Booting up Nier: Automata for the first time was weighed by heavy odds. The game had come out over two years ago and yet, still remained on my shelf, unplayed. There was no real reason for it, just that other games and life itself got in the way and the game got pushed back into near obscurity in my backlog. Since then, the game has gone on to win many awards, garnered critical acclaim, gained a cult following and now has a game of the year edition (or Game of the YoRHa). That’s a lot of expectations to put on a game for newcomers, so when my friend finally convinced me to play it I was nervous but excited.
Going back to 2005, Tim Schafer of Double Fine Productions released his crazy and absurd vision to the world in the form of Psychonauts, a bizarre and wacky platformer revolving around a character who enters peoples’ minds with a host of psychic abilities. It’s a premise that was hard to sell and shouldn’t have worked, and it didn’t, at the time anyway. On release, Psychonauts was received by great reviews but failed to meet demands in the eyes of sales. It was considered a failure commercially and any hopes of a sequel were crushed. But yet, in 2019 many people are eagerly awaiting the release of the upcoming sequel (appropriately named Psychonauts 2). How did a game that sold so poorly even manage to get funded for a sequel? Much like Nier: Automata, this is a game shrouded in critical acclaim and a heavy word of mouth from its cult fans, and starting this recently gave me the same feelings I had when I booted up Nier.
10 hours into Nier: Automata I was underwhelmed. The story was disjointed, the world was lifeless and the combat was barebones. I sat there, as I’d slain one of the thousands of same enemies wondering to myself, what am I missing? Everywhere I look is nothing but praise, my friend gave it the highest recommendation and we are on the same page when it comes to gaming, yet, nothing in this world struck me as beyond average. Every set piece I arrived at, I would hear him in our party chat exclaiming how he loved this part or how great the next part is. However, I felt empty. Each scenario and challenge the game threw at me left me feeling deflated, unfulfilled and desperately wondering why this game has the hype it does. Hype is a powerful tool, one that can make or break a game and one that ultimately ruined my first playthrough of Nier.
During Microsoft’s E3 conference of 2019 Tim Schafer took to the stage as the head of Xbox Game Studios, Matt Booty just announced his company Double Fine Productions would be joining the Xbox brand. Following that we were graced with the Psychonauts 2 trailer, which showcased what appears to be an incredible upcoming platformer. The crowd was going crazy for it and further showed the power of hype over the years. I’ve heard a lot about Psychonauts and everything I had seen leads me to believe it would be a game I would love, from it’s Tim Burton-esque world to the intense platforming. The first game had been sitting in my PlayStation 4 library for months, bought on a sale purely on the screenshots. Now was the time to try it, but this time, I would ignore the fanfare and the hype. After Nier, I wanted to accept the game on its own terms, how it was represented to me, not built upon a foundation of other people’s thoughts and opinions. Now, 10 hours into Psychonauts, I’m loving it.
Playthrough two of Nier: Automata has been a completely different experience. As I was exploring my first few hours of Psychonauts I couldn’t help but feel my thoughts were mirrored in a polar opposite. Everything clicked instantly, the world, the characters and the gameplay was constantly pushing me to explore further into this insane creation which was clearly full of passion and ideas. I decided it was time to play Nier on its own terms, canceling out the opinions of my friend and random strangers online. It clicked instantly. My second playthrough has shown me how wrong my first opinion was of this game and how hype had perhaps clouded my judgment. The second playthrough takes you through all the same story beats and progression that the first did but as a second character, but fundamentally, is the same game to a point. But this time the world felt more alive, the combat appears more flashy and exhilarating and the story came together like a jigsaw that was just begging to be finished. All of it made sense and the game has now sunk its claws into me until I’ve finished my second and third playthrough, maybe even a fourth.
Every year, the same cycle happens. Games are announced, opinions are forged, the game is released, a consensus is made. But how powerful can the opinions be on someone and how do they reflect your own judgment of the game? If I hadn’t of heard and read everything I had about Nier: Automata, would it have clicked instantly? It’s scary to think how easily we can be influenced in the hype surrounding a product that from an outsider’s perspective, it can be hard to penetrate. E3 this year has proven again how strong-willed opinions can be with some games receiving an insane amount of hype (I’m looking at you Cyberpunk 2077). But it’s unfair to judge a game with any sort of prenotion, whether that be good or bad. After dozens of hours with both of these games, I am hooked and that’s due to my own thoughts and feelings, not others and as this console generation draws to a close and we receive some of this generations heaviest hitters to close this era, I think it’s only fair that we all do the same and appreciate all games for what they are and not what others have convinced us.