Nier:Automata does something quite special. It successfully achieves something that few other modern JRPGs can. That is, it takes the established and often derided JRPG genre and does something new and exciting with it.
The story, explained as simply as possible (for this is a game that definitely does not have a simple narrative) is that planet Earth has fallen to alien forces that have populated the planet with sentient robots. Humanity has one last hope: Andriods created to repel the threat. As the player, you take control of one of the androids and are tasked with combating the persistent robot threat. Naturally, things get convoluted and complicated and nothing is quite what you first expect. Typical JRPG fare to be sure, but Nier:Automata delivers it's engaging narrative in a way that absorbs players who love a good story alongside their gaming.
While Nier: Automata is definitely a JRPG, it is not a conventional JRPG by any means. If turn-based or hexagonal arena combat is something that has deterred you from JRPGs in the past, you will find that Automata surpasses your expectations with it's excellently designed real-time action combat that often bares more resemblance to Devil May Cry or Bayonetta than anything you will find in Final Fantasy. If JRPGs frustrated you because the best action tends to happen in cutscenes rather than gameplay, then fear not. Automata delightfully dips into top down bullet-hell anytime you jump into a mech suit so you can confront your foes and has no qualms about allowing you to take down a foe 10 times your size by tapping controller or keyboard buttons. Find the pace to lengthy in typical RPGs? Automata has a succinct, though provocative narrative that can be enjoyed many times over. In fact, part of it's charm is the way in which the narrative is shared later in the game, which I'll avoid spoiling but almost guarantee players won't see coming.
Where the JRPG legacy comes into play is mostly in terms of character customisation. In a system that is difficult to explain, and at first seems too complex to grasp, Automata delivers levels of customisation that not only effect your abilities but can completely alter the way you play the game. Weapons can be found or bought and levelled up in a standard JRPG manner but players will also find that they customise abilities based on finding programs that can be uploaded into the Android protagonist. These abilities are limited by the amount of memory the Android has, something that can be upgraded should players have that desire and have scavenged the appropriate components. Because of the limitations players may find that they discard their most powerful abilities to incorporate more varied abilities that require less memory space. On the other hand, players are completely welcome to discard many smaller abilities and create a power-house a character of ultimate destruction.
The best example of this is in the most basic mechanics. Want save points to appear on your mini map? That will cost you a memory slot. Want to know your enemies HP? One memory slot, please! Want to inflict huge electricity damage on numerous enemies as they surround you? Well, it is awesome, but you're going to have to sacrifice 20 memory slots for that ability!
Although it may seem frustrating at first, what this allows is quite brilliant, simply by changing your avatars programming, you change the way you interact with the entire game. It is a difficult concept to master, and one I have no shame in admitting left me bewildered at first. However, as the game progresses this system becomes clearer and more intuitive. What's more, this is a system well worth taking the time master because once you figure it out it rewards in the most fantastic ways. That is, by allowing you to play the game in the way you enjoy playing.
Visually, it isn't the most impressive game out there but it is still very good and some of the design elements are truly inspired. Where minds will truly be blown is in some of the boss battles, where comparisons to Shadow of the Colossus seem fair given the epic scale of the foes you are fighting and to Bayonetta in how the action seems followed and cohesive despite ascending to realms of epic-ridiculousness.
Audio is patchy, excellent sometimes though repetitive or strangely absent at others. The soundtrack is beautiful but the repeated looping of it does get tiresome. The voice performances are near-perfect for the main characters, side characters often either don't have voices or have typically generic ones.
Another game where inspiration appears to have been lifted is Dark Souls. If you die, which unless playing on easy you surely will, your body remains where it fell. This is explained in story as your character can simply inhabit a new Android with there consciousness, but it serves a rewarding gameplay purpose whereby you can reattempt difficult parts of the game while collecting your list loot and experience from the last time you failed.
To call Automata original, is not entirely fair. It has many inspirations and shows no shame in wearing them proudly on it's sleeve. However, what it does do that no other game has is merge it's influences in a seemingly effortless and wonderfully enjoyable way.
This is a game that is well worth playing for anybody who loves games. Fair warning, players are unlikely to love it straightaway due to it's swathes of menu options and sometimes unclear objectives but for those players who persist and allow themselves to learn it's intricacies, Neir:Automata will prove to be one of the best games released this year.