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    Rango
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    NieR: Automata

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    Blindsided.

    lindsided.

    NieR: Automata is ¨C at the time of this writing ¨C Platinum Games’ latest masterpiece. Brought to us by director Yoko Taro, and publisher Square-Enix, it is the sequel to NIER, released in 2010 for PS3 and 360. It’s okay if you’ve never played it. Though the game does make connections, you won’t need to play it initially to understand the story.

    If you’re familiar with Platinum Games, they develop high-octane action titles. These include the Bayonetta series, as well as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. NieR: Automata is hack-and-slash action with a ton of RPG element. You hit combos, switch weapons, fire guns, and you also level up. Stats are leveled automatically, but you can boost your stats with equips. The Pod you use can equip a variety of skills, some of which buff your HP, Weapon Attack, Long-Range Attack, and more. You can also use abilities, like Overclock (a nod to Bayonetta’s Witch Time), as well as fire lasers from your Pod.

    Anyway, who are you, and what does this have to do with anything? I’ll explain as best I can.

    The year is 11945. Aliens have invaded Earth and brought with them machines. The Council of Humanity has moved to the moon. The organization, YoRHa, is the surviving will of humanity. Take back the machines from Earth. And with that, they’ve assigned YoRHa units ¨C Androids ¨C to take back the planet. Enter 2B, the main character of the game. Accompanied by 9S, a Scanner, the two are set off from the moon’s Bunker to engage the machines. You start off in a Factory, facing off against the Goliath unit. Once your first mission is complete, you return to Earth and your adventure truly begins.

    2B is a badass. She’s a combat unit. She’s meant for fighting and completing the mission without question. Her foil, 9S, is a Scanner. This means he’s not built for combat. Androids have their own personality and feelings mixed in with their programming. 9S’ method of fighting isn’t any less dangerous than 2B, but you’ll see the depth of his character as he converses with 2B and his superiors. The two start the game working together, and you’ll see more of their complicated relationship ¨C friends or otherwise ¨C progressing through the game.

    As mentioned earlier, NieR: Automata is an Action/RPG set in real time. Once you’re on Earth and make way to the Resistance Camp, you’re in control of where to go. The game takes aspects from open-world games. The City Ruins is your main hub. While the game will designate your main quest with a destination marker, you’re free to clear any of the side-quests available. This ranges from anything including rescue missions to item fetch quests to destroying machines. Your rewards vary from crafting items to weapons and valuable items.

    As an RPG, you get access to great gear for the side-quests you clear. You’re rewarded for completing tough missions. Most enemies in the game drop loot, which can either be sold or used to craft and upgrade your weapons. These include a Sword, Greatsword, Lance, and Fisticuffs of varying types. They can be upgraded several times. The interesting part? Not only do they boost attack power, but they also have a story behind them. With each upgrade, more of the weapon’s backstory is revealed. Lore is stacked in this title, ranging from Weapon stories to side-quests.

    You get a strong feeling of reward as you upgrade your Pod or your weapon. You’re free to customize and remove what you need. Plus, certain Pod upgrades may cost less, allowing you to stack more abilities on it. Want to upgrade your weapon attack by 50% before you’re halfway through the game? It’s certainly possible.

    One thing that sticks out about NieR is its quirkiness. Given its witty dialogue choices, dry humor, and other things, what is it? Why do you see a weird robot face on the game’s marketing campaign? Why can you look up 2B’s skirt and get a Trophy for it? Just who is Yoko Taro, anyway?

    The storytelling and style of this game sets itself apart from anything I have ever played. You meet an NPC named Jackass, you go fishing using your Pod, and some of the bosses are Machines hellbent on human desires. The behavior of the machines is unlike anything you’ve ever seen from another game or medium. The game is also not afraid to break the 4th wall, doing so multiple times. Yoko Taro is a man of mystery. We don’t see his face, yet he maintains a strong social media presence. His style in this game is noted for words, like YoRHa, being mixed in capitalized and lower-case letters. His marketing included the size of 2B’s rear. Yet, all of it came together and culminated into the game we have. You could say it’s a strange world, but it’s a beautiful one mixed with gorgeous scenery and intricate storytelling. And given that Machines are this interested in humanity, you might even consider it a sort of an existential crisis. It’s a cross between mechanical beings that hop, shoot, and want to kill Androids, as well as possessing human qualities, such as desire, trust, and even speech. All Machines in this game speak in a robotic tone.

    The complicated individuals you battle range from short and stubby to full-on mechs. Machines are your common enemy type, but you’ll find various types. NieR: Automata offers a wide selection of creatures ¨C or machines ¨C to battle. They’ll do more than just shoot lasers and flail their arms. Some of them are flat-out dangerous, and some of them will mob you. Some even pilot aircraft, while others stack up on one-another. Their purpose in the game is to be destroyed and nothing more. After all, that’s what your orders are, right?

    The game runs at a steady 60 FPS for the most part. It’s catching bullets from your Pod, 9S’ attacks, your attacks, and any number of Machines attacking you. You’re trekking across a vast world, including City Ruins, a desert, a park, and many more locales. The game itself isn’t going to be some massive Breath of the Wild world. You’re relegated to missions in these regions as the story progresses. Yet, there’s plenty to explore.

    In a gorgeous world, you get a soundtrack to match. You’ll hear plenty of chorus, epic battle music, chants, and singing. The songs, believe it or not, are not specific to any one language either. It’s really hard to explain. If you listen to the OST and look up the lyrics, you’ll get a better understanding. But it sounds beautiful nonetheless. The music changes depending on where you are in the game, and if you’re fighting. Either singing or another layer of instrument will play. This includes both for enemies and boss battles.

    When you’re not hacking and slashing, or just straight hacking, you’re in a flight unit. This plays similarly to the previously mentioned bullet hell segments. You can shoot, use a melee attack, dodge, and use a special. The controls almost mirror your ground control, but you’re up against flying units. This is another layer of gameplay that’s largely used for boss battles, but can also be used for certain transport segments.

    You’re fighting them with bullets and your attacks. But 9S is there to help, too. Not only against boss battles, but against an enemy in the game, he can use his special ability ¨C hacking. You’re in an arcade shooter-type game mode while you’re hacking. The gameplay’s layered among the hack-and-slash battling and 9S’ ability to hack. During hacking segments, you’re fighting machines and avoiding shots. It feels similar to a bullet hell game. But how is this connected to the music and sound design? Simple. Nearly every song in this game has a chiptune variation. During hacking segments, whether you’re fighting a boss or in an area, the music will change to something akin to the days of the NES. And believe me, it sounds good.

    In this beautiful world ravaged by machines, you’ll visit forests, castles, and cities. Since you’re in the future, many of these landmarks are what were part of our current society. Shopping malls, apartments, hotels, and more will be part of your scenery. You’ll see for yourself how Earth has fared since the departure of humanity. And in doing so, you’ll uncover more and more of the story. There is plenty more to the game than ¡°save the Earth from machines¡±, and it will be on you to uncover the truth. Your operators will stay in contact with you with radio messages, and your Commander will issue orders. But only you can discover what’s really happening on Earth as you uncover the Machines and who is behind them. And you won’t be done after one playthrough. You have 26 endings to uncover.

    Thankfully, this doesn’t mean 26 playthroughs. The endings are listed after the alphabet. Endings A, B, C, D, and E are canon, with E being your true ending. A and B are representative of the first playthrough’s story, while C onwards involve the ¡°second¡± arc of the game, so to speak. The story becomes deeper, and more things begin happening. It is strongly urged that you continue pressing forward to find the real truth.

    Given the game’s immense replay value, there will be plenty to do. You can battle it out in Arena and clear side-quests, to include the extra endings (F through Z). There’s DLC for additional missions, and you can even wear silly helmets or gain new equip items. There are at least 60 side-quests to go through. It takes roughly 15 hours to clear the first two endings, and another 15 to get the last three. 30 hours for story, and I would estimate almost twice that to clear every side-quest.

    However, NieR: Automata is not without problems. Thankfully, they’re minimal. The main one is performance issues. The framerate becomes occasionally choppy based on the enemies or certain bosses. Also, your Transport ability ¨C which is used from save stations ¨C isn’t available until midway through your first play. It can be fairly cumbersome to travel between points at first. Thankfully, the pacing of the game itself is generally well. It’s mostly fighting, exploring, and connecting the story. You aren’t greeted with gimmicks, like pointless fetch quests, relentless padding, or forced grinding. Plus, you can ride animals for transport!

    Don’t fret too much over side-quests and missables. Much later in the game, you’ll be able to access a Chapter Select. This will allow you to get to any point in the game, with postgame data, and clear your quests. The game even lists which quests are available depending on who you’re playing as!

    NieR: Automata feels as polished as it looks. The game is paced well, the combat is efficient and fun, and the difficulty is balanced. The music is super sweet, and the visuals are quite stunning. You’ll see some choppy framerate at time, but it won’t impede the game too much. Enjoy its story, soak in its soundtrack, and remember what you’re fighting for. If you like fast-paced action, frenetic boss battles, pretty Android units, and spending time with quests, you may have just found a masterpiece.

    Overall ¨C 9/10. I was blindsided by a title that everyone raved about. I didn’t know what I was getting into. Before I knew it, I was sucked into the game. The immersive story becomes better and deeper with each chapter, and makes a massive turn in a big ¨C and dark ¨C way after a certain point. I was staying up late at night trying to finish it.

    The combat felt like an evolution of the Devil May Cry series I loved so much. It’s some of the best I’ve ever played. Some of the music I love include ¡°Wretched Weaponry,¡± ¡°Birth of a Wish¡±, ¡°Rays of Light¡±, and ¡°Alien Manifestation.¡± The side-quests will range from simple collection to ripping your heart out. If something bad has happened, expect the music to change. You’re going to find tons of things that separate NieR: Automata from the common game. I hope you’ll get the chance to enjoy this well-polished masterpiece as much as I did. It isn’t perfect, and it’s not a game for everyone. It can be difficult and complicated. But if you like deep stories and solid combat, this is a great choice for you!

    Glory to mankind!

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