Nier: Automata director Yoko Taro isn’t one for holding back. “When it was first announced [Square Enix producer Yosuke Saito] was going to put money into a new Nier game, everyone thought he was mad,” he says. “And personally – I probably shouldn’t be sharing this – but I thought he was mad as well.” Taro’s sinister grinning mask, which he always wears at public events, is resting by his side during our behindclosed-doors look at the game, yet his own smile is almost a carbon copy of the helmet’s when he chuckles about the faith shown by his boss, Saito, who’s also present. “I thought he probably wasn’t going to make it back, but I’m very happy he’s given us the money, and we are trying to use it well.”
The investment has seen Taro temporarily relocate 315 miles from his home in Tokyo to Osaka, where Platinum Games resides. Here, a team spearheaded by Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Anarchy Reigns game designer Takahisa Taura has been combining the melee action for which Platinum is famed with the bohemian styles and genre-switching rhythms that sparked Nier’s cult following.
The studio’s fingerprints are unmistakable: weapon juggling, responsive dodges and air combos immediately recall its back catalogue, perhaps unsurprisingly so given the freedom the studio’s been given to shape the action-RPG’s core fighting mechanics. “I’m just leaving that up to the guys at Platinum Games – they just go ahead and make this really great action game without me telling them to do anything,” says Taro, who claims to be “asleep behind the scenes” for the most part.
Yet Square Enix wants Nier: Automata to be more than just another acclaimed Platinum Games title. “We don’t want to
Unorthodox diversions include enemies that break out bullethell-style projectile attacks
remake Bayonetta, because it’s already been done,” insists Saito, who’s also eager to note that the latest build reminds him more of the original Nier than anything from Platinum’s back catalogue. Sure enough, early footage shows glimpses of unorthodox diversions, including enemies that break out bullethell-style projectile attacks for impromptu
Espgaluda- esque escapades. “[PlatinumGames] hasn’t got a great pedigree with shooting games, so I’m going to have to watch very closely how they do those bits,” Saito says.
The duo refuses to be drawn on comparisons with Platinum’s other titles, instead pointing out that Nier: Automata’s focus is multi-enemy battles, with broader viewpoints than we’re used to in order to show more of the terrain, giving rise to fresh tactics. Discover a staircase, for instance, and you’re encouraged to weave its geometry into your strategies: pulling an enemy mob into a thin column before leaping and gliding over their heads, unleashing aerial kicks and following up with strikes to their backs.
With Nier: Automata pitched as a new game in the universe rather than a sequel, there’s a lot here that will be unfamiliar to fans of the original. It takes place in a farfuture where Earth’s been invaded by aliens and humans have been exiled to the Moon. Eager to retake their planet, mankind builds emotionless androids and sends them to do battle amid the ruins of our civilisation – not against the aliens themselves, who are now in hiding, but against the mechanoid creations our planet’s conquerors left behind.
Although this machine-on-machine proxy war may appear to be a setup to inspect AI and robotics in the plot, Taro waves away the idea. “It was more of a case of that, when we originally made the agreement with Platinum, we felt that we needed a futuristic setting to really bring out the action they do well, and androids as playable characters fit very well.”
Which is where 2B comes in. The new lead protagonist, dressed in stockings, lace and a blindfold, is one such android, conceptualised by former Square Enix employee and then freelancer Akihiko Yoshida ( Vagrant Story,
Bravely Default), who has joined this project as character designer. “We didn’t really think he’d agree to doing it,” Saito confesses. “Then we approached his management and found out his boss is actually a really big fan of Nier.”
Alongside returning composer Keiichi Okabe and Taura’s team at PlatinumGames, Yoshida’s involvement represents a new hope for the franchise’s successes. “The original
Nier was a very interesting game, but actually making people want to play it took a lot of time in some cases,” Saito says. “Now we really want to expand the pie and make sure that there’s more people who will actually come in and pick up the game.”
And as for the “madness” Saito’s displayed in investing in this new team, the Square Enix producer believes he’ll be proved right in the end. “I’m very, very happy and very satisfied with the progress so far,” he says. “So, yeah, I think my money’s been well spent!”
While the playable androids could pass for humans, the aliens’ mechanoid army is deliberately industrialised, sporting rivets, bolts, screws and other odds and ends you might find in a toolbox
ABOVE The mechanoids’ chunky aesthetics mask surprising athleticism. Far from being dumb, plodding foes, they’ll scuttle and jump around the maps with classic Platinum fluidity
LEFT B2 can instruct her hovering pod companion to fire bolts of energy, and cling onto its body for jump boosts and to ease descents. BELOW Platinum is embracing Nier’s eclectic mix of genres. “They just come up with so many ideas, one after the other, and Taro says yes to all of them,” Saito says
In keeping with the original’s costume design, Saito describes Yoshida’s early character sketches as portraying “lewd, sexual ideas… that really resonated with the game.” 2B’s skirt will rip if she sustains too much damage, revealing a white leotard