Post Script

Unpacking Automata’s un­usu­ally re­ward­ing post-game. Con­tains spoil­ers

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Yoko Taro might have plenty of game-de­sign ex­pe­ri­ence, but if there’s one field in which he’s gained true mas­tery, it’s in trolling his play­ers. This is, af­ter all, the man who chose to fin­ish the orig­i­nal Drak­en­gard with an ex­act­ing rhythm game that de­manded you re­flect in­com­ing at­tacks with per­fect tim­ing – cul­mi­nat­ing in an ex­tended flurry, fol­lowed by a sin­gle fi­nal blow just at the mo­ment you’re about to sit back and re­flect upon your tri­umph. And your re­ward? A sucker punch of an end­ing in which the two pro­tag­o­nists die. Yoko sub­se­quently re­peated the trick in 2014’s Drak­en­gard 3, only this time the se­quence lasted eight min­utes rather than two-and-a-half, with a fi­nal note play­ing over a black screen dur­ing a dia­logue ex­change. In both cases, a sin­gle mis­take was enough to force a restart. The orig­i­nal Nier would only show you its true end­ing in re­turn for delet­ing your save.

You can lose all your data in Automata, too, but on this oc­ca­sion it’s not manda­tory. In­stead, you’re asked if you’d like to help on­line play­ers who are strug­gling. You’ll be able to ‘res­cue’ a ran­dom player at the cost of sac­ri­fic­ing your save data. You’ll be re­peat­edly asked if you’re sure, and should you an­swer in the af­fir­ma­tive you’ll be forced to watch as each and every quest, item, weapon and plug-in is sys­tem­at­i­cally deleted in front of you. By then, you’ll have en­coun­tered a new en­emy vari­ant that dis­ables your sys­tems via in­fec­tion: a warn­ing of ‘vis­ual sys­tems ab­nor­mal’ is hardly nec­es­sary when a pri­mary-coloured fog of thick pix­els is draped over the ac­tion. You’ll of­ten find other abil­i­ties si­mul­ta­ne­ously im­paired. Los­ing the abil­ity to launch melee at­tacks is bad enough, but try avoid­ing trou­ble when your eva­sive ma­noeu­vring sys­tems are down and you can’t see a thing. Else­where, there’s a long walk to a way­point with an in­fected 2B, dur­ing which her move­ment speed slows to a limp, with en­e­mies of­ten wait­ing un­til you’re walk­ing up a ramp to at­tack you.

Oth­er­wise, this is a much more re­ward­ing postgame than we’ve grown ac­cus­tomed to see­ing from Yoko, and for com­par­a­tively less ef­fort. On a sec­ond playthrough, you’ll fol­low 9S’s jour­ney in­stead: it’s like a more sub­stan­tial ver­sion of Res­i­dent Evil 4’ s Sep­a­rate Ways, though rather than sim­ply fill­ing in the gaps when the two were apart, you’ll also re­play much of the main story from this new per­spec­tive. This is in­ter­spersed with a hand­ful of brief, sepia-toned vi­gnettes fo­cus­ing on the ma­chines’ adop­tion of hu­man traits.

There’s a fur­ther ap­pre­cia­ble dif­fer­ence in the form of a hack­ing sys­tem fleet­ingly in­tro­duced dur­ing the ini­tial playthrough. Hold­ing Tri­an­gle grants you ac­cess to en­e­mies once you’ve com­pleted a sim­ple, top-down, twin-stick shooter with a rudi­men­tary geo­met­ric art style. Do this mid-bat­tle and they’ll ex­plode, deal­ing dam­age to any nearby ma­chines. Suc­cess­fully hack­ing a ma­chine that hasn’t spot­ted you gives you more op­tions: you can sub­ju­gate them to fight along­side you, con­trol them di­rectly – us­ing at­tacks par­tic­u­lar to that unit – or det­o­nate them. In truth, hack­ing is a shade over­pow­ered dur­ing the big­gest en­coun­ters, deal­ing the kind of dam­age that would nor­mally re­quire long pe­ri­ods of con­cen­trated at­tacks. Yet for the tougher en­e­mies it’s more chal­leng­ing, as you ma­noeu­vre through tight spa­ces with just three hits enough to see you kicked out of the sys­tem, and with a dam­age penalty to boot. There’s also an el­e­ment of risk in re­main­ing close enough to your tar­get for long enough for the hack at­tempt to reg­is­ter. In­evitably, there are fresh plug-ins to choose from, which add fur­ther tac­ti­cal op­tions to en­coun­ters. Hi­jack Boost raises the level of ma­chines you’ve suc­cess­fully hacked, so they’re more ef­fec­tive in tak­ing down their for­mer al­lies, while Stun passes an elec­tri­cal charge through a tar­get, which then emits a blast that can leave any lo­cal ma­chines tem­po­rar­ily in­ca­pac­i­tated.

A sub­se­quent playthrough in­tro­duces a third playable char­ac­ter, A2, an­other an­droid who takes the reins from 2B and boasts a sim­i­lar fight­ing style. But rather than re­tread­ing old ground, this is a brand new story that fol­lows on from the main nar­ra­tive, as con­trol shifts be­tween 9S and A2 as they at­tempt to un­lock and then ne­go­ti­ate a gi­ant tower cre­ated by the ma­chines. It’s worth it just for a thrilling se­quence that mas­ter­fully cross-cuts be­tween the two pro­tag­o­nists as they fight a pair of bosses in the air and on the ground re­spec­tively.

The re­wards, too, are gen­er­ous. Reach end­ing C and you can ac­cess a chap­ter se­lect that tells you how many side mis­sions you have yet to fin­ish with each char­ac­ter, while let­ting you tick off the re­main­ing items on your shop­ping list of weapons with­out hav­ing to play the whole thing again. But, un­like Yoko’s pre­vi­ous games, you don’t need every weapon to see the fourth and fifth main end­ings, as both are de­ter­mined by choices made in the fi­nal chap­ter, which can be re­played quickly from the menu. All that re­main for true com­pletists are a few se­cret bosses and the rest of the joke end­ings, even if some are dif­fi­cult to prompt with­out prior knowl­edge.

Fi­nally, there’s a De­bug mode, which lets you set up fight rooms in which to test your com­bat abil­i­ties – pick an en­emy or 12, and you can se­lect their weapon, their level, and even the di­rec­tion they’re fac­ing. It’s a po­ten­tially end­less show­case for a great com­bat sys­tem, and a prize that’s worth the ef­fort. The un­spar­ing cal­lous­ness of the story proves Yoko hasn’t soft­ened much – the dif­fer­ence this time is he’s re­served his cru­ellest tricks for his cast, rather than his play­ers.

This is a much more re­ward­ing post-game than we’ve grown ac­cus­tomed to see­ing from Yoko, and for less ef­fort

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