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ballet as combat, sleek shmup minigames, and a blend of narrative and game design that other games still struggle to get right; what makes nier automata worth your time is the parts that come together and get tossed back out at you with all the pomp of someone spitting their blood and teeth into your face. theatre is the heart of the game, operating fully on the fringes of a b movie space opera. it is, in fact, that good, and the deconstruction of philosophical ideas is not even the core of it but rather a familiar means to discuss the ideas present at it's core.
as a port, it's a damn fine one: it plays exactly like a 2016 playstation title, looks about as well as it can on the switch and usually runs smoothly. that said, the switch can't really handle playing it for long periods of time - i experienced two notable crashes in game. once immediately following the grun battle in route A and again just before the emotional climax at the beginning of route C. additionally, the joycons just don't feel like the ideal controller for this game. everything is mapped to the very top of it, and unless you wanna fiddle with it for several minutes, you're pretty much stuck holding your controller awkwardly. finally, i don't think that handheld automata is the optimal way to experience it.
but it's worth your time in every way you can imagine and more, really.
WAIT! i can fix her...
i think i'd have given this three stars for being fun alone but there's a few things that bothered me about it: the pacing is odd, and the game feels rushed. i also feel the game is strangely ableist, but this isn't so egregious that it feels malicious. it honestly was kinda goofy and i laughed, but hey, ymmv. i also think that it's a little steep price wise for being about an hour and some change long but it's pretty high quality in presentation so hey, that's nice
the latter half of december is home to a number of traditional holidays. one of them, the ancient roman festival of saturnalia, drums up images of debauchery. dedicated to the god saturn, it was a week long festival of gift giving, gambling, good eating, and masters recognizing their servants for their work by waiting on them for once.
when you first look around the game's setting, a fictional sardinian village called gravoi, "debauchery" isn't what comes to mind.
cavernous yet claustrophobic, saturnalia is an autopsy of gravoi and it's nightmarish history in the throes of it's final night. you're introduced to four characters, all of them playable, each of them with deeply ingrained roots to the village.
over the course of the game, you rip those roots out.
it's not an easy task. the game makes use of it's serpentine map to confuse you: it's full of dead ends, bizarre loops, narrow pathways that are easy to miss or mistake for something else, and has the audacity to penalize you by procedurally regenerating everything if your entire party dies. you can't trust the villagers, and you can't trust the architecture. to cap it off, you're pursued by a bizarre monster that wants to sacrifice you; interestingly, it wasn't entirely uncommon for gladiator fights to happen across the week of saturnalia. rumors persist that fallen gladiators were offered up to the god saturn himself.
the visual design calls to mind both the dreamlike stages of expressionists and giallo films; vivid pinks, purples and blues color the village. a purple fog rolls in, bleeding primary blue and the world goes magenta while your character's breathing grows ragged from running, and the sound design is stupendous with a soundtrack that absolutely kills it, somehow blending 80's synth with the atmosphere of an old, forgotten sardinian village to triumphant measures. roberta valle's vocals in the opening theme are haunting, but none of these reasons are likely what will keep you going through the game. they may haunt you later, but in the moment, with the controller in your hands, it's the mystery hidden beneath the pathways of gravoi that keep you running.
it is, unfortunately, bogged down by the camera, and how sensitive the map and AI can be. it's easy for a character to get stuck even when the monster is in pursuit. the camera makes use of fixed angles occasionally, painting the game vintage. it really feels like a classic ps2 horror game when it tries to use the camera in that way. visually, it's appreciated, and it theoretically adds to the experience, but in practice, it's jittery and tends to be frustrating. the storyline and how it unfolds can be confusing, but if you're careful and take your time, what's laid out for you to turn over will make sense easily-- besides, piecing it together on your own is half the fun. with the mind map, it's made all the easier to figure out what's going on beneath the surface of quaint little gravoi.
modern day anxieties are propped up for discussion, the suppression of people's needs a constant thread through out the game. just beyond the festival's bloodletting: homophobia, racism, and even unions. saturnalia uses an ancient ritual to harken in the new world, sinking the old ways to make something of what remains. the bones of the game is the survival horror, but it's the storylines you close up over the game's run that shine.