Just beat ending A of Nier A. As I understand it it’s past this point that most people start loving the game, so I’ll push on. But the ending itself made me think of how narrative and gameplay really stand against each other most of the time in gaming.
In this case it was a truly lousy boss fight, with boring attacks which almost incited you to play it in the most boring way possible rather than push you to the fun parts of the combat system. No doubt a very good player can get through it in a stylish way. But for me, after dying a few times I was (and still am) slightly pissed off, because it felt cheap both to die to a boring attack pattern, and to win through keeping a distance and just hold R1.
That’s a terrible emotion to finally beat a boss with and then have a presumably emotional cutscene sprung at you: It did absolutely nothing for me. Except highlight a dilemma that narrative heavy games face: How do you keep a story going in a game at the same time as you challenge the player?
Sure, you can lower the difficulty of your game, and have the player just run through it for the story. This isn’t without some problems of its own, such as the ever present problem of making sure that the player isn’t bored by the systems you make them run through, but not challenged enough to annoy them (unless that’s what you want to do, in which case, you’re a brave soul). I’m not really convinced that this is a good solution. It often hits the middle ground between the difficulty itself being a part of the narrative (as in eg. what I’ve played of Dark Souls) and the narrative-only route of games like Kentucky Route Zero.
Yeah, you can add a boss fight that is challenging for a decently skilled player, but then you hit a snag if a player just bumps against this boss but just gets annoyed at them, while you want to them to get to the next cutscene in a certain mood. I’m just not sure that this sort of narrative-heavy-but-with-challenges style works in most cases. Unless the narrative and the difficulty complement each other they are going to feel as dissonant parts of a whole.
This is sort of the feeling I have when playing Nier Automata. For the most part, it’s pretty simple. But what do the boss fights add by either giving the bosses a ton of hp (most of them have a shit ton) or boring attack patterns that seem to rely on you screwing up rather than pushing you to perform well? There’s certainly a tone of escalation that they capture (and I wouldn’t call most of them bad), but they just don’t bridge the gap to enhance the experience itself for me. They’re not challenging enough to be fun, nor straightforward enough to not disturb the pacing. It’s an uncomfortable middle ground that doesn’t please me.
I’ll see how this develops in the rest of the game, but those are my thoughts one ending in.