Both NieR: Replicant and NieR: Automata are defined as open-world action role-playing games (ARPGs). They both have some dungeon-delving sections, mechanics, and expansive worlds and areas to explore. Both games’ graphical design and music are phenomenal, and it can be hard to determine which game you should play first.
So… which is (objectively) better, NieR: Replicant or NieR: Automata?
Main Points of Variability
The fundamental differences between Replicant and Automata present themselves rather interestingly, not in chasms of massive changes but in the more minor, finer details. Below is a list of the most significant differences between the games.
- Combat mechanics. Some of the most notable differences between Replicant and Automata, regarding combat, resides in the range of available weaponry, Grimoire Weiss versus Pod 153 and Pod 042, the finer aiming mechanics, and the dodging mechanic.
- Story and sidequest decisions. Specific story-building, world-building decisions, and sidequest mechanics are the source of a divide between the two games. From the New Game+ utilization to minor details, like character dialogue and design. And for sidequests… the meaning of a time-reliant quest.
- Visual aesthetics and overall vibe. Automata’s aesthetics and vibe are more grimdark and Si-Fi based than Replicant’s. Replicant focuses more on childish whimsy and a sort-of hidden dark fantasy. A fantasy that gets baited out as the story progresses and the whimsy fades. Conversely, Automata hits off with a dark academia, gothic noir, and Si-Fi aesthetic. Automata also keeps these themes and aesthetics throughout the whole game.
Comparing Vital Pieces
Automata has a broader range of available weaponry, including four categories of weapons to use and collect: Small Swords, Large Swords, Spears, and Combat Bracers. Replicant has one less, with three types: One-Handed Swords, Two-Handed Swords, and Spears.
Grimoire Weiss and Pod (Pod 153 and Pod 042)
Grimoire Weiss and Pod 153/042 serve the same function in both games. They act as the long-range weapon, a ranged magic/gun for combat. Weiss and Pod also have their unique customization features, with Weiss utilizing something called Words in Replicant and Pod using Pod Programs in Automata.
The “biggest” differences between the two can be explained with two main themes: the customization differences (Pod is much more in-depth than Weiss) and the auto-aim/lock-on function.
Auto-aiming and Lock-on
Weiss has a much more rudimentary, although more reliable/easy (in my opinion) aiming system than Pod. Weiss will automatically attack the nearest enemy if no one is currently the victim of lock-on.
I found this incredibly useful, as it would ensure that even if I am not paying attention to where exactly Weiss is facing, I will always be hitting something.
On the other hand, Pod relies more on a direct aiming and lock-on system. If you’re not facing the enemy while also being at the same height as them, Pod will not hit them. This forces us to rely on a lock-on lock-off cycle that I dislike.
Pod has the upper hand on this one. With the fleshed-out and detailed Pod Program system, Pod can be specialized to complement/support everyone’s respective play style.
The Pod Programs can always be found due to the team’s story set-up and replay decisions. This means it is not too difficult to collect all the Pod Programs and find the perfect Pod build for you.
All in all, Pod is a lot of messing around and finding out what works best, and I honestly enjoyed that! It added a level of creativity to the combat builds that isn’t present in Replicant.
Replicant, on the other hand, has Words. Words are obtained by defeating enemies/animals in a specific area; sometimes, it has to be a particular enemy/animal and can be easily missed for the same reason.
This is due to Replicant’s decision to permanently lock players out of playing through Part I after progressing to Part II (On the same save file, that is. We can still play through Part I if we start a new game), and the nature of the rift between Part I and II.
Weiss has less of an ability to be fine-tuned and honed into a perfect companion for individual play style, given that the Words impact his functions less.
This one is a product of the different states of technological advancement in both games. Automata leans into the Si-Fi genre, which shows, especially with the characters, locations, and flying mech sequences.
Automata even kicks off the game with a flying mech fight and re-utilizes it several times. Replicant, having much more to do with the fantasy genre, doesn’t have any mech fights and much fewer flight mechanics.
Story Presentation and Content
New Game+ Utilization
New Game+ (NG+) is utilized differently in Replicant and Automata.
Replicant locks us out from ever playing Part I again on the same save file, even with NG+. It’s a decision that the team made to help enforce the permanence of the change that occurred between Part I and II. I have to say that, for me, it worked! It did impact the game’s storytelling, specifically the unchangeable feeling of the events.
Automata, on the other hand, does a commonly utilized implementation of NG+. Automata lets us play the whole game through again with NG+, just with items and perks from the previous playthrough.
This is an excellent function from a gameplay perspective. It makes it easier to 100% the game, ensuring we can gather all the items, weapons, and Pod Programs with little struggle.
The Novel Sections
Replicant utilizes a range of novella-style sections in the game to relay information about character backstory, motivation, and critical central story moments. While I personally don’t mind the novel scenes, I do understand why people do. They’re long, tedious, and can be hard to focus on.
It’s filled with text stacked on text… stacked on top of even more text. Most people don’t come into an action RPG with the expectation, or even the desire, to start buckling down to read.
That said, Automata does a phenomenal job of improving this experience by ensuring the novella sections are optional. They’re not required to progress the main story or even really needed to understand Automata’s story itself. The primary function is filling in the blanks and connecting the game to Replicant.
The Number of Playable Protagonists
Automata’s protagonist pool is more extensive than Replicant’s. In Automata, there are ultimately three protagonists that we can play as. There’s 2B, the starting protagonist. 9S is available to play for Branches B and D. Finally, A2 is playable for Branch C.
Replicant’s protagonist is confined to the main character, Nier. The only variation lies with a brief segment for Ending E, where we can play as Kainé.
These decisions also reflect in the world-building, with a broader horizon of opinions presented to us through the protagonists. While I believe Replicant’s storytelling is masterful, something about playing as a character makes me feel like I’m in their head.
Replicant drew the short stick regarding the sidequest implementations… although this isn’t to say that Automata’s sidequests are perfect. Automata’s biggest improvement on Replicant would be what I can only call the interpretation of the meaning of time-sensitive quests.
Replicant utilizes a real-time sync that connects to your console for the timezone but an external server for the date. It makes some quests extremely tedious (Life in The Sands is infamous for this).
Conversely, Automata nullifies this issue, focusing on racing quests and courier missions instead of relaying to a real-time system for some quests.
Automata’s aesthetics and vibe are more grimdark and Si-Fi based than Replicant’s. Replicant focuses more on boyish whimsy and a semi-elusive dark fantasy, especially in the beginning.
As the story in Replicant progresses, the magical fantasy slowly gets replaced with a more… beautiful but bitter charm as the dark fantasy is drawn out.
On the other hand, Automata is more reflective of sultry gothic noir kind of Si-Fi. The colors are vibrant but constantly broken by concrete, metal, and rust. Not to forget the eerie Amusement Park.
What, in my opinion, is like a sort of fun-house mirror reflection of a whole community made for entertainment. A community both passionate and devoted to creation and eventually destroyed for it.
These traits really shine with the designs for the protagonists and other party members. I’ve provided the offical images of each playable protagonist, created by Akihiko Yoshida.
Replicant’s story follows the protagonist, Nier (although he can be named differently by the player). The game starts in a different area from the main game content, beginning a few hundred years before the main game.
The reason for this gets cleared up later in the story. The game is split up into parts, Part I and II, although both follow the same brand of narrative.
The main plot of Replicant revolves around retrieving and rescuing Yonah. Yonah is either Nier’s younger sister or daughter, depending on which version of the game you are playing.
In Replicant, Yonah is Nier’s younger sister, so the fanbase refers to him as Brother Nier. The older version of Nier (referred to as Papa Nier by the fanbase) is accessible in the DLC, The World of Recycled Vessel (AKA 15 Nightmares).
The game’s moral themes directly (and intentionally) contradict DRAKENGARD’s. DRAKENGARD was the game that spawned the NieR series (NieR is a spin-off).
Where DRAKENGARD focuses on the line of thought that terrible things happen because of insane people, NieR contradicts that. NieR instead presents the idea that terrible things happen because of stubborn people. A line of thought that is, in Yoko Taro’s words in his 2014 interview with Square Enix, “…you don’t have to be insane to kill someone. You just have to think you’re right.”
Automata’s story initially follows an android by the name of 2B. The story is introduced to the player with a flying mech fight, and 2B is given the objective of eliminating a Goliath Class enemy. 2B eventually rendezvous with 9S, who later becomes playable, and they take out the enemy together.
The main plot of Automata revolves around discovering the truth of the 14th Machine War. The androids met in the game are either trying to emulate humanity (Adam and Eve), or they start questioning their history and the validity of their actions as the game progresses.
It’s moral dilemmas and questions about purpose and truth. It’s like… exetentailist life questions that never really get resolved.
After all… what would you do if you learned that everything you’ve ever been told… no, everything you’ve ever worked for, is actually nothing? That it all one big, elaborate lie?
Automata has a total of 27 endings, with 26 in the base game, going through the alphabet, and one from the DLC.
So… Which is Better?
I believe that Replicant is the better game. It’s a decision I’ve made based on the more minor details… and my willingness to overlook the glaring flaw that is Life in The Sands. My love of the story heavily informs my decision. I find Replicant’s story deeply engaging, touching, and impactful. It is a story I’ve cried over.
…I also have my opinion rooted in my distaste for Pod’s mechanics. I just… don’t like the lock-on cycle that shadows Pod like death shadows us all.
Similar Games to NieR
Now, I know that the NieR series isn’t for everyone. Combining the story’s dark tones and the crass humor, some people won’t be fans. I’m sure some people enjoy the story but don’t like the gameplay.
I have made a list of six games similar to NieR, although some have lighter stories or different gameplay.
- The DRAKENGARD series
- Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Souls Games (Bloodborne, Eldin Ring, Dark Souls, etc.)
- The BioShock series
- Metal Gear Solid (Specifically one through four)
Question: Is Replicant a prequel to Automata?
Answer: No, not really. While it could be said that Replicant is a prequel, it is more accurate to say that Automata is a sequel to Replicant. This is because Replicant is a Gestalt remaster. Where Gestalt was published in April 2010, and Automata in February 2017, Automata is technically a sequel.
Question: What is NieR: Automata?
Answer: NieR: Automata is an open-world action role-playing game (ARPG). The game has some dungeon-delving and flying mech combat, as well. Automata includes the animal riding that was present in Replicant as well.
Question: Are all NieR: Replicant endings canon?
Answer: No. Endings A and B are not real endings, and Endings C and D extend the game to show some of the after events. Ending E follows the events of Ending D directly. It would be more accurate to say that Endings C, D, and E are real.
Although Ending D is debatable, given that Ending E is the “conclusion” to Ending D. It is worth noting that Automata is a continuation of Ending D.
They are both beautiful games that deserve to be played, although I am… significantly more attached to Replicant. This isn’t to devalue Automata but to speak to how impactful the story, characters, and themes in Replicant were, and still are, to me.
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