Nier: Automata Review

After I finished Nier: Automata, a friend asked if I liked it. I was surprised that I wasn’t quite sure what my answer was.

I think much of the praise of the game is deserved. The fighting is fluid and flashy. And the music is simply amazing.

But I found myself thinking about the game long after I finished it. More so, I kept pondering about what the game was about and what it was trying to say.

If someone were to just play and beat the game, it comes off as pretty straightforward. You are one side (androids) and you have to fight the other (robots). Beat them all and the game’s over.

However, if you get through the game’s multiple playthroughs and endings, you see that Automata is trying to explore something deeper.

The central theme seems to be humanity. What does it mean to be human? Why are these artificial beings striving so hard to be human? Does merely acting out aspects of humanity allow you to attain it?

The game showcases various groups playing out different aspects of humanity: androids (loyalty, violence), robots (generosity, a sense of community), main characters (romantic love, jealousy, hatred), main antagonists (familial love, curiosity),  the twins (guilt, duty).

It’s funny how these themes are explored with no actual humans involved. Also a helpful tidbit is that “Automata” is the plural form of “Automaton” which by definition means “a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being”.

Multiple perspectives are further reinforced by how often Automata shifts the play mechanics throughout the game. You’re constantly moving from overhead to 3-D to side-scrolling. It’s literally making you look at things from a different angle.

By the game’s (final) ending, I wasn’t sure what I was meant to feel or think. The resolution wasn’t exactly strong or definitive. However, I think the game ended and told its story exactly how it wanted to.

Automata‘s approach is very Japanese in how it explores ideas in an elliptical way. Heady concepts are pondered upon but rarely given any conclusions for the player.

It reminds me of the author, Haruki Murakami. His books consistently have a dream-like quality and he doesn’t coerce the characters (or the viewer) towards any conclusions to the themes and concepts he introduces. To me, it shows how Japanese storytelling is less direct than Western storytelling. Not better or worse, just more ponderous.

Funny that this game came out relatively close to Persona 5, another very Japanese-feeling game. There, the colorful pop and light-heartedness of anime is very much on display. Automata presents the other side that anime can take in the dark and philosophical. (Also, big swords, upskirt views, and nude non-anatomical boys.)

Furthermore, it didn’t help that I realized after playing, that this game is a continuation of a long and winding story that spans several games, books and even stageplays. I think Automata stands well enough on its own for newbies like myself, but I’m sure there are richer effects to be had for those more fully immersed in the overall lore (as convoluted and complex as it sounds).

I’d love to explore more in-depth about aspects of the game and their meaning (such as why the characters are blind-folded) but maybe that’s for another post.

In the end, I would say I really enjoyed that the game had something to say and wanted to explore some really ambitious concepts. I don’t think I loved the gameplay itself but am always a fan of a game that pushes the medium’s ability to tell story and be artistic.


Doki Doki Literature Club Review

In what’s really a departure for me, I fired up my Mac and played a Steam game.

Highly recommended by a few IGN staff and with enough intriguing non-spoiler hints, I chose to dive in to Doki Doki Literature Club. Plus the game was free.

The game comes off initially as a cloying continuation of a strange genre of video games: the dating sim.

However, after the first two hours, it becomes evident that the game is setting up the player for a huge twist.

I don’t actually want to say more to ruin anyone’s experience with this game. I’d just say dive in without learning anything more than the bare minimum and prepare to power through the sometimes awkward feelings of playing a japanese dating sim.

In hindsight, this game is extremely well written and thoughtfully mapped out. It leans hard on the tropes of the genre but only to completely blow them up by the end. I came to appreciate the light-hearted tone and dialogue at the end because of what comes after.

The game also has a plethora of secrets and easter eggs and it’s been fascinating to dive into those online.

Again, I highly recommend checking this game out. And don’t read anything about it until you do.

Let’s Play: Star Wars Battlefront II

Here’s a game from a small studio on some unknown licensed property that no one’s talking about.

EA took some notes from the last Battlefront game and gave us a single-player campaign, which is what the Let’s Play covers.

Overall I enjoyed it. There were certainly surprises in gameplay and characters that were fun. However at around 5 hours, the story felt a bit rushed and undercooked. As a result, some character turns felt a bit more sudden and unearned. There were some fun Easter eggs but looking back, I think they only weakened the narrative and seemed like corporate mandates. Not enough time was spent on our new protagonist, Iden Versio.

That’s a shame because she seems interesting and shows lots of future potential. It helps that’s she’s given life by actress Janina Gavankar. It’s been fun seeing her do PR for the game because she’s clearly a big fan of Star Wars and has been a strong advocate for making games more legitimate in the eyes of the non-gaming public.

The multiplayer areas of this game is where the firestorm of controversy and outrage have centered. Honestly, I think the reaction is overblown but not wholly unwarranted.

EA has a checkered history and obviously views the games as a service model as a potent money maker. And we shouldn’t forget that this is entertainment for us, but a business to them. The cost of making a video game today is much higher than in the past. I have no quarrel with them trying to find ways to monetize. I think we’ve now seen a few examples of how to do it right and EA did them wrong.

There are other sources that go more in depth on the issue but my take is that pay to win is wrong. Microtransactions that give players advantages over others is the problem. Overwatch is a great model because there’s plenty to spend money on but nothing ruins the balance of the gameplay. Naughty Dog floods its multiplayer modes with skins, emotes and finishing moves, but no unfair advantages can be bought.

Even non-cosmetic DLC is okay for me in the form of additional story content. I bought every Mass Effect trilogy DLC and had no regrets. And although Mass Effect 3 had a multiplayer with loot boxes for better weapons, the game mode was never PvP so no one went up in arms. They also smartly made any MP DLC free

I’ve already written more than I care to so I’ll reiterate that the story campaign made me glad I bought this game, despite the issues with multiplayer. The campaign should’ve been longer to flesh out beats and maybe less fan-service elements would’ve strengthened the core plot.

Also, EA recently shuttered the studio that was working on an Uncharted-like Star Wars game. But there were certainly moments in this game that felt like a Nathan Drake adventure. Bombastic set pieces and high paced death defying antics left me breathless, and made me want more.

Let’s Play: Horizon Zero Dawn, The Frozen Wilds

Just in time for the end of the year and “Game of the Year” discussions, Guerrilla shrewdly released a meaty DLC for Horizon Zero Dawn, which has maintained a spot near the top of everyone’s list despite the tough competition.

Clocking in around 8-9 hours of gameplay, it’s more than a typical add-on. Clearly a lot of work went into this expansion.

While it doesn’t offer anything newly revolutionary from the base game, what it does is remind everyone why Horizon Zero Dawn was so great. Every aspect of the game is solid and polished.

A few new tweaks were added, including control towers which shook up how I approached a pack of metal machines. The devs also brought in a few new beasts, which were dialed up in toughness and aggressiveness.

Almost immediately into the DLC, I stumbled onto one and experienced a heart-pounding battle that I wasn’t quite prepared for.

The story quests have a nice balance of current day tribe politics and some Old World lore to sift through, but I wish there was slightly more personality or differentiation from this DLC tribe and what we’ve encountered throughout the original game. The Ban-Uk look slightly different and live in the harsh snow climate, but they act like every other tribe: intolerant and dismissive. That is until you (as Aloy) solve every one of their issues and quarrels to gain their overall respect.

I just wish there was a bit more variety in this new world order.

Overall, I’m simply glad to be back in this world. I greatly enjoyed the main game and still hold it in my top three of the year.

As for the videos, I blasted through them pretty quickly to get through the game. But I also played shorter episodes. Let me know if you have any thoughts on the length!

Let’s Play: Dishonored, Death of the Outsider

I feel as if I’ve beaten this horse to death already, but Dishonored is a great series. Games like Dark Souls or MGS have never really clicked for me because I’m less into challenging gameplay or deep mechanics and more into story-driven experiences. I’d rather do a walking simulator with dialog choices than how to kill a tough boss in an FPS.

But if I can get won over by a stealth-action FPS, I think that says something.

It’s not that Dishonored has an engrossing storyline. Each installment works off of a relatively similar plot without a ton of depth.

But the world is extremely unique and interesting. Not quite steam-punk, but something that’s its own thing. And Arkane manages to change up or add to the power sets in each installment to allow for unexpected and entertaining gaming encounters. The level design is second to none, incorporating various approaches or escapes.

Death of the Outsider continues the high bar of quality, despite a more limited power set and borrowing liberally from some elements of Dishonored 2.

Some tweaks have allowed the player to use skills more often and also face less consequences for blown stealth and more action.

While the game provides some closure, I was surprised that the door wasn’t shut as definitively as I was expecting. I doubt we’ll see another Dishonored anytime soon, but Arkane has at least managed to leave a tiny crack in the void for us to come back.

Let’s Play: Uncharted, The Lost Legacy

I blasted through this latest release of Uncharted as soon and as quickly as I could. Not to get through it, but more out of excitement for a new Naughty Dog game. And possibly the last Uncharted game.

While not quite a DLC for Uncharted 4, this release doesn’t quite count as a full game. It re-uses much of the guts and elements of Uncharted 4, but involves a whole new cast and different settings.

I read a few reviews and impressions that were mostly positive but had some gripes. I think video games in a post Breath of the Wild world will have some tough things to live up to. A lot of complaints were of the limitations of the environment. If it looks like a ledge to climb, why can’t we climb it?

But I found that criticism unfair. Uncharted is not meant as an open-world game, nor is it meant to compete with adventure games like Zelda. We didn’t complain that Zelda didn’t have as deep a story or nuanced acting like Uncharted does.

What this game aims to do, it does extremely well. I loved the main characters of Chloe and Nadine. Their interplay was engaging and interesting, and their individual personalities were enjoyable and relatable.

Playing this game just made me hope that Naughty Dog continues the franchise with Chloe as the main hero. Her character is vivid and likable. I have no problem with these smaller, shorter games if it means more releases in shorter time periods.

Let’s Play: Horizon Zero Dawn

This summer we finally got a lull in an incredible year of games so that I was able to go into my backlog of games to play. At the top of that list was Horizon Zero Dawn.

Here was a new Playstation exclusive IP from a dev studio I never paid any attention to. But the pre-release buzz was really good and post-release reviews put it at the top of the games of the year, which is pretty impressive.

I state a few times in these videos that the level of polish and quality for a new IP is incredible. The visual direction and story are established with a sense of total confidence. The gameplay is tight and all the systems work together flawlessly.

And Sony has a new mascot in Aloy, a vibrant, brave, spunky, female protagonist. She has an aura of mystery but balanced with a virtuous code and a touch of rebelliousness. Ashly Burch’s vocals initially took a bit getting used to since I just kept hearing Chloe from Life is Strange, but was a great choice. Despite a few times where she sounded too much like a modern millennial, Burch gave all the poignant and emotional beats the proper weight needed to sell the story.

The main mystery in Horizon’s universe is extremely gripping and even hits a bit too close to home sometimes. I wasn’t prepared for how harrowing or tensely the history unfolded. Even though it’s told mainly through choppy holograms, audio clips, and emails, the developers were able to keep a sense of momentum and suspense that builds extremely well towards the end of the game.

In fact, the story is so tight that I’m not sure where the inevitable sequels will go. Sony has hit on a new franchise here, and especially with Nathan Drake (probably?) retiring, it’s hard to not to see more Horizon games on the… horizon.

Most online chatter has this game going neck and neck with Breath of the Wild for Game of the Year, and I can’t disagree. I’d probably put Persona 5 in the conversation. But we’re also about to ramp up again into some great looking releases in the fall.

And I’m definitely interested in diving into Horizon’s DLC in November.