If you follow a lot of gaming websites and podcasts, you’ve likely heard at least a few things about Nier: Automata, the latest game from eccentric game director Yoko Taro. It’s a special game for sure, and many members of the media have been eager to talk about it. Unfortunately, if you’ve been paying attention, but haven’t had the chance to play Nier: Automata yourself, the discussion around the game may have already set some damaging expectations for you. I know it did for me.
I finished the game a few days ago, and while I ultimately enjoyed it, my experience was deeply compromised by the discussions I’d been exposed to through reviews on sites like Kotaku, as well as podcasts like the Giant Bombcast, Waypoint Radio, and Rebel FM.
If you have no idea what Nier: Automata is, then enjoy your ignorance and go play this beautiful game. But if you’ve heard about the game’s various quirks, you may want to read ahead, because I need to set the record straight on a few things. My goal is to keep this spoiler-free as possible, and ensure that you can enjoy and appreciate the game more than I did.
On Multiple Endings…
You’ve probably heard that Nier: Automata has 5 core endings, A, B, C, D, and E, plus an additional 21 gimmick endings that are entirely optional. Seeing endings A through E are essential to getting the complete experience, and depending on who you listen to, that means replaying the game upwards of five times.
The truth is that you don’t even have to play through the game four times. Yet here is Kotaku’s Mike Fahey in their review: “My second playthough granted me a completely different way to destroy enemies. My fourth granted me a new Berserk mode, sacrificing defense for ridiculous attack strength. Who knows what my fifth will bring?”
And here is Eurogamer writer Jeffrey Matulef saying something similar: “First things first: you don’t need to play Nier: Automata four times to get its true ending. That’s a myth – one based on the first Nier that actually did require such a task. No, instead Nier: Automata is comprised of four different campaigns, which is a very different situation.”
I honestly have no goddamn idea what these two writers are talking about. There is no fourth playthrough or campaign. There is an initial playthrough culminating in ending A, followed by a replay from a different perspective that culminates in ending B. From there, players unlock a wholly new, shorter campaign that culminates in either ending C or D, depending on a choice you make. After that choice, a chapter select is unlocked, allowing players to go back and do side missions, or jump back to the end and make the alternate choice. Once both endings C and D are unlocked, the true ending begins.
The important detail here is that there are only three distinct “playthroughs”. Endings C, D, and E can all be viewed within 15-20 minutes of each other.
This may all sound like semantic nonsense, but when you’re playing through the C route under the impression that there are many more hours of revelations, it makes the game’s final moments more confusing than enjoyable.
On when the “real” Nier begins…
Nier: Automata begins when you start playing it, and offers a steady stream of plot points, surprises, and revelations throughout. Yet many critics, such as Waypoint Radio hosts Austin Walker and Patrick Klepek, have implied that the game doesn’t really start getting interesting until you begin route C.
Armed with the false notion that Nier: Automata had far more content in store for me after finishing route B, I took this all to mean that I had to “work” through the first two playthroughs before the game would truly blossom.
Route C did have some cool twists and turns, but it’s also the final act of the game. I went into it thinking it was the middle chapter. When the credits started rolling for good, a mere half hour or so after watching the C ending, I was baffled, deflated, confused, and worst of all, a bit disappointed.
Only after realizing how much my expectations had been established by forces outside of the game’s control was I able to reflect on Nier: Automata and purely appreciate it for what it was.
On that true ending…
Strangely, a lot of people have deemed it totally fine to spoil the true ending of Nier: Automata. An article about the ending was plastered all over Kotaku the day after the game came out, and podcasts like Giant Bomb and Rebel FM have featured hosts clumsily explaining how the ending works, even when they didn’t actually play the game themselves.
The problem here is that it’s a lot better if you don’t know anything about it. And if you do know it’s coming, it’s important to know that the game will be VERY clear about any big choices you have to make.
Unfortunately for me, I knew enough to be unreasonably anxious, but not enough to fully understand what was going on. This made the entire final sequence confusing and stressful. I knew the “what”, but without the “how” or “when” I was left scrambling to make sure I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
My ultimate point is this — think of Nier: Automata as a three chapter story with an epilogue. Playthrough A, B, and C/D are the chapters, with E as the epilogue. Try to enjoy it from beginning to end, rather than waiting with baited breath for the “crazy stuff”. And lastly, if you know anything about the nature of the ending, don’t get stressed about it. This whole thing may be a bit ridiculous, after all, I just wrote a 1000-word guide on how to enjoy Nier: Automata…but man, do I wish I knew all this a week ago. I hope it helps someone.