“Nier: Automata” is a Japanese game, which means that by its very nature, it’s going to be a bit unorthodox.
Sometimes innovation can be a disaster, but I’m often a fan of unusual games. Even if they’re terrible, at least a developer was willing to take a risk by making something unique. That alone usually makes them worthwhile.
I’ve heard nothing but great things about “Nier: Automata” since it released almost a year ago. I asked for several video games for Christmas, but “Nier” was at the top of my list, so I was pleased to open it as one of my holiday gifts.
I started playing Christmas night, and I can barely put it down. Why? Because it’s weird in the best kind of way.
On the surface, “Nier” looks like a typical third-person action game. You move through an open world consisting of different environments—from dilapidated cities to barren deserts—all while using giant swords and fun projectile weapons to destroy hordes of robots.
But “Nier” goes deeper than mindless violence. Starring androids sent by moon-residing humans to Earth to take back a planet overrun by machines, the game makes its characters and even the player question what it means to be “human.”
That’s a fine question for a story to pose, but it’s the way “Nier” presents its answers that makes it delightfully absurd.
The game features plenty of serious, poignant moments. For instance, one of the few machines that doesn’t attack the protagonists on sight begins contemplating its own existence and, after concluding its life has no meaning, leaps from a building to its death. During other moments, our heroes contemplate their own mission to exterminate machines and even their own feelings, which humans have forbade androids from having.
But between heavy-handed plot developments are several laughable and downright ridiculous moments, from clown outfit-wearing robots violently attacking “Nier’s” heroes while they ride a roller coaster to machines putting on a deadly version of “Romeo and Juliet.”
As quickly as it changes mood, “Nier” also swaps between genres. The game starts as a scrolling shooter similar to “Space Invaders” and then switches to a twin-stick shooter. Before you’re done, you’ll play “Nier” as a side-scroller, platformer and even a text adventure. This is something I’ve never experienced in a game before, and as chaotic as it sounds, it’s actually quite fun.
The game approaches story conclusions in a weird way, too. After beating the game once, you can play through it again as 9S, who is main character 2B’s partner the first time around. After you’re done with his version of the story, you can play it as a third character to get the game’s “true” ending.
And there are a lot of endings to find, most of them clever jokes. For instance, while playing as the android 2B, you can plug in different computer chips to give her various powers and abilities. By default, she’s equipped with one chip that is in control of her operating system. As an experiment, I decided to remove it. Sure enough, she immediately died, giving me one of the game’s more than 20 different endings.
“Nier” does other things differently to cement its strangeness. For instance, characters regularly break the fourth wall. You can fish for everything from actual water creatures to literal trash. The music is excellent, but it sometimes features what sounds like babies singing gibberish. You can ride a moose. The list goes on.
Oh, and the game’s lead designer, Yoko Taro, is never seen in public without his signature mask that looks somewhat like a moon with a face. A silly character in “Nier” even resembles Taro. This is the kind of game we’re talking about here.
“Nier: Automata” is unlike anything you’d see from a Western developer, and that’s part of what makes it so enticing. I’m happy the game had such success in the U.S. because that means more is on the way.
But until we’re graced with even more excellent Japanese titles, “Nier” is the best weird game I’ve ever played. I’m excited to see what’s in store for the rest of my adventure with it.
Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.