It came out of the blue to surprise many: Nier was an action/RPG that just seemed to click with old-school and new-school alike, as the game presented the player with both a traditional role-playing structure and some intense real-time combat. Those loyal fans have been pining for a sequel ever since, and despite the fact that original developer Cavia is gone, we should be excited about the new team. After all, Platinum Games is a premier studio in this industry, as they’ve produced some seriously fantastic titles over the years. The only lingering question is whether or not they’re capable of retaining the role-playing focus of the original; I mean, these guys do Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising. RPGs just aren’t their bag.
But despite those concerns, which will remain until we see more gameplay, we know Platinum will deliver a tight, vastly improved fighting mechanic. The original had a decent fighting system but it’s definitely outdated by today’s standards and Platinum will spruce that up big time. No worries there. But let’s talk about the intriguing story and setting for a minute: If you remember the first game, the Black Scrawl virus was spreading rapidly and it was up to the intrepid adventurer to stop it. There was a personal, emotional element as well, as the protagonist’s daughter suffered with the virus in question. In the sequel, called NieR: Automata, the original main character will be replaced by a new protagonist called simply “2B.”
She’s an android and that’s her serial number, so don’t expect much of a personality. In fact, in this post-apocalyptic-like world, androids aren’t allowed to have emotions, even if each particular model “has its own quirks and characteristics.” As you might expect, 2B is pretty flat and cold early on, but we’re hoping something more shines through as we progress. There’s a lot you can do with this character premise but again, the guys at Platinum aren’t exactly proven narrative experts. Even so, they could be fashioning an absolutely spectacular world, very different from the one in the original Nier but a good deal bigger, and perhaps even more involving. Aliens have invaded Earth and strange mechanical beings with huge amounts of power have forced mankind to flee to the moon.
Yes, man is in the midst of a mass escape exodus of sorts, and it’ll be up to 2B and others to reclaim the Earth. The resistance force of android fighters has been created expressly for the purpose of dealing with the invaders, apparently because humans simply don’t have the requisite combat skills. The atmosphere on Earth is filled with both mechanized wonder and sprawling untamed wilds; the aliens have decimated much of the landscape and haven’t yet created a futuristic civilization. In short, it’s a war-torn, suffering climate and it reminds me a little of the environment in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. There are dangerous machines roaming about and crumbling remnants of a once advanced civilization, but nature has broken through in the midst of the chaos. It makes for an endlessly interesting background, provided it’s realistic and absorbing.
There will be a few returning characters and locations, though, so it’s not like Automata will be entirely foreign to those who loved the original. The locations will appear different due to the events of the story, but they might still be recognizable. As for the rest of the production, some returning members are back in action: There’s Square Enix producer Yosuke Saito, for example, as well as composer Keiichi Okabe and character artist Akihiko Yoshida. Perhaps most importantly, director Yoko Taro returns, so maybe the follow-up effort will retain more of the first game’s traditional appeal. One can hope, at any rate. Ironically, Saito is on record saying they wanted to make a sequel right from the start, but it needed to make sense from a business standpoint. Obviously, Platinum’s involvement helps.
We’ve seen some gameplay already; it debuted last year and while some die-hard fans of the original hate the action-centric focus, it is quite promising. Note the beautiful animations and styling that is just so PlatinumGames, and remember that this represents a big step forward. Because after all, if Nier lagged in any particular area, it was the lack of refinement and depth in the combat department. Platinum will undoubtedly fix that and with key returning members of the first development team, those who loved the first game shouldn’t despair. Let’s just hope the story really grabs us and it goes beyond an android running around slashing everything in sight. We’ve done that in the past, guys…this one requires that RPG touch. If we get it, we’ll be happy.
1/7/2016 Ben Dutka