understand most games have that, but couldn’t they have put in some side story in? I think one of the best features in a game are audio journals. Why couldn’t they have done something like that? You do have a handful of missions like that. For example, you do recover items from a dead android and give it to their romantic partner. That was a nice little snippet into the androids’ lives. But these moments are just so far and few between.

10. Can We Talk About 2B’s Outfit?

I know it’s a common theme in previous Platinum game titles to have sex appeal. Bayonetta embodies it and turns it up to eleven. What’s so great about Bayonetta is that she owns her sexuality. She is a badass that you don’t mess with, and she knows she looks hot doing it. She is a ‘sex-positive’ character that is rare in any industry. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sex appeal. My problem is the lack of autonomy. 2B is an android following orders, and she isn’t choosing what she wears. She isn’t embodying sex appeal, she literally has no agency, and is encouraged to not have any. If I’m getting really picky, combat would be uncomfortable in that outfit.

 

Nier Automata resonances with many people, and rightfully so. It was one of the few games that I have played this year that just didn’t appeal to me. The bar was set high going into it, but it was with Persona 5 and Zelda. I will never fully understand why people love this game so much, but to each their own. Even if I loved the game, nothing is perfect.

 

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One thought on “10 Things Wrong With Nier: Automata

  • 7th January 2018 at 6:18 pm
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    Thank goodness, I’m not alone in my thoughts about this game. I just couldn’t get into it at all. All of my friends and like every review out there praises Nier and at times I think “Is there something wrong with me?”. I agree wholeheartedly with your points, especially the tone. I’d also like to add the fact the map was an unbelievable pain to get to grips with.

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