Auto-Battle Is the Best Version of Combat in the New 'NieR Replicant'

Letting the AI take over put me in the director's seat of a high intensity post-fantasy anime, and I'm never going back.
April 26, 2021, 1:00pm
Nier Combat
'NieR' screenshot courtesy of Square Enix

It turns out that I don't love pressing the dodge button at the exact moment I needed to. Parry timings? Okay maybe in Sekiro where parrying somehow manages to be an art form, religion, and exacting science. But the rest of the time, I don't care how loose or tight the window is—it's rarely interesting enough to make it worth fussing over. And how engaging can a SQUARE SQUARE SQUARE combo really be? Even if you get fancy and throw in a CROSS and TRIANGLE at the end—does it really matter? Hell no.

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NieR ver.1.22474487139… (Nier 1.22) isn't exactly a slouch in the combat system arena, but it's not going to win any awards. It's functional and feels mostly okay. It's better once you get two-handed swords and spears to accompany the full range of Sealed Verse magic spells. But at most you can only have four spells equipped at one time (and you'd have to give up dodge and block for that). Changing spells mid-battle means breaking out of combat to go into a menu screen and reassign magic to the L and R buttons. 

It was on my way back to Nier's Village from the rules-bound, mask-loving city of Facade that I logged out of the game and dropped the difficulty down to Easy. I wasn't about to spend any longer than I had to slog it out with heavily armored Gestalts in the desert. And I thought, "Why not give the Auto-Battle system a try?" I turned it and all the available toggles on.

You know what I can't do? Perfect dodge 100% of the time. I can't perfectly parry 100% of the time either. And not having to worry about how many times I pushed SQUARE or TRIANGLE was not only an emotional quality of life improvement, it took a massive load off the aging joints and ligaments in my hands. At 38, with the amount of console games I have to play for this job, anything that takes stress off my hands is a godsend. 

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But in addition to accomplishing defensive and combo maneuvers that I simply can't—the Auto-Battle AI can (and will) make use of the full range of Grimoire Weiss's dark magic—and it's smart about it. Not just smart, it's sick as fuck. And it never needs to pull up a menu to change abilities, the combat just flows like an unbroken river. And rather than having to micromanage every single action, I was able to step back and play fight choreographer to an extremely cool AMV of my own making. 

Leaping into the middle of a huge pack of little Gestalts wearing shields like helmets, the Auto-Battle flipped from the giant shard launching Dark Lance to Dark Execution, immediately dropping a charged blast impaling the half dozen or so little shades surrounding me, foisting them up into the air on black and red magical spikes. A larger club wielding Gestalt closed in and faster than I could react, time was slowed for a fraction of a second and the distinctive clang indicated a perfect parry. With only positional guidance from me, Nier had countered and was already gearing up to launch a barrage of those colossal glowing red spears into the spine of the half-dead black and gold menace. As they collided, Nier had switched to a charged version of Dark Phantasm—a quick blitz of red and black shadow Niers slammed into the remaining little shades and it was over.

The longer I kept the Auto-Battle system toggled on, the more I realized that the actual nuts and bolts of fighting in Nier aren't what's interesting. And the more I think about it, there are very few games outside of the original Xbox Ninja Gaiden where the act of pressing individual buttons is all that meaningful. If I really want to engage with the convolutions of human kinesthetics intersecting with the absurdity of button pressing, I could just go play QWOP (and I'm not fucking doing that after November 13, 2008). Instead, Nier 1.22 lets me engage relationally and positionally with enemies, deciding when and which engagements were going to happen, what badass weapon I want to be holding when I decide shit is ready to go down. It took care of the little fiddly bits so not only did I finally get to appreciate the breakneck speed and mayhem of trash fights, but boss encounters became audio-visual spectacles instead of hyper-focused spreadsheet optimizations. 


Honestly more games need to steal this. Yes, even Dark Souls.