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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Nier Automata.

Title Edit

On the official Escapist website, the video and its description had the game misspelled as Nier Autamata. Yahtzee noticed this and pointed it out in the post-ZP stream on Twitch on the video's release day. This mistake was corrected a few hours later.

Transcript Edit

Nier, so called because it's very "Nier-ly" spelled correctly, was a very Nier-d, I mean, weird action-RPG thing where, depending on your location, the main character was either a shirtless middle-aged man, or a skinny twink generally better-disposed to shirts but couldn't quite figure out the whole "sleeve" aspect. I reviewed it way back in 2010, and it left quite an impression; there aren't many games that dramatize the moment wherein Richie Rich transforms into Casper the Friendly Ghost, so I was gratified to see the property franchising with this new sequel, Nier Automata, which the casual eye would indicate to be largely bugger-all to do with the original. But after reviewing Nier the First, I have since learned that it, too, was a sequel to Drakengard, and I think I could be forgiven for not realizing that; it might as well have declared itself a sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire, for all that it mattered.

You might want to be careful, being so laissez-faire with the definition of "sequel"; next thing you know, everything will be declared a sequel to everything else, and they'll be selling Moby-Dick in box sets with Confessions of a Window Cleaner. Maybe we're all just sequels in this great, disappointingly long-running franchise we call "life". But the practical upshot is that you can play Nier Automata without having played Nier Shirt-omata, although you might need a few extra nanoseconds to predict the eventual plot twists. The first Nier pulled the old Planet of the Apes gambit where the fantasy world turns out to be the post-apocalyptic sci-fi future, and now Nier Automata is set even further into the future when things have come back around to being sci-fi again.

The main characters are human-like androids fighting a seemingly endless war to retake the ruined Earth from an army of primitive but highly numerous machines that all seem to be modeled on women's sanitary products. The androids are doing this on behalf of humanity, whom we never see, but we're assured they're all living on a secret colony on the Moon that we can't go to and from which we only hear general announcements that all sound suspiciously pre-recorded. Doesn't quite take Alfred Hitchcock to see where that's going, does it? But ere you smite me with downvotes for the looseness of my spoiler-riddled tongue, the game's not actually about that; what it's about is the purpose of being and what it is that separates a machine from a human, anyway. The story begins when some of the machines start to display human-like behavior and emotions, in contrast to the androids, who were instructed to remain emotionless, despite having been programmed with emotions, possibly as a prank.

Remember last week, I was saying that naming the main character of your robot game "Aloy" was a bit on-the-nose? Well, there must be something nose-related going around at the moment, because the main character of this game about existentialism is "2B". (2B as in, "...or not to be", you see; it's not just a kind of pencil.) 2B is one of several mostly-identical female android warriors - or "gynoid warriors"; thank you, Pedantry Corner - who fight the machines with katanas and robot suits and dress up in French maid outfits. Thank Christ for that; I might have forgotten this was a Japanese game for two seconds and stopped loading my mouth with Pocky. 2B is assisted by a hacker named 9S, hacker in the video game sense of "basically also a warrior, but with a 70% increase in minigame density". I don't think 9S has a hidden meaning, unless the 9 is supposed to be his approximate physical age, but Wikipedia does tell me that 9 is an exponential factorial, and 9S certainly wants to "exponentially factorize" 2B, wink wink.

The gameplay of Nier on Tomatoes is what we academically call "an odd duck", the kind of duck that spends half the day hanging out in the lion enclosure demanding to be called "Simba". Remember how the first game (okay, fine, "previous" game) took influence from bullet hell shooters by making every projectile attack waves of giant, slow-moving testicles like you were trapped in the nightmare of a professional zoo animal castrator? Well, that's still there, but now you've got a gun, not dissimilar to a bullet hell shooter's gun, that you can use to supplement your traditional PlatinumGames, fast-paced, dodge-focused melee combat against enemies with health bars longer than the emotional distance between you and eligible members of the opposite sex.

There's also a hacking minigame in which the whole pretense is dropped and you play a bullet hell shooter for two seconds. It was like there was an argument over whether Nier should be an action-RPG or a bullet hell shooter and the action-RPG guy won, but the bullet hell shooter guy decided to bide his time and play the long game, so Nier 3 will finally be entirely bullet hell and the action-RPG guy's corpse will be found in the parking lot with 900 million gunshot wounds. But the combat stopped mattering some ways in, because there's an upgrade system not a million miles from the Paper Mario badge system where you can swap upgrade chips in and out of a limited number of slots, so I plugged in a bunch of self-healing abilities and never died again, breaking the combat like the heart of a little dog when they discover you weren't holding a treat after all.

Then it was just a matter of getting to the end, which was a more complicated business than it sounds, because Nier Arigato, Mr. Roboto has funny ideas of what the word "ending" means. The first ending comes when you get to the end of 2B's story, at which point, the game none-too-subtly suggests starting a new game, and we find ourselves playing the same story, but as 9S, who was tagging along with 2B for most of it, so the differences are limited. But only after that and the second round of credits do we restart the game a third time and oh, what do you know, this is where they're hiding the second half of the plot, where the important climactic stuff happens. I'm not sure what the point of all this was; maybe they were trying to make the most of the small and dreary open world full of repetitive combat and dull sidequests, but that's like trying to make the most of a bowl of stale porridge by eating it with a pitchfork. The funny thing is, by the end of Nier, Far, Wherever You Are, I was quite into it and thought I was going to recommend it, but now I've sat down to write it all up, I'm like, "Wait a second. If the combat was kind of lame, and the open world was shitty, and the main characters were underdeveloped in their every sense of the word, then what the hell did I like?!"

On reflection, Nier-er, My God, to Thee was a lot less cleverer than it thought it was. Despite its lofty philosophical ambitions, the plot wasn't making any kind of actual point; it just dumped a load of existential thematic elements on the garage floor and buggered off to let us sweep them up. "Oh, look, the main characters look like they're wearing blindfolds, but take them off during moments of revelation." There's some complex fucking symbolism for you! The second half had some pretty good gut-punch story twists that managed to make some emotion spark off my flinty heart, but it could be because I've been stuck revisiting the same locations with these characters for so long that I've gotten invested largely through Stockholm syndrome. It is a very weird game, on every level of story and gameplay design, and that might be enough; weirdness is refreshing. In the general blandness of life, weirdness alone is worth preserving; that's why we drew the line at nuking Japan more than twice.

Addenda Edit

  • Beep boop he is a robot: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • I want it on record that every fucking time I googled 'Nier Automata Cover' I got links to Japanese love pillows with 2B on them
  • Now restart the video to get Ending Q

Extra: Will Save the Galaxy for Food Edit

My new book, Will Save the Galaxy for Food, is out now! It's a sci-fi comedy with all the usual sci-fi comedy themes: redundancy, hopelessness, and existential dread. Available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook from all good retailers and some dodgy ones.

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells

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