My Switch port’s hype cycle has become painfully repetitive in the years since the hybrid handheld console was first released. A game that interests me is advertised. I’m excited to finally have it in a portable form, kicking off months of anticipation and preparation. And then when I play it, I’m left disappointed. There have been exceptions, of course, but this disappointment has largely been the norm. Thankfully, nier automata is one of those exceptions.
Honestly, it’s remarkable that the Switch version of Nier Automata pulls this off. As time has gone on, I’ve realized that the Switch is less and less likely to be my platform of choice for games that ship across multiples. The release of Valve’s Steam Deck, which houses a host of great RPGs, hasn’t helped this. As a result, when Automata was announced, I raised an eyebrow. It looked like a port destined to disappoint. And yet here I am, as RPG Site’s unofficial Switch Port Nerd, able to say five wonderful little words:
This is a miraculous port.
The developers of this port bothered to use all the features of the system, even if it was not necessary. We went above and beyond.
I don’t understand how Square Enix made a game like Nier Automata look and run so well on undeniably outdated hardware – there seems to be magic at play. PlatinumGames has struggled to make less ambitious games work as well, the best example being their Nintendo-published action-adventure Astral Chain. That game was also designed for the Switch, so seeing Automata top it was something I never expected in a million years.
This piece is going to talk about the Switch version of Nier Automata on a mechanical level. Technological things. If you want to read about the full game, both as a game and as a work of art, I suggest you read Resplendent 10/10 from Josh since 2017. For what it’s worth, I mostly agree with Josh’s verdict: this is a really special game. And if you haven’t played it before and don’t have any other platform to play it on, this port gets a glowing recommendation.
I don’t know what the target resolution is, but as James said in his preview article earlier this month, it’s not too far off what the PS4 could achieve. It offers a sharp image, especially during cinematics. The textures have degraded if you really look after them, but on my OLED Switch model I found it to be a high quality visual experience. The pop-in that normally mars open world Switch games is much less of an issue here thanks to an impressive draw distance. The grass load is almost imperceptible, as are the textures. The few loading times that exist are also reasonable based on my experience. There is a long load when starting the game, but that’s about it.
I played most of the game decoupled, because this is probably why a lot of people are looking to try this version of the game. Switch fans are used to the trade-offs that need to be made to get games to run on the machine. If you’re looking for the highest possible resolution running at a perfect 60 FPS, you’ll probably never bother with the switch port anyway. 30 FPS is something I’m willing to deal with if it means I can play a game like this on the go (or let’s be honest here, in bed). Automata hits this easily most of the time, with occasional crashes when things get hectic. While I have no way of calculating actual performance, those drops don’t seem to go below 20fps at their worst, and that was only during special finishing attacks. What worried me most was how it would perform in the open world, but that concern was unfounded. In both ways of playing, the performance is quite good.
Despite being a Platinum Action game with pretty flashy combat, Automata’s main draw for me has always been the open world and story. I’m glad the combat holds up well, and the game is a lot of fun, but this port proves that you can afford to cut the frame rate in half without ruining the Automata experience. Despite not performing as well as its main console counterpart, the sense of speed has remained largely intact.
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Aside from the new costumes (which weren’t available during the review period), there are some new and unique features exclusive to this version. I was quite surprised to find that this version had motion controls via the joycons, something that feels like a generally underused feature of the platform. When playing with both Joycons, the left one can be used to dash or flip, and the right one can be used to swing either of your weapons depending on the direction. Most people probably won’t use this, and it’s entirely optional, but I’m glad you bothered to include it. If you play Undocked, they also recreated rubbing the trackpad into a dualshock to stroke your Pod with the Switch touchscreen. The developers of this port bothered to use all the features of the system, even if it was not necessary. We went above and beyond.
This port may be a miracle, but it’s not perfect. I noticed an extreme visual bug in the Ruined City when switching from docked to undocked. The lighting system began to go haywire, rapidly changing every second. It’s the kind of flicker that could be of medical concern for certain users, so it seems like a big problem that will need to be fixed. All the water also stopped flowing, causing the tiny bodies of water to empty out. The only way I was able to get back to normal was by restarting the game. I’ve only been able to run into this error once, but considering the game doesn’t have an autosave, this could lead to issues with losing progress if you can’t afford to go back to a save point. If you suffer from epilepsy, it may be worth waiting for Square to address this in a patch.
Outside of that (arguably glaring) issue, this port might be one of the best PS4-to-Switch conversions I’ve ever played. In the short time that I had to revisit Nier Automata on Switch, I found that I could easily replay all of this at my leisure. Even if you’ve played it before, this could be the ideal version to kick back and re-experience the story, or clean up any of the multiple endings You missed the first outing. For newcomers, it’s a perfect entry point to the series. It’s a comfortable experience that I’d recommend to both newcomers and fans who aren’t too picky about needing their games to run on a handheld at 1080p 60 FPS.
Sure, there are better and cheaper ways to play this game, but if the Switch is your console of choice, it’s worth it. I don’t know how the porting team pulled it off, but if the Switch really is here to stay, I’d like to see them take on more ambitious projects.