Yes, I even put a spoiler warning in the title above, just to be on the safe side.
Anyway, so if you haven’t played and finished the game yet… this post is probably not for you. Unless you want to be spoiled. In which case, welcome, curious visitor. But I digress: this post is for all those that came before me, the ones that felt the same questions gnawing at their minds at three in the morning when they really should have been sleeping but couldn’t because there’s this silly game with giant moose and baby robots and suicide and despair and existential questions. Seriously. Either way, I’m not gonna try and analyze the game too deeply here because I probably wouldn’t do a very good job of it, and because Kastel’s already written an interesting article that you should maybe check out. Instead, I’ll just ramble about some of the things that were on my mind after getting all the main endings.
Automata makes me so… conflicted, goddammit. It makes me conflicted because I wish it had done certain things differently. Or rather, I wish it had done a bit more. Because while it’s already an insanely unique and memorable experience that I really and truly loved playing (hell, even some of the fetch quests had interesting narrative tidbits), I cannot help but feel like its gut-wrenching twists and reveals didn’t quite have the emotional impact they deserved simply because the characters involved weren’t fleshed out enough. Because the main story rushed onward at breakneck speed, never once slowing down.
Hell, by the time I could’ve started to get to know 2B a bit more, she ended up getting killed off. Frankly, it would’ve been great to see the game spend more time exploring the bittersweet relationship of 2B and 9S. I mean, the concept itself is great. This guy is too smart for his own good, to the point he has his own personal Grim Reaper in the form of 2B/2E to hold his leash. But then the hunted and the huntress being to develop feelings for each other, feelings she tries desperately to shut out in an attempt to, well… not go insane with grief like that one E model android did during the Amnesia (記憶喪失) side quest who had to ceaselessly slaughter those she cared about. Yeah, I hope you did that side quest, by the way, because it was really haunting. Nice foreshadowing, too. Anyway, A2 felt woefully underdeveloped as well, even though I really wanted to learn more about her. There were those visual novel-esque backstory logs you got to optionally read, but they felt inadequate, like putting a band-aid on the stump of someone’s severed arm.
Ironically, the most development goes to the character who sadly devolved into a cackling shounen villain in Route C. I mean, I understand how the game tried to portray 9S’ descent into madness and everything. But to me, it… didn’t quite work all that well. Part of the reason, once again, is that things happen way too fast. And also because 9S tries his best to be really, really obnoxious. I suppose what I wanted is for every character to handled like Pascal, lol. That bit with the suicidal robot children hit harder than anything else in the plot tbqh, at least for me, and even hearing the endlessly kindhearted Pascal go all “ぶっ殺す” against the machines tore into my heart way more than 9S’ angsty predicament. In the end, when faced with the option to either kill Pascal or erase his memories, I felt utterly and thoroughly powerless.
So anyway. If I had spent the majority of my 40+ hour playthrough actually getting to know these androids instead of doing side quests half the time (not to say I disliked the side quests, in fact I enjoyed them), the emotional and narrative payoff would’ve quadrupled, in my opinion. So that, to me, is the primary failing of Automata, a game that otherwise does so many things right. And trust me when I say that I point out its failings out of love. Because I did tremendously enjoy my time with it, as I have already stated. Having said that, what little character-building Automata had was handled splendidly. The overworld banter between 2B/9S, the emails from the Operators, the quirky side quests (Where do babies come from?) and the genuinely heartwarming moments with the peaceful robots of Pascal’s village all put a smile on my face. I could go on.
I mean, this was one of those games I kept playing until the morning hours because I simply wanted to find out what would happen next, and even now, I have this weird urge to get back in, hoping to chance upon an extra route I had magically overlooked that adds another 5-10 hours of story cutscenes or whatever, because I’d love to see more. Needless to say, there is no such route. But I suppose my very reaction stands testament to just how engaging Automata’s world is, and how effortlessly it oozes style and personality from its every mechanical pore. I’m probably going to do another playthrough from scratch at one point. If not now, then later. The game was simply that atmospheric, and I loved being in its bleak yet enchanting world that much.
And then there’s Ending E. I was not ready for this. As the bullet hell segment gets progressively more unforgiving, I felt the controller in my hands become slippery with sweat. I was genuinely frustrated. But then the feeling of desperation as the big bad Square Enix sign mows you down for the nth time masterfully melts into pure catharsis once the cavalry arrives and the chorus kicks into full gear. And in that moment, 2B’s ominous opening lines become a reality as the group, now united and strong in numbers, rise up against Automata’s never-ending spiral of life and death in this short-lived yet magical moment of anonymous camaraderie. If you had told me a couple days ago that the most emotional moment of a video game would be literally fighting the credits like it was fucking Space Invaders, I would have laughed you out of the room, but, well… here we are now.
So… I still don’t know what this post is supposed to be. I guess a way for me to vent all my frustrations while also expressing my sheer admiration for everything Automata so fantastically accomplished. I did preface this by admitting the game made me feel conflicted, after all… but a series of 140-character tweets simply wouldn’t do it justice. I suppose I just wanted to give all these chaotic thoughts some sort of lasting shape in the form of a blog post. To find my own meaning in all this, if you will.
Automata really is a game that kinda had to simmer in me for a while. I almost feel like part of its value lies in what the player brings to it, and together with your experiences, it transforms into something more. Either way, this was easily the most memorable gaming experience I’ve had this year and I don’t regret a single second I spent with it. Is it a masterpiece? Eh, I dunno. I probably wouldn’t go that far.* It is nothing if not unique, though; a good, albeit flawed, game with some good ideas behind it. In terms of presentation, execution, and playing with your expectations, it deserves high praise, and is a journey that I won’t soon forget, lackluster characterization be damned. If you love video games that dare to be different, you owe it to yourself to play NieR: Automata.
*P.S. The soundtrack is a fucking masterpiece, though. Like, holy shit.
P.P.S. Let’s end this on a funny note, so here’s Emil being a silly goose.