Here we are, ready to welcome NieR: Automata Game of the YoRHa Edition, the expanded all-frills version the 2017 game, a brazenly strange and critically acclaimed sequel to a game played by an alarming few. The original NieR game seemed like a fairly straightforward third-person action adventure at first, but soon morphed and blurred into a hodgepodge, narrative-focused hybrid that bent the rules and expectations for the genre, making for an experience that was as unbalanced as it was captivating.
NieR: Automata doesn’t really require familiarity with that original game, outside of a capacity and appetite for the unexpected. Utilizing storytelling techniques, motifs, and tropes from anime, experimental sci-fi, avant garde film, and numerous other sources, NieR: Automata front-loads some action basics before slowly unrolling its open-world rug to cut loose in. Players control 2B, an android soldier in perpetual conflict with the AI machines on the side of humans. Her plucky companion 9S usually acts as a battle-ready comrade, and the two explore the post-apocalyptic (yet strangely serene) planet while carrying out missions for YoRHa, humanity’s last outpost orbiting their damaged planet.
Look, the narrative in NieR: Automata simply refuses to be contained by mere mortals. The reason it works is that, in its reckless abandon, it also seeks to tell intimate, dramatic, and hilarious asides, adjusting the layers of its textured storytelling before fusing them, one upon the other. While numerous details seem like arbitrary nonsense and non sequitur — why would a human rebel cheerily self-apply the name “Jackass?” — players who scrape diligently at the painted surface for long enough will unearth countless delights. Some of those may be sweet and endearing, or even hilarious, usually thanks to the incessant rambling of the lumbering, weirdly adorable machines. And then, other times, an uncanniness sets in, like an encounter that reveals dozens of machines pretending to have sex with each other in a misguided attempt to understand the process of conception and birth, or self-destructing and self-flagellating at the behest of a lunatic zealot.
There is some obvious religious iconography and themes deeply threaded into the grain of the narrative, but where these notes could grow unwieldy or overbearing, NieR: Automata manages to outpace them with an almost maladaptive sincerity. So, while the symbolism seems wholly intentional, the characters aren’t simplistic ciphers feeding a meta-narrative, and the mutating plot works on multiple levels that are satisfying to resolve and sort through.
NieR: Automata’s overworld is initially rather daunting, and while some quick-travel options eventually arise, it’s a massive, mostly empty space which requires constant back-tracking; this is one of several ways that it’s incredibly similar to the original game. The combat vocabulary is open to experimentation, featuring a unique chip-slotting system that can provide boosts and other effects, and spending a little time figuring it out will probably result in a strong OP loadout that will carry players through most situations. Beyond that, the ongoing action isn’t of the highest caliber, and starts to grow stale in certain portions of the game. Somehow, it’s both as complex and simple as a player prefers, but there is at least a sizable upgrade path to spend currency and resources on, which means that choosing to fight the hundreds of respawning mobs isn’t entirely for naught.
Visually, NieR: Automata has a clean, low-detailed look, which sometimes makes it seem like an up-rezzed game from the previous console generation. Textures are simplistic, and certain environments (like the initial factory, which you’ll return to countless times throughout) are serviceable but also vast and dull. Some of this might be by design, since dramatic camera angles at specific points of the story may render the player tiny in the wake of a large threat, but it still doesn’t make a great first impression. Character clothing details are excellent, though, and the overall design sensibility is very strong, with plenty of beautiful vistas and engagements to behold, all of which are being strongly protected in this review. Sure, the original game came out a while ago, but new players who have avoided spoilers thus far should stay in the dark about NieR: Automata’s most devious and creative surprises until they can be divined in person.
Keiichi Okabe returns to score NieR’s sequel, and it might possibly outdo its predecessor. Where NieR leaned towards a mournfully dramatic range of leitmotifs, NieR: Automata’s score feels a little more triumphantly bold and resolute. Fittingly, these general observations could be levied at the games’ comparative sensibilities as well, and the exceptional quality and unique character of each of these soundtracks distinguish them as virtually unparalleled in gaming, featuring a heady mix of synths, choirs, steamy romantic piano refrains, and a continuously stunning assortment of diverse instrumental compositions. It’s hours of enthralling music that will bury deep into your mind, and seemingly each scene and moment is dignified by its own unique piece or version of a song.
The Game of the YoRHa Edition includes the sole DLC, “3C3C1D119440927,” which is a fine content addition with some skins, quests, fan-service, and staged arenas. Beyond that, the bonus content is probably the most interesting, which may frustrate Nier: Automata diehards who already purchased it back in 2017. There’s a dynamic PS4 theme which adds strange static effects to your home screen, a few avatars which will assuredly be used by fans, and some very interesting pod skins and masks, including those that reference the original game. For a bargain price it’s a terrific package, though fans may balk at needing to buy the digital or physical version just for the exclusives, that most familiar irony of early adoption.
It’s no question that NieR: Automata is one of the most memorable video game experiences in this current generation, and the NieR:Automata: Game of the YoRHa Edition is a convenient and cost-effective entry point for newcomers. PC gets the short straw with a few wallpapers, but the unique PS4 content makes this version especially tantalizing for fans, though additional bonuses — soundtrack selections or exclusive weapons, for example — would help sweeten the deal. Either way, this is a game that needs a place in every PS4 library, and holdouts now have little excuse to take the plunge.
NieR: Automata Game of the YoRHa Edition is out now for PC and PlayStation 4. A digital code for PS4 was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.