Genre: Hack/Slash, RPG, Shoot’em Up
Released Date: February 23, 2017
The year 2017 was an important year for the gaming community, especially the die-hard fans of Horizon Zero Dawn. Featuring a dynamic and compelling story combined with a versatile combat mechanics, the game received an 8.9/10 rating on IGN, 4.4/5 rating on GameStop, and ultimately taking the top spot and title of ‘Best Game of the Year’. Naturally, controversies followed and numerous fans questioned the seemingly biased decision of the Western gaming community. Their hesitation derived from Zero Dawn’s direct competition, Nier Automata.
Written by Yoko Taro and produced by Square Enix and Platinum Games, Nier Automata is an award-winning game for its memorable soundtracks yet not for a compelling storyline nor a purpose in its story… at least for the so-called game review experts.
On the surface, Nier Automata’s storyline is arguably not the most original: human civilization was long extinct due to an alien invasion— though this fact was hidden to both the players and the androids—, and in their stead, replaced by an extensive war between the YorHa androids and the alien’s machines. Yet, through this terribly mediocre medium of a plot, Yoko Taro implemented such a unique and philosophical, non-linear storytelling method to his game that allowed players to have almost a personal connection towards his characters designs.
There were four main endings to the game, each giving players a different perspective on the storyline as it becomes layered over time. The first play-through provided a somewhat satisfying experience to the game, showcasing the relationship between 2B and 9S and introduces seemingly evil bosses machines that players have to grind through, as well as a satisfying ending. The second play-through, however, taught its audiences an important life lesson: “Empathy”.
Beauvoir, an area boss in Nier Automata, was depicted falling in love with Jean-Paul, a philosophical machine located in Pascal’s village. Upon learning the art of beautifying oneself through human’s books, Beauvoir started stealing parts of other machines to make herself more beautiful, and though she tried and tried, Jean-Paul never once looked at her. The boss fight itself was a reference to The Second Sex, written by philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, in that women were trapped within societal norms as being passive and inferior to males compared to how hard they tried. The game perfectly re-invented this concept through the intense Beauvoir boss fight; and despite her agonizing cries of “Look my way”, constantly locked its camera onto the player, refusing to look at Beauvoir even once. The audience must have felt empathetic towards Beauvoir, and despite the fight’s huge experience gain, players were somewhat rendered guilty and appalled for destroying such a pitiful machine who was only seeking love.
Empathy was not the only thing the game taught its audiences. Everyone who finished the third and fourth playthroughs would understand. What was really the meaning of our lives? Were humans only capable of falsifying their own reasons for survival, just like the YorHa androids and machines altogether? Yoko Taro, like all great storytellers, slapped this huge and impossible question upon the audiences’ faces like a cold bucket of water. The YorHa project turned out to be a manipulative means to give androids a reason to fight. Ultimately, humans, along with the aliens, were already extinct. The game itself is an embodiment of Waiting for Godot, written by Samuel Beckett, which depicted how meaningless the lives of humans actually were. At this point, 9S, who learned of this truth, has no choice but to accept what few choices he has left: to embrace the truth of meaninglessness or to be ignorant of meaninglessness.
Is everything meaningless?…
Metaphorically, just like 9S acceptance of reality, Yoko Taro puts the player up to an implacable test through route E, the final ending. This ending defines the make or break point of the game. Ironically, ending E was simply a shoot ‘em up style gameplay allowing players to shoot at the end credits as gentle way of saying F-you to Nier’s creator—for messing up the player’s beautiful day and toying with their emotions— However, it was almost impossible to finish the run solo and proved difficult even for the best experts in shoot ‘em up style games. Players could then choose to obtain help from other players by sacrificing other’s save game data, making themselves invincible throughout the playthrough. Here comes the twist. The game then asked the players if they wanted to offer up their hours and hours of saving data to help others completing the game and seeing through ending E. Perhaps Yoko Taro himself implies the uselessness of the player’s hours of playthrough. What meanings were there to keep the save file when you could help someone else’s clear this game and see through this masterpiece of an ending?
Nier Automata is a very responsive game, and that is not an overstatement. The game’s animation is top-notch, even comparable or better than popular titles such as Devil May Cry and Dark Souls. Similar to its hack and slash counterparts, dodging and combos are some of the most important aspects of these genres. Yoko Taro knew this, thereby implemented instantaneous animation cancellation mechanics that allows smooth controls and provided his players with some of the best hack and slash satisfaction.
In terms of grinding, Nier Automata is very lenient regarding this issue. Since the game’s main focus is its spectacular plot, a grindy mechanics will definitely hinder its overall message. Players can, therefore, expect a perfectly fast-paced and interesting experience in regards to progressing through its story.
Musical wise, Nier; Automata contains some of the best video game soundtracks of the decade. Having received The Game Award for Best Score/Soundtrack, the game perfectly utilized its soundtrack in a way that truly captivates its players. The subtleness of the game’s orchestral transition as players move from one location to another provide them with a smooth, relaxing, yet immersive atmospheric experience. Overall, Nier; Automata is simply perfect fitting for the themes and messages of the game.
Never will a game make its soundtrack stuck in its players head as Nier; Automata did… Period.
It is understandable for some video game critics to continue living in the ignorant of their meaningless lives. However, perhaps by trying to embrace the true worth of Nier, shallow players would finally learn the unforgettable life lesson taught within this masterpiece, philosophical of a game.
For those who have thoroughly completed Nier Automata… What did you all learn from this masterpiece? Did the game give you an overall different vibe and message? Feel free to share a comment below!