Nier Automata Interview: Square talks RPG systems and the Platinum partnership

I'm not sure anybody expected a sequel to Nier. The game released to a middling critical reception and a similar sales performance. But over time several elements of the game including its visual design, world view and music turned it into something of a cult classic. That in itself was a little unexpected.

For the game to go on to become such a cult hit that it would get a sequel was a real shocker, though - so much so that we named it as our top surprise of 2015 above even the announcement of a Final Fantasy VII Remake. The fact Square Enix had chosen to partner with Japanese action kings Platinum Games for the development was even more surprising still.

We recently had a chance to sit down with Yosuke Saito, the producer of the original Nier and this new title, and Keiichi Okabe, the composer whose music helped to catapult the game to become an underground hit. We discuss the Automata, how to balance the worlds of action and RPG and the newly announced PC version among other things. Enjoy.


RPG Site: So, to start... Nier and Platinum isn’t exactly the most obvious of pairings. Why did you go this direction?

Yosuke Saito: To create this title... just looking at our results from the first game worldwide, it wasn't really a huge success. We do have a lot of core fans that really like that title, but it wasn't exactly what we'd call a success. So when I thought about creating the next game in the franchise, I figured it had to be successful. So thinking about it... we still have Yoko Taro as a director, Keiichi Okabe for music, and on top of that we have Akihiko Yoshida as the character designer.

Platinum Games is one of the developers who are in my opinion one of the best at what they do. They're a superior game developer, so that's why we put together the team we now have.

The Nier games are action RPGs. A lot of the fans that liked the previous title really liked the world and the music, but the action side of the game was okay but wasn't really great. This time around to make that better we decided to partner up with Platinum Games, who are known for action games. I think it really led to a level of quality that we were hoping for.

However, this isn't necessarily more action-oriented - so please don't worry about the RPG elements either. They will be in there. We are Square Enix! [laughs] Please don't worry about those elements.

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In saying that you've opened up our favorite can of worms... we're dedicated to RPGs, so, just how RPG is Nier Automata now?

It's really difficult to put into numbers, but the image that I have is that maybe 30 to 40 percent of the game is action and then around 70 to 60 percent of the game is RPG. So it's not really a 50/50 - it's actually more RPG-oriented. That being said, it's more about the storyline. There's just a lot more there. Just the play-time or length of what you'll get out of this is a bit more than what you'd expect from a pure action game.

We've been getting a lot of questions asking us around how long the play time will be. Up until now we've been saying around 25 hours, but when I actually told the development staff that it would take 25 hours they actually said 'No, no, it'll probably take a lot more than that to complete the game.' [laughs]

Something I've seen other action RPGs from Japan wrestle with, including Final Fantasy, is ensuring the traditional turn-based fans aren't driven away by the speedy action. Has that been a point for you also?

So, the difficulty level will be a little bit different from what you might expect from a Platinum game. We wanted it to be so that you'll be able to clear the game by leveling up the characters rather than having to really rely on your own skills.

I can't really go into detail right now, but... our previous title has different kinds of genres all mashed up together into one. We have that in this title as well. For Platinum Games, that made it a very challenging game for them to work on because they had to do a lot of things that they weren't really used to doing.


Beyond just leveling up and such, will there be other concessions for non-action fans? Difficulty levels or the like?

We do plan to have multiple difficulty levels or modes. That's especially because we think that fans of the previous title do like Yoko-san's story or Okabe-san's music and they might not be particularly good at playing action games, or they may not feel that they're as good. We wanted to have those fans able to enjoy this title.

When we started this project, I actually had a request for Platinum Games to make it a little cool, make it really flashy... but also to try not to make it too difficult.

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The feeling that you get from playing this game, I think it's already achieved that kind of goal, so it's a little bit simpler than what they're known for, but we still plan to have different modes of difficulty within that as well.

We're also planning to announce soon about a mode that I think everyone will be surprised with... so it'd be great if everyone could look forward to that announcement as well.

There's also a constant AI partner presence, too. Do they make a big difference in combat?

It is possible to give slight direction to how your AI partner moves - a bit like some other RPGs we've created. But right now the AI... well, if you tell it to be very aggressive it'll actually go out and fight enemies on its own! It'll start attacking enemies without you. That's something we're still adjusting... we don't know yet how that'll be in the final product, but at least for now that's what the AI is doing.

In one of the versions we created while implementing these AIs there was a moment where we changed the camera to just hide where he was, and by the time we turned the camera back to reveal him, he'd actually killed everyone on screen! That wouldn't really work out as a game to play, so we're working on putting some adjustments in there.


Okabe-san, your music for Nier has really taken on a life of its own. But this is a faster-paced, action-packed game by comparison. Have you had to take a different approach?

Keiichi Okabe: So... I created music in a way that fans of the previous soundtrack will also enjoy. I tried to keep what was good about the last soundtrack in this game as well, so the action sequences have become a lot more powerful. But what makes the music for Nier very unique is that I didn't make music per-scene or per-movement - I made it more by character's emotions and their sentiment. I believe that's what makes the music of Nier very unique.

As far as the question goes of if the music has become a bit more fierce to accommodate the increased ferocity of the action, yes, that might be true - but that wasn't because of the action sequences becoming more fierce or flashy. Instead it was because the world is a little bit different, the setting is a little bit different... the sentiment of the characters is a little bit different than the previous game.

So, yes, it will be different, but it will stay close to the kinds of emotions the characters have, and I believe that I've still been able to stay within that Nier flavor in the atmosphere of the music that I create.

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You've just announced that the game is coming to PC as well as PS4. How did that come about?

Yosuke Saito: Platinum Games are known in Japan as a great developer, but I think they might even be a little bit more popular in the West. I wanted this game to be more available for everyone worldwide. In Japan, not many people play video games on PC, but we've heard that there's many, many gamers who play on PC in the West. We always wanted to - we started planning for a PC version from the very start of the project.

We've also asked Platinum Games to work on the PC version for us, so there shouldn't be any differences between the PS4 version and the PC version.


I'm a little curious - given the system architectures are quite similar now, was there a particular reason you've skipped over Xbox One? Especially given that Nier appeared on Xbox 360 with a slightly different version in Japan - was there no temptation to do that again?

To be quite frank with you, it was a lot of work last time to create two versions with different characters and such! I do think we were able to gather up a really great team of people to work on this title this time, so I didn't want to split their focus. That's why we wanted to just do one version this time - that was decided from the get-go.

So, I think this isn't just our company - I think a lot of other companies also do it - but we actually start creating our games now on high-spec PCs and then optimize for the different consoles we release on. Since we already thought about releasing on Steam from the get-go, we'd already built the game in such a way that it would play on PC.

As I said, this is especially so because we've heard in Europe that there are a lot of PC gamers. To port that over and optimize it for Xbox One requires a number of extra steps. I think that is way too much for us right now, so we've decided to only go for the one console platform.

Nier Automata is slated to arrive on PS4 and PC in Early 2017.

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