A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Nier: Automata is an action role-playing game with significant violence. Combat -- involving swords and guns -- is generally between androids and robots, but both sides appear sentient. Some fights involve very human-like characters, as well as animals that bleed. The primary protagonist, a female android, wears a revealing (and impractical for combat) velvet dress that allows players to see her entire buttocks while climbing ladders and performing acrobatic moves. A male human-like character appears and fights completely in the nude, though he's missing any genitalia. Also, spoken and text dialogue includes infrequent but strong profanity, including "f--k."
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What's it about?
NIER: AUTOMATA is set thousands of years in the future, where the Earth is an industrial ruin inhabited by alien invaders and their machines. Humans have retreated to the moon, but they haven't given up the fight. They use androids -- extraordinarily humanlike machines dressed in fancy goth clothing, including velvet dresses and stiletto boots -- to do battle with the aliens. The androids are headquartered in an orbiting space station called the Bunker and make trips to the surface to fight the machines and help the local resistance. Players assume the role of one of these androids, a calm and cool warrior model named 2B, who fights alongside another model named 9S. Together, the pair explores the ruins of the world, going on quests for the Bunker's commander, other androids, and resistance members on the ground and engaging in acrobatic battles with groups of machines while collecting items and material necessary to improve their weapons and skills. But the bigger questions lying beneath all this have to do with identity and consciousness; are the androids -- and the machines they fight -- living beings? And, if so, what does that mean?
Is it any good?
This action role-playing game covers broad philosophical ideas, but its gameplay won't appeal to everyone. You know those broadly accessible games that grab hold of audiences with their relatable characters, traditional ideas, and familiar mechanics? Nier: Automata isn't one of them. From the outset, it challenges players with unusual concepts and imagery that some might find hard to understand (or swallow): Beautiful, blindfolded android warriors who do battle in nightclub attire. Dirty trash can robots that have taken the names of old philosophers. Characters who tear down the fourth wall, repeatedly referencing the fact that we're playing a game while providing advice on how to play. Action that sees players abruptly moving from arcade-like top-down shooter combat to side-scrolling platforming to open-world adventuring. It's an undeniably unusual experience likely to resonate only with a select few.
The game's designers certainly have things on their minds that they want to communicate, though. Whether they're successful is debatable. While plenty of interesting questions about identity and personhood are posed, few are answered -- at least in the first play-through. Once the credits finish rolling, players are encouraged to play again, this time experiencing the game's events from the perspective of 2B's companion, 9S, learning more about the world and characters within it along the way. Whether the player wants to do this will depend largely on whether he or she enjoys exploring the world -- which is surprisingly bland and small compared with many other open-world games -- and engaging in a type of frenetic, multi-genre combat that will be an acquired taste for most, to put it mildly. If you're searching for instant, easy, and familiar gratification, your money will be better spent elsewhere.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in media. The bulk of the violence in Nier: Automata is committed by androids against machines (robots), even though both exhibit traits of sentience and personhood, so how might the introduction of artificial life -- and artificially intelligent combatants -- affect the morality of a war?
Discuss the nature of identity. If you were to lose a leg and have it surgically replaced with someone else's, would the new leg be part of your body? If so, would you be the same person or someone different? What if the replaced part were a section of your brain?
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