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“Nier,” released in 2010 for the PlayStation 3, was the third entry in the lesser-known Drakengard series of action-adventure RPGs. The game was met with only lukewarm reviews and mediocre sales, but it quickly developed a cult following owing to its excellent story and the unique manner in which it is told. Despite low sales, Square Enix was interested in doing a sequel due to immense fan interest, and development of “Nier: Automata” soon began.

The original “Nier” takes place on a post-apocalyptic planet earth where humanity is on the verge of extinction due to a mysterious plague known only as the “black scrawl.” “Nier: Automata” drops you back into this setting several thousand years after the events of the first game, into a haunting but beautifully-rendered open world where robots are running rampant over the ruins of a long-dead civilization. As a combat android named 2B, your job is to rid the place of hostile robots to make it habitable for humans again.

As the game progresses, the mysteries of the world begin to unravel and the genius of director Yoko Taro’s multi-layered narrative slowly shows itself. Taro employs what he describes as “backwards script-writing,” which he described in a panel at the 2014 Game Developers Conference. The basic story is set up in the first play-through and then more details about the characters and game world are fleshed out through successive play-throughs, revealing the true weight of the player’s actions.

This serves to create emotional connections surrounding the game’s events which are later re-examined in order to create a stronger impact. For example, the death of that bad guy you happily defeated the first time around might seem a bit more tragic once you learn more about him during your second play-through. This makes Taro’s stories play out like Greek tragedies, wherein he explores complex themes like human nature and the motivations behind hatred, violence, and war. It’s a unique and engaging storytelling style that makes for an emotional roller coaster, but it demands that you play through the game multiple times (although not from the very beginning) to get the most out of it and to experience all of the different endings.

One of the main criticisms with “Nier” was its lackluster combat, which, while far from terrible, was admittedly a bit clunky and repetitive at times. For Automata, Square Enix brought on PlatinumGames, the studio behind acclaimed works such as “Bayonetta” and “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance,” to develop a new combat system. As one would expect, it paid off: The action in “Nier: Automata” is fast, fluid, and extremely fun — equal parts hack-and-slash and bullet-hell shooter — putting it head and shoulders above that of its predecessor.

“Nier: Automata” is a great action-adventure title in its own right, even if you’re not the type of person who typically cares too much about a good story. The gameplay is addictive, the soundtrack is fantastic (composer Keiichi Okabe returns to deliver yet another great score), and the storytelling is some of the most unique and emotionally poignant you’ll find in a video game, making Automata a worthy sequel to the original cult classic and one of the best entries in the PlayStation 4 library.

Pros: A much-improved combat system over its predecessor, an emotionally immersive story, a beautifully-designed open world, and a fantastic soundtrack

Cons: Requires multiple play-throughs to experience the different endings and to get the most out of the story

Buy "Nier: Automata" on Amazon for $59.99 (digital) or $45.90 (physical)

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