Nier: Automata Ver1.1a Season 1, Episodes 1-13 Review - IGN (2024)

An anime version of Nier: Automata seemed like a terrible idea. Unless you’re just there to gawk at the character designs (tsk tsk), the 2017 action RPG is good because it embraces the benefits and limitations of its medium. It’s a video game that forces decisions and experiences – like witnessing the steady collapse of Pascal’s robot village and having to choose between joining or killing your devoted android pal 9S at the end – onto us that are more impactful or meaningful because we took an active part in their unfolding. And yet, credit to anime studio A-1 Pictures for braving the potential minefield and delivering an opening round of Nier: Automata Ver1.1a that both justified its existence and made sense as part of the Nier universe’s blend of cool robot combat and philosophical conversations about sentience. With new episodes making their U.S. debut on Crunchyroll this month, Ver1.1a has started steering a little deeper into what made the first 12 so intriguing.

Like the game, Nier: Automata Ver1.1a takes place in the distant future, during a war between the army of “Machine Lifeforms” created by a mysterious alien race and android soldiers like protagonists 2B and 9S, who were built by humanity’s last survivors. In episode 12, the anime deployed the game’s best twist: The aliens were wiped out by their own robot army a long time ago, and the human race is completely extinct. But that “Ver1.1a” in the title is meant to indicate that this isn’t an exact retelling of Automata, and there are a number of curious alterations that hint at something more interesting going on. Part 2 of Season 1 also makes what could end up being a big change, and there’s a fun shock to the way it plays out after it’s teased over the course of "Reckless Bra[V]ery."

But at this point it’s still unclear how much it matters that characters who were alive in the game are dead in the series, or that backstories that were only vaguely hinted at or addressed in supplementary materials (of which there are many for Nier: Automata) are made canon. Is there something meaningful behind it, or is it just a way for Ver1.1a to set itself apart from Automata? Even if it’s the latter, it’s a good way to engage skeptical Nier fans. Imagine if you read A Game of Thrones and then the HBO version didn’t kill Ned Stark. You’d want to tune in just to see what the heck was going to happen, even if he just got his head cut off a little later than you expected.

The first batch of episodes did something similar, thought not as dramatic, with the reveal that the android resistance on Earth is being led by Lily – a very minor character in the canon – and not familiar game character Anemone (who, as seen in flashback episode “[L]one Wolf,” died in an earlier battle). That change seems a little arbitrary, but “Reckless Bra[V]ery” goes further by explicitly showing 2B execute 9S so no one else learns that the humans are dead, which is covered in the video game but not shown so directly. Doing it this way makes it seem like even more of a shocking betrayal: We’re less inclined to accept the reasoning for it simply because we’re not controlling 2B. We only know her as the cold and closed-off android soldier she presents herself as to 9S.

Plot aside, Ver1.1a still looks gorgeous, mostly because the character designs were all really good in 2017 and are still good now. But the game had sort of a washed-out softness that gave its post-apocalyptic settings a bit of lived-in charm, and that’s lacking in the anime. It’s not a big deal, and it’s a hard problem to solve in the shift between something playable to something only watchable. But it makes the world of Ver1.1a feel like more of a setting than an actual place – which is mildly ironic, since the world is pointedly not very lively in the game either, what with all the annihilation of Earth’s flora and fauna.

There remains a ton of potential in Nier: Automata Ver1.1a, and that still could be true into the final moments of the final episode (whenever that happens). The game famously had dozens of endings, with the canonical ones requiring multiple playthroughs – though “you have to beat it six times!” was always little more than gamer braggadocio, since the game is different in all of those playthroughs. There’s always a chance that the anime is going to do something wild and new at any point, like permanently killing off one of the two main characters or putting us so firmly in 9S’s point-of-view that A2, the surprise third protagonist who has been teased a few times in the anime, comes across as more of an outright villain. And if Ver1.1a doesn’t do any of that, then isn’t that just subverting expectations in a different way?

Verdict

Making a Nier: Automata anime that’s as enjoyable as playing Nier: Automata was always going to be a challenge. Through the beginning of Season 1, Part 2, Ver 1.1a has so far managed to cleverly avoid that by faithfully retelling the original story while keeping old fans on their toes by swapping around the supporting cast and refusing to shy away from some of the bleaker details on the edges of Automata’s story. It’s no replacement for Automata, but if you can’t be bothered to put in the time to get all 26 endings for the game, or if you already sacrificed your save file in order to support future players (as Automata asks you to do at the very end), it remains a compelling substitute.

Nier: Automata Ver1.1a Season 1, Episodes 1-13 Review - IGN (2024)

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