Nier: Au­tomata



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

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