Today, February 23, marks the anniversary of NieR:Automata, which initially launched in Japan on the PS4 a year ago. I only got around to playing the game recently and it has become one of my favorite games of all time. Obviously, whenever someone likes a game, they want everyone else to play it to share that experience. However, I have a reason for trying to convince people to play this specific game and it relates to why it took so long for me to play it myself.
A year ago, I had no idea what NieR:Automata was. In fact, I had no idea that the original NieR, or the Drakengard series from which it stems, existed. As someone who’s not exactly wealthy, I usually stick to games from franchises that I already know and love, though I will sometimes step out of my comfort zone and try something new if I have a reason to think I would be particularly interested in it. When I first learned about NieR:Automata, it did not meet that criteria.
Basically, my introduction to this game involved randomly finding lewd fanart of the protagonist, 2B, in various places across the internet. Mind you, I was not actively seeking out lewd material; I was making my occasional trips to meme sites and such and happened to stumble across this (not that I’m judging anyone who goes out of their way to find lewd fanart; you do you). Here’s my point: Pokémon is one of my favorite game franchises of all time. When I was a kid, my introduction to the series was that it was about monsters fighting. Back then, that was enough to sell me on a game. The Last of Us is one of my favorite games of all time. My introduction to that was that it seemed to be an emotionally-driven story taking place during a zombie apocalypse. I happened to be going through a zombie phase in 2013 and I always appreciate good stories in video games, so I was sold. My introduction to NieR:Automata was that it’s a game with a sexy waifu and you can make her dress disappear in the game. Not exactly the best first impression (at least not for me, given my particular tastes in video games).
The reason I bring this up is because I get the feeling that there are a lot of people who have avoided this game because they had the same or similar first impressions. On the surface, this game probably looks like a cliché anime, with its scantily-clad women, over-the-top action and melodramatic performances, just as a video game instead of a TV show. These things obviously appeal to some people, but there are also a lot of people who are turned off by this. I am one such person. I’m not a fan of anime and haven’t watched anime since I was in middle school (well, except One-Punch Man). I don’t want to seem like I’m judging people who do like anime; you can be into whatever you’re into and that’s fine. And I know that not all anime fits these tropes, but in general, the style just isn’t for me. And there’s a lot of people who it’s not for. And since it seemed to me like NieR:Automata was going to be emblematic of the same sorts of things that I don’t care for in anime, I decided it wasn’t a game that I needed to play, or even really pay attention to. And I imagine that there are a lot of other people who felt or continue to feel the same.
But I was wrong. I can’t think of any other time in my life where the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies so strongly.
NieR:Automata began to pique my interest late last year when it started getting nominated for a bunch of Game of the Year awards, and even winning some. Award shows and video game publications all over the spectrum were talking about how great this game is. Suddenly, I had to rethink my impressions of the game. Maybe it isn’t just another anime-esque waifu game with action but is really just an excuse to look at a hot female character. This wasn’t enough to make me want to play the game, however. I was now open to the idea that it could actually be a good game, but there are lots of good games. My leisure budget is only so big, so NieR:Automata would probably just fall into the endless pile of games that I’m sure are good, but that I’ll probably never get around to playing myself.
But since I work writing articles about video games, I thought I should at least get the general idea of what various games that had been nominated for multiple Game of the Year awards are about, if they were ones I wasn’t already familiar with. So I did some research into NieR:Automata. And the more I looked into it, the more interested in it I got.
One of the things that stuck out to me was that it won more Best Story/Narrative of the Year awards than any other game last year. It was beating out such games as Horizon: Zero Dawn, Wolfenstein II, What Remains of Edith Finch, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and, another one of my personal favorites, Doki Doki Literature Club!. As stated earlier, I’m kind of a sucker for games with strong narratives. The Last of Us, The Walking Dead, Undertale and Life is Strange are all games that I love.
I tried to avoid spoilers in case this became a game I eventually wanted to play myself, but from various videos and articles online, I discovered that NieR:Automata contains some interesting themes, from philosophy to morality to mortality to humanity to artificial intelligence and beyond. After researching the game for a while, I eventually decided to play the free demo, and from this I found that the gameplay was fun and interesting in a number of ways, so I finally decided that I should just get the game already. And boy am I glad that I did.
NieR:Automata delivers on every level. The story is engaging and emotional. The lore is incredibly expansive and terribly interesting. The gameplay never gets old, partially due to the fact that it’s constantly changing and incorporating mechanics from a plethora of different genres. The soundtrack is incredible. In short, it’s everything I could’ve wanted in a game. And to think I almost missed out on this because it looked too anime.
I never could have predicted the impact this game would have on me. I will admit, there are moments where it did get exceptionally anime, but if you’re someone who isn’t into that kind of stuff (like me), hopefully you can rest assured knowing that this game has SO much to offer for people who aren’t into that as well. I don’t want to say too much more about what makes this game so great aside from what I’ve already said because doing so would inevitably eventually spill over into spoiler territory and this game is filled to the brim with spoiler-worthy material that I think everyone should experience for their selves. Just know that if you have reservations about this game, take it from someone who wasn’t so sure about it himself at first; this game is amazing and deserves to be played by as many people as possible. It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t even have to have played the original NieR, or any of the Drakengard games, to appreciate this game.
I just want to finish this up by discussing a little bit how into this game I got. And remember, this is coming from someone who initially had no interest in it. When I got the game, I played through the main story first. Pretty standard. I did some side quests and such here and there, but I mostly wanted to experience the story. By the time I finished the entire story, I had played the game for nearly thirty hours. But I was so enthralled by absolutely everything in this game that I didn’t want my experience with it to end. So I decided to do all the side quests. That took significantly longer, and a few of the side quests got pretty tedious, a couple even frustrating. Despite this, I was STILL in love with the game and STILL didn’t want it to end. So I did everything. I got to level 99, I did all the side quests, I got all the PlayStation Trophies, I collected and fully upgraded all the weapons and pods, I collected every archive, piece of unit data and fish; I did literally everything in this game.
Mind you, I’m not someone who completes games. I just usually don’t have that kind of time and energy. Normally just doing the main story (provided it’s a great story) and maybe some of the side stuff is enough for me. The few games that I have 100% completed are games that are easy to complete, such as Life is Strange, for which, aside from just playing the story, you take ten pictures per episode and boom, you’ve 100% completed the game. I have never taken on a game like NieR:Automata to 100% before. But I just loved it that much. I couldn’t stop playing it. Even after I completed everything, I played through the main story again because I just couldn’t bring myself to stop playing this game.
But even after experiencing everything the game itself had to offer, I STILL wasn’t done with it. I went online and found all the official supplementary materials that I could, from short stories to videos to strategy guides to interviews to stage plays (yeah, there were two stage plays directed by the director of the game that delve deeper into the lore). After I absorbed all the supplementary materials I could find (I bet you can see where this is going by now), I STIIILLLL can’t get enough of this game and the world, lore, characters and everything else that inhabits it. So now I’m writing an article about it. And I’ll be writing a couple more in the coming weeks (today’s article celebrates the game’s anniversary of its Japanese launch, but on March 7 and March 10 I’ll be writing more opinion pieces about it to celebrate its North American and PAL releases respectively). (Update: Unfortunately, the March 10 article didn’t work out, but here’s the link to my March 7 article. (Update to the update: I wrote a March 10 article after all.))
Obviously not everyone is going to love this game as much as I do. I just think it’s a damn shame that I came so close to not giving this game the time of day and that (I assume) there are many other people doing the same. If you think this game isn’t for you, please, PLEASE at least check it out. Play the free demo or something. If you know a friend who has the game, try playing it little. Maybe you’ll get into it too. Maybe it’ll take you a while to really get into it. Maybe you’ll get super into it right away. Maybe you’ll play the whole thing and still not get into it. Obviously, it all comes down to everyone’s own personal tastes. But hopefully this way-too-long article convinces SOME people who’ve been skeptical about this game to give it a try, and hopefully some of them love it too.