To start things off I’m a very big fan of the Drakengard/Nier series of games from mad genius Taro Yoko. When it was announced the series would continue I was over the moon, when it was announced the game was going to be handled by Platinum Games one of the best studio’s for action games I was even more excited. Now with the demo out we can finally get some answers to longstanding questions and more questions after that.
Please note this post will contain spoilers for the Demo including the ending. At about 30 minutes on Normal and 40 on higher difficulties you can and should play before reading any further. I repeat SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING. Okay with that out of the way lets move on.
As I wrote above going in I was not sure what I was in for in terms of feel regarding the game. As the first non-Cavia title in the franchise I was expecting Platinum to bring some of their own style to the game however I was scared it might overpower what makes the franchise so great, it’s overwhelming weirdness. This was unfounded as the game is undoubtedly Nier.
If one is a fan of the franchise you know the difference between Nier and Drakengard is an important one. Drakengard is a hack and slash action game with RPG elements, while Nier is a RPG heavily oriented towards action combat. On this scale Automata is actually closer to Drakengard in that the demo seems to present itself as an action game first, though one with Levels, collectibles, items, and the works.
What makes it so clearly Nier though is the odd work they do with the camera. For pure action players this demo will be annoying, as the game shifts camera orientation repeatedly and often. One moment you’ll be playing a standard over the shoulder third person action game, the next you’ll be playing a side scroll beat em up, then five minutes later enjoying an isometric view from above.
All interspersed with surprisingly fun and accessible platforming elements fans of both the original Nier and Drakengard will appreciate. Actually the platforming elements feel far less tacked on and more organic then in the most recent title Drakengard 3. Taken together the camera and the platforming make this small section of the game quite unique, while many may be turned off by this it speaks well of Platinum they kept the game so true to the franchise.
On the technical side of things the game is amazing and what it needs to be. While certainly not the prettiest game in the world it’s still the best looking of the franchise, which is an admittedly low bar... that being said while it may not look the best it flows like water with a solid 60 Frame Rates per Second.
The combat is fast and engaging and Platinum has certainly lived up to its reputation at least for now. Alternating between long and short range, and heavy and light attacks the combat is simplistic on the surface. However it shows a lot of signs of deepness, especially on the higher difficulty settings where if you engage certain situations incorrectly you are in for a world of hurt.
That is because in many ways the game sets up some fights as puzzles. Where you have to use the tools at your disposal to dispatch the enemies in the most effective and cost effective way. This is oftentimes presented as top down isometric views I pointed out earlier. I’m not sure how it’ll go over with some people but I dug the decision.
That being said the demo even on high difficulties is not what you would call difficult. Considering the fact the franchise comes from the school of stupidly difficult ARPGs and Taro Yoko is famous for trolling fans with insane difficulty spikes. I have a feeling this is not representative of the final product so on this I will wait for the main game.
Spoilers Start Here (Last Warning)
However when you are playing a Nier/Drakengard game more often then not you also come for the story. Interestingly the Demo actually presents a pretty good overview of the two main character 2B and 9S. 2B is your controlled character and is superficially very similar outwardly to Drakengard 3's villain-protagonist Zero. However her personality is quite different.
While Zero was cold, sardonic, and self interested it is clear 2B despite being an Android is much warmer. Something I suspect she herself doesn’t seem to like saying on one occasion emotion is not needed. However her and 9S’ quick friendship shows she is very unlike Zero in the sense well... she’s clearly not a psychopath.
9S on the other hand at the moment is the standard nice young boy. Who just happens to have a killer mech and is one of the most fun aspects of the demo - seriously wait until you get to control the thing. Due to the length of the Demo we don’t get to know him too much as he seems more there to flesh out 2B as a character.
The ending though throws us for a loop as after the climactic battle with a gigantic enemy. Much like the fights between the Raiden and the Metal Gears in Metal Gear Rising the two characters seemingly destroy themselves in a blaze of glory, by detonating the “Black Boxes” seemingly killing the two of them in the process.
As the Demo seems to be a very early - if not the first mission - how this will be resolved in the main game is anyone’s guess however as an incentive to by the game the cliffhanger ending was a good choice. Especially as it seems to totally contradict what we know about the game so far, including the absence of A2.
In the end I really enjoyed this demo: the action was good, technical performance was great, the story for what it was seemed well thought out, and the game was weird. This is all I wanted and I’m quite happy with what was presented to me. March 7th cannot come fast enough.
If you played the Demo or are just a fan of the franchise let me know what you thought. I can never get enough talking about Nier/Drakengard.