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NieR: Automata is the Platinum Game You're Looking For

Feeling wary of Scalebound? Keep NieR on your radar.

This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

NieR: Automata seemed like a match made in heaven when it was revealed last year, marrying the off-kilter brilliance of Yoko Taro with the polish of Platinum. But with Platinum's star fading a bit, it's easy to wonder if NieR will live up to its promise. After what's I've seen, though, I feel comfortable in saying, "So far, so good."

In case you missed it, NieR: Automata is the sequel to 2010's NieR, which was developed by the now-defunct Cavia. Though critically panned, it blossomed into a cult favorite, with much of the praise being directed toward its second playthrough and the "different perspective" it offers on the enemies you fight. It was enough to convince Square Enix to pick up the series a few years later and hand it off to Platinum, with Taro staying on as director.

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The first thing that's important to note is how involved Platinum is with this project. Square Enix has very little involvement in NieR's production. According to Yoko, Platinum is responsible for approximately 90 percent of the game, which includes the entirety of the battle system. Not only that, they're the ones responsible for pushing Automata closer to the original game's RPG roots.

"I first thought that Platinum Games was a developer that didn't want to make any RPGs," Taro told me. "That's why when I created this game it was more skewed toward action. But Platinum came to me and said they wanted to create something closer to the original title."

Taro continued, "For me, what Platinum is really great at is the feeling you get. Each single motion is very pretty-the emotion the players have when they're just standing around."

Platinum's touch shows in what I've seen of Automata. It exudes a polish not found in Taro's previous games, lending its characters a particular look and style that makes it feel distinct. Automata's story features a war between human-like androids and robotic creatures, the latter which vary from machines resembling Google's Android mascot to huge, Iron Giant-like creatures.

I was invited to play through a three-minute high score trial not found in the final game and try to kill as many of the machines as possible. The combat offered a good mix between light attacks and big, meaty strikes, with a drone that follows the main character being able to target enemies in the air with a machine gun.

NieR: Automata will definitely lean more toward action than the RPG side of things; but as in the previous game, you will be able to upgrade your weapons and earn XP by defeating enemies. You will also benefit from passive skills. Nevertheless, Taro sees them as "added elements" rather than foundational mechanics.

As always, Taro brings his own peculiar perspective to the project. Asked how he comes up with his sometimes brutal endings, he says matter-of-factly: "Alcohol."

As for how he developed the main character: "I get bored really easily. Because the last title was about father and daughter, I wanted something completely different from that. And I was looking for something I could do in that realm, and I came up with [Automata]. For that last title, [Yosuke Saito] asked for me to have a macho character, which is why I had the father figure. But for those game he said that he didn't really care, so that's why I went with the female character."

Incidentally, "I was bored" is a pretty common refrain for Taro. He is the sort of developer who always seems to be on the lookout for the new and the different, and he seems quite content to sacrifice polish in the name of that pursuit. In that respect, Platinum is a good partner for him, as they bring both a unique perspective and certain degree of prowess with them.

Interestingly, NieR: Automata seems like it will be a bit of a departure from Taro's previous works. While it will once again feature a "different perspective" of sorts when starting a new game (though not of the same sort as the original NieR), it will apparently have a happy ending.

"An ultra happy ending," Taro says.

If that's the case, then NieR will be quite different from Taro's other works, which have frequently been bleak to the point of being nihilistic. Maybe Taro's outlook has changed in the six years since NieR?

Taro shrugs, "Nothing's really changed. But I do feel that I am getting older every year, and I do feel that I'm nearing death, but that would be the only change. Things don't heal that much anymore."

That, by the way, is a pretty typical Taro answer. I'm actually kind of nervous what Automata's "ultra happy ending" will ultimately entail.

A game to watch

Taro's games have rarely been critically acclaimed. Usually they're too unpolished, too simplistic, and too bizarre for the mainstream press to really "get." Nevertheless, they have a significant fanbase because Taro's determination to stray from the beaten path of game development speaks to those who are tired of the same-old tropes. If nothing else, his work is always interesting.

With that in mind, I think Automata is easily his best-looking work to date. As it happens, I saw the original NieR back when it was still in development, and my thought at the time was, "Sheesh, this looks horrible." Let's face it: NieR wasn't the most polished game ever. But Automata appears to be miles beyond where its predecessor was in terms of production values while still retaining its spirit.

I've gotta say, I'm really enthusiastic about this one. I've been harsh on Taro before, but I respect his determination to be different. NieR: Automata looks like it'll be the best of all worlds when it arrives in early 2017.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

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