Videogames rarely engage with such grandiose cynicism. Robots in Nier Automata, post-human apocalypse, form emotions and feelings, as much as their circuits understand and process those concepts. Their society then fails. They separate into warring clans. Their attempts at peace falter. They repeat every human mistake.
Nier Automata doesn’t like humanity. Its storyline and characters, imbued with hatred, fear, and paranoia, do little other than fight one another. Part of this comes with programming, others because they break their programming. No one wins and the endings – of which Nier Automata has too many – embrace emotional challenge and mourning.
At times, it’s a videogame lost in the quirky and stupid. This is, after all, a story of plump, now rusting robots and the superior man-like androids who kill them. At one point, the robots have an orgy and anime tropes swirl. It’s also egregiously overlong, lost because of the inability to edit needless fat.
Yet it’s strikingly intelligent in developing this sci-fi world; less a derivative, “seen it before” apocalypse than an aesthetic wonder. Adventuring spills color and greenery everywhere, building a rapidly deteriorating city similar to the classic Enslaved, if with a unique dusty signature. So to does the gameplay follow, rustic in offering head nods to brawlers and shooters now decades old, genres forgotten as much as Nier’s Earth forgot humans.
Inside the city is a sci-fi/anime parable with a lust for character evolution and development. Two androids, 2B and 9S, build their bond through subtle interactions. It’s cleverly done. They fall into the robot/human allegory, discovering the robot’s cruel purpose and ruminating on their own existence. Much of Nier Automata feels freed from the often dire conventions of Japanese RPGs, and rather than descending into narrative gobbledygook, succeeds in entertaining as much as it does discovering its philosophical drive.