Nier: Automata

I really need to get better about setting time aside to just play a bunch of video games or read something that I’m not reviewing for the blog or otherwise do stuff that isn’t some kind of work. I end up so burnt out that I miss a week’s worth of blog posts before finally taking an entire day off to just play Nier: Automata for like ten hours. Just as a hypothetical example.

I am super late on the Nier: Automata thing, despite having been meaning to play it for like an entire year now, but having finished the 2B playthrough and nudged my way slightly into the 9S playthrough, I’m not sure how much I was missing. The game has a great soundtrack and looks amazing, but I was soaking that in way before I first played it, let alone before I sat down to play it properly. The combat looks great, but it’s pretty standard light attack, heavy attack, dodge, counter kind of stuff, and the story is surprisingly flat once the novelty of its big ideas wears off. I hope this is because I have completed one out of three playthroughs, and that there is significantly more story to come, because even though the first playthrough builds up to a final boss and saving the world and everything, it leaves a lot of questions dangling. When combat android 2B first goes down to Earth to meet up with the resistance, the resistance leader acts as though she’s some kind of prophesied chosen one, but it’s never explained why. The vaguely authoritarian moon government has almost explicitly some ulterior motive or dark secret that causes androids to go rogue, and it’s never revealed what that is. There’s an implication that the friendly machine village’s efforts at peace with the Resistance/YoRHa/vaguely authoritarian moon government might meet with trouble, but it’s never really explored. An entire chapter of the first playthrough seems to serve no purpose except to introduce a character A2, who does not appear again.

Even as setup to a greater plot, though, the 2B playthrough is kinda weak. The main villains are factory standard creepy bishonen who don’t seem to have any thematic connection to our main characters at all. They challenge our heroes physically, but it’s not really clear what emotional obstacle they’re supposed to pose or symbolize, nor does 2B seem to have grown at all between the first chapter and the last (of her own playthrough, at least). At the end of the first chapter, 2B’s combat drone companion is telling her to abandon 9S because the combat doctrine of the vaguely authoritarian moon government calls for it (android soldiers like 9S and 2B seem to be very expendable to the vaguely authoritarian moon government), and 2B tells it to shut up and fights to save her comrade. In the final confrontation with the main villain, the exact same conversation happens: The drone recommends abandoning 9S because odds of success are low, and 2B tells it to shut up. If there’s one character arc that gets pursued beginning to end, it’s 2B warming up to 9S, but from the very beginning she was willing to fight to protect his life just out of sheer altruism to her fellow android soldiers, so her actions in the climax don’t really serve as the conclusion to a character arc.

The 9S playthrough has had some cool moments that use the “second playthrough” concept well. Setting up initial options is done diegetically in the first playthrough, with 9S walking 2B through her android options menu, and in the second playthrough I got to watch a recording of myself exploring the options menu, remembering my own thought process as I went through each menu looking for things I should tweak (you can skip the sequence at any time, although I didn’t spend very long in the options, so I didn’t feel the need to skip the repeat viewing), which gave a sort of out-of-body-experience kind of feeling, watching myself play 2B for a bit while now controlling 9S.

Of course, in actual gameplay, 2B is just an AI companion just like 9S was before, so it was short-lived, and there were some missed opportunities for the second playthrough elsewhere. Upon first arrival at the hub area as 2B, I was lost. Returning to it now as 9S, I know my way around so well I don’t even need the mini-map. Would’ve been cool if, during the first playthrough, 9S had led 2B to the Resistance camp (the first location you need to reach to get the plot rolling), only taking on his standard AI companion behavior of following 2B around everywhere after reaching the camp. Then, in the second playthrough, the player-controlled 9S could’ve led the AI companion 2B to the Resistance camp, because the place is familiar to him. Also, 9S loses his memory of the entire first chapter, because 9S and 2B blow themselves up to take down a trio of mega-enemies and there was only enough time to backup one of their memories to the cloud before the detonation. This would’ve been a great excuse to skip that chapter, but instead we play it from 9S’ perspective. It’s one of the most-changed chapters from the first to second playthrough since 9S and 2B are separated for most of it, but nothing really happens in 9S’ part. In the 2B playthrough, tons of worldbuilding and character relations were established, but in 9S’ playthrough, it’s all a rerun. There was a perfect excuse to skip it entirely, but instead we get the exact same conversations with different gameplay. Plus, the conversations revolve around what 2B is seeing, and 9S’ version, where he’s just blasting random robot baddies unconnected to the subject of discussion, is just way less interesting.

I haven’t gotten too deep into it, but I’m worried that’s going to be a theme of the 9S playthrough in general: Watching the exact same plot and character arc unfold, but from a slightly less interesting vantage point. 2B and 9S were together for 80% of the first playthrough, and for most of the time they were apart, 9S was incapacitated. What’s there for this new playthrough to reveal? Especially during the first half, when 9S and 2B are constant companions? What can 9S see or hear that 2B didn’t?

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