Crashing on the scene in 2017, NieR: Automata was a defining moment for Yoko Taro. Although the director has gained notoriety for the Drakengard series – including the original Deny on PS3 and Xbox 360 — and his unusual interviewsAutomata is the game that really put him and his team on the mainstream map.
Five years later, the game has arrived on Switch in the form of NieR:Automata The End of YoRHa Editing, a quite exceptional port of a true modern classic. But why now and not one, two, three years ago? Why 2022 is the time for Switch owners to jump into Automata, and what technical magic Virtuos’ dream team had to do to make Square Enix and PlatinumGames’ action-RPG work on Switch ?
We spoke to Taro, along with producer Yosuke Saito, composer Keiichi Okabe and Shi Qiang of Virtuos to celebrate the success of NieR:Automata, lament the lack of 2B in Super Smash Bros., and find out what makes this game so popular. Turns out even the team doesn’t really know…
Nintendo Life: It’s been over five years since NieR:Automata was first released. Why do you think the game has resonated with so many over the years?
YOKO Taro, director and screenwriter: You might not believe it everyone, but the real reason why NieR: Automata has been such a big hit is… total luck!!
Yosuke Saito, producer: It could be the intriguing mystery world of Mr. YOKO, the charismatic characters 2B and 9S of Yoshida Akihiko, the eccentric melodies of Mr. Okabe, or the sublime action game feel of the artisans at Platinum Games.
the real reason why NieR:Automata has been such a big hit is… total luck!!
But I think the main reason was probably the way Automata mixed all these different elements together to get the rating.
Keiichi Okabe, composer: I think that’s probably how the things that Mr. YOKO came up with and PlatinumGames’ ability to achieve those things and balance them came together so well.
After that, it was probably the power of my music. (Laughs)
Tarosan, you asked Saito-san for a Switch port of NieR:Automata at E3 2018. How do you feel now that it’s finally coming to fruition four years later?
YOKO: I’m extremely disappointed that we didn’t make it in time to get into Smash Bros…
This marks the series’ debut on a Nintendo console, what prompted you to finally make the jump to the Switch?
Saito: This is due to wanting to do something for the 5th anniversary and seeing Astral Chain and thinking that we might bring Automata to Nintendo Switch as well. I think we’ve managed to port the game to pretty impressive levels of loyalty, so I’d love to see everyone play it!
Virtuos has a strong background with Switch ports, what did you find working with them to bring the game to console?
i feel like i have no place left in the video game industry
Saito: I think it’s a great company and they’ve taken on various tough challenges on our behalf, so I’d love to work with them again if we get the chance!
Given Automata’s fast-paced action-RPG combat, was it a challenge to keep all the different visuals on screen for the Switch port?
Shi Qiang, Technical Studio Director at Virtuos: Indeed, it was quite tricky in some places. This is why we have been very thorough in our preparations.
The team started by quickly delineating where all the hotspots were, then developed an omnidirectional feature tracker for optimization. For the engine and the code, we did a global optimization on the CPU, the GPU and the shaders. We also did a full art optimization including all models, lighting, special effects, stamps and assets.
After the general optimization process was complete, we ran some feature spot checks on the complex scenes. For example, in the boss fight scenes, we have further optimized the level of detail of boss models, textures and lighting, including large-scale reconstruction of visual effects to adapt to the technical capabilities of the Switch.
After bringing Voice of Cards to Switch, did the success of this series influence your decision to bring the game to console?
Saito: Personally, I’d be happier to see things the other way around, with Switch players playing Automata and learning about the world of YOKO Taro through it, and then continuing to play Voice of Cards!
Has the success of NieR:Automata changed your approach to game development?
YOKO: We had more knowledgeable staff on this one so I had less to do. I mean, I feel like I have nothing left in the video game industry.
If there’s a practical reason why “you should be playing Automata on Switch because of XXX”, could you tell the Square Enix marketing team?
For those new to Automata, why should they choose the Switch version of the game?
YOKO: If there’s a practical reason why “you should be playing Automata on Switch because of XXX”, could you tell the Square Enix marketing team? I think they would be delighted to know. They might even buy you a beer. Not really…
Saito: I will answer as a player rather than a producer. With the incredibly engaging characters and worlds created by YOKO Taro, beautiful music by Okabe Keiichi and superior character design by Yoshida Akihiko, plus the fact that it’s created by PlatinumGames, one of the top game developers of action in the world, is there actually a reason NOT to play the Game?
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Thanks to Yoko Taro, Yosuke Sait, Keiichi Okabe and Shi Quiang for taking the time to talk to us about NieR:Automata The End of YoRHa Edition. You can grab the game right now on Switch.
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