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NieR: Automata – Demo 120161128 Impressions

The previously NieR game was something that did not catch my attention at all, that could be because I heard that it was a good idea that was poorly executed.  Despite the fact that NieR was helped made by Square Enix, I had no idea who Cavia was, and that could be the main reason the game play was not done as well as it could be.
This time however, I was already wanting to get into NieR: Automata through its design alone; the first sight of the game blew me away with its beautiful protagonist, 2B.  Not to mention I heard this game was being made by Square Enix and Platinum Games, and anyone who knows me can tell you that Platinum is my favorite developer.  So we have a hack n’ slash game published by Square Enix and developed by Platinum Games with a cute, robot heroine.  Sounds like fun.
  IMPORTANT!  – As this is a demo impressions article, I am not going to go into a great amount of detail as I would with a game’s review.  A brief synopsis over each aspect should suffice, as things could change before the final release.

 Getting Started 

When you first start up the game, you have a few things that you can mess with.  The very first one is the difficulty.  One is “Easy” which makes enemies considerably weaker and you can equip “auto-chips” (more on this later); “Normal” is said to be the most enjoyable difficulty (probably), and is most likely what they designed most people to play; “Hard” mode makes enemies tougher, you take more damage, and you cannot use the “Lock-On” feature; the final difficulty is “Very Hard”, which makes you die in a single hit.
Something to note about the difficulties is that they all seem very fair.  While I thought that the “Lock-On” featuring being removed from hard would make things rather difficult, as most games that are hack n’ slash have a feature like this (was even added to the DmC: Devil May Cry Remaster), NieR: Automata does not need it.  As the Pod itself acts as a rapid-fire machinegun, locking on at a higher difficulty would make things entirely too easy.  The last difficulty is meant for only those who are masters, as it acts like “Hell or Hell” mode in the Devil May Cry series.
Also it should be noted that you can either go with English or Japanese voice acting or subtitles.  As someone who considers myself a hardcore anime/manga otaku, I really hate most English voice actors except those for Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon (mostly because I grew up with these before I really knew what “anime” or “manga”), I was inclined to pick Japanese.  However, I did play my first time with English voice acting and is kind of “bleh”.  While the actress who plays the main heroine (2B) did not exceptionally good job, I feel like the Pod and her partner (9S) could have been better (rather, they could have found voices to better match their Japanese counterparts).

The first thing I want to talk about is the combat.  Most hack n’ slash focus on combat above all else, as that is the main source of entertainment from this genre.  The NieR: Automata demo showcases a level of depth that should be on par with the Devil May Cry series.  They give you a variety of ways to approach a situation, meaning the player can showcase their skill, ability to be cheesy, or simply mix-and-match dependent on what is needed.
You have the ability to rapidly press either the Light Attack or Heavy Attack button in order to make combos, while switching off to either of them in the middle of a string with the other could produce different results (such as going from single wielding to dual-wielding a weapon to end a combo string).  Not to mention you can “charge” up certain attacks, while a full charge renders one move while partially charging it leads to another.  Immediately pushing an attack button after a jump does something while waiting a few seconds to get higher will do another.
The attack variety within this game means that you can constantly switch it up, combining different chains of attack together in order to provide a stylish approach with each combat situation you are faced with.  However, the different attacks themselves means that you are able to handle different situations.  A group of close range fighters might cause for you to use one skill set, while determining whether-or-not they have heavy armor and will not flinch from attacks requires another.  Maybe you are dealing with airborne opponents who tend to move away when you get close?  Grounded foes who shoot projectiles while you are engaging heavily-armored close-ranged combatants?  This game equips you to handle everything, it is all about how you choose to approach the current situation.
You can have two different types of weapon sets within this game, and you have a “Heavy” weapon and a “Light” weapon.  It seems you can put any weapon to any position, and it changes the types of attacks that they do.  You have four different types of weapons as well; “Large Swords”, “Small Swords”, “Spears”, and “Combat Bracers”.
Something else that has to be discussed is the “Pod” program.  It seems as though you will gain skills for the drone that accompanies you, utilizing them through “downloading” them.  Whether-or-not these can be bought, earned, or simply given dependent on where you are in the story is a mystery to me (but the in-game menu does show that they are swappable).  For the game, you are given access to a powerful laser-type upgrade which has a fairly decent cooldown time. 
Overall, I really feel like Platinum Games expertise in the way of hack n’ slash games is definitely shining through on the combat.  It feels simply enough for those who want to enjoy the game but do not have the presence of mind to use all mechanics efficiently, while also giving enough depth for “true style” masters to create unique and artistic combinations to add flair.  Well done again.

Something else I should also mention here are the controls.  While they provided several layouts they created themselves, there is also an option to map your own button configuration.  While I typically keep whatever default controls we are given, I made an effort to change the ones given to me in NieR: Automata because I felt like the options given were not optimal.
I set the “Evade” button to circle, the “Switch Weapons” button to R1, and “Action” to R2, and “Fire” to L1.  I needed to be able to dodge on reaction, even while in the middle of fighting. I need evasion to be easily accessible in the middle of a fight, on reaction, the current default was not going to work.  The next thing is being able to switch weapons while moving.  When I am within a combo situation or trying to gain a better position, I am going to need to be able to switch to what I need on the fly.  The current default setup meant that I was going to need to remove my thumb from the left analog stick to push the D-Pad.  Switching things to the R1 button meant I could use my left index finger to operate switching mid-combo or mid-movement (While also avoiding accidentally activing “Pod Program”).  The final button I switched was the “Action” to R2.  Action is only needed to put up thing, execute downed enemies, and things like opening doors.  It is probably going to be used out-of-combat more than anything else, so it makes sense to put it into a position that is not as useful.


Something that I usually do not talk about is the camera.  However, NieR:Automata uses it to absolutely great effect to make things feel fresh.  Do not get me wrong, the combat is always the same no matter what angle the camera is at, but you gain a different feel dependent on where they choose to place it.  Yes, it is nothing “game changing”, but it makes the combat feels unique with each change made.
Sometimes you will be fighting in a typical 3D space, sometimes they will level it out to a 2D plane that makes it feel like a side-scroller, and finally they give you an angle like a top-down shooter.  While the combat never changes and everything that is possible in any of these is possible in all of them, they will give you new perspective. 
An example of this is when I was fighting in the top-down angle, I recognized that when certain enemies are in a row I can obliterate them with my laser Pod Program and quickly cut down their numbers.  Well, the same thing was easily applied once I got into the 3D environment.  These angles provide opportunities to get a fresh look at the battlefield and make you more aware of how you can fight and what to look for, making you more deadly.

 In-Game Menu 

The menu in-game seems to have several things that have come to my attention.  Map, Quests, Items, Weapons, Skills, Intel, and System.
Map allows you to quick save, shows your current position, and where you can go.  It also displays things like shops (Weapons and Maintenance), Access points, etc.  It also has a legend of what all the symbols on the map screen means.
Quests is currently blank and does not have any information whatsoever (but does have non-selectable options for “Active Quests”, “All Quests”, and “Cleared Quests”).  Though, I do have a suspicion that it will be objectives to net you extra money, gear, or items dependent upon what they want you to do.  It is probably very similar to the quests that you obtain in the free-to-play game Let it Die.
Items have different options available as well; “All Items”, “Restorative Items”, “Enhancement Items”, “Support Items”, “Materials”, and “Key Items”.  This is basically self-explanatory.  It does look like some sort of crafting system will be in order, or that you will have to collect certain materials to bring to the weapons or maintenance dealer in order to repair broken items found, upgrade current weaponry, or create new weapons (similar to Let it Die again).  Until the shops are given, we will probably not know.  Restorative items are just heals and Enhancement Items are things to boost your attack or defense.  Support items are currently not in the demo and I have no idea what they could be; and I am sure Key Items are things that you pick up that cannot be destroyed, dropped, sold, or crafted, probably because they are integral to the story.
Weapons just shows you all the weapons currently in possession, and allows you to make two different set of weapons to use on your person (similar to Bayonetta).  It also has numerical stats for each and every weapon available for you to use in order to help you figure out your potential damage.
Skills shows you “Pod Programs” (which I already covered in combat, and only one is available in the demo), and your Chip sets (“Plug-in Chips”).  Chip sets are pretty much different programs you can equip to your character’s motherboard (which is a set space), which allows for different things to be shown; their health, their cool down on Pod Programs, etc.  Some chips however, are not currently selectable due to the fact that you have to be on “Easy” mode for them to work; things like Auto-Attack, Auto-Evade, Auto-Weapon Switch, etc.
Intel has data on enemies (Unit Data), Stories on each weapon you acquire, and Tutorials.  Most of this information is locked, probably from having to progress through the actual game when it comes out.  However, it does look like there will be much detailed information when we do get a chance to see it.
System is nothing more normal things every game have (Controls, Quit Game, etc.). Nothing really special.

 Character and Story Speculation 

My idea is that this story takes place based on robots who are made for combat scenarios.  They are dispatched with very specific orders from an agency who is tasked with handling out-of-controls radicals who pose a threat to their purpose.  These robots are given code names (such as “2B”), and are meant to follow their orders without fail.  However, these robots are also conscience of their actions and decisions, able to make complex calls and are even capable of simulating emotions and pride for their work.  Also, it seems that each one has very specific roles that they perform, and probably are deployed in teams where unique functions are given to every member.
Something else that could be said is that these people are actually cyborgs, augmented people who are machine-like only because it enhances their human potential; kind of like Raiden from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.  This would make sense because of the Pod being able to read vital signs, whereas there should be no such thing if they were entirely machines; not to mention they are made to be incredibly life-like, which would probably not be a priority if they were not already human from the beginning.
Something else that comes into play is the “Black Box” it seems everyone carries.  It seems that this could be a beacon that shows their location, their main source of intel outside of their Pods, and could also act as confidentiality insurance.  In case one of the organization’s agents fails in the field, attempts to defect, or comes into a situation where rendering a target silent is more important than anything else, they can self-destruct the box.
To be honest, there is probably more information floating out there, but this is just what I took from the demo without any prior information and no researching done.  I will have to form an update whenever I do actually get around to picking up more information on the game’s story, protagonists, and the exact functions of the organization that they work for.

 Final Thoughts 

NieR: Automata is looking like it is going to be absolutely awesome.  Obviously it is now one of my most anticipated games of 2017 and I cannot wait for it to be out.  Square Enix has added their gaming allure and brilliant character designs to the Hack n’ Slash masters brew of Platinum Games, truly a match made in heaven.
The combat has a lot of depth and is very fun, I am excited about the weapons that we will get to try out (especially the Combat Bracers and Spears).  The cinematic feel that Square Enix feels is found from the first opening scene as 2B crashes through the wall, and even later on when self-sacrifice must be made for the greater good.  The story in itself is already grabbing my attention, and seems like it will be a game I want to finish to completion.
While I admit that a lot of the style does remind me of the Metal Gear Solid series in a way (possibly artificial humans, secret organization, the way that they talk, the sound their communicators make, the text, the item selection process, etc.).  It has its own flair and flavor that makes the game unique, I really wonder what more they have in store when the full game comes out.

The demo gave me everything I needed to know in order to ensure that this game is a first day purchase.  I have been hearing lots of good things from others who have played it, and I have been bringing this gem to the attention of those who had probably never before been vested within the NieR series, or heard nothing about this game.  I just hope that it lives up to the hype that is being created around it.

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About The Author

RoK the Reaper
A serious gamer & hardcore otaku who loves anything gaming, anime, or manga! I hope to bring you the best content for these subjects I love in the form of news, reviews, interviews, and in-depth editorials! さよなら!

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