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Nier Automata Is a Game of the Year and Here Are Tons


first_img I tried to show Nier: Automata to a colleague. I told him that it’s an example of how a game can be art, exploring philosophical questions with fantastic audio and visual presentation, coupled with mechanics that are both rock-solid on their own right and play with how we interact with games.Then he saw a blindfolded teenage boy walk out of a vending machine.Nier: Automata is a masterpiece, but one that’s still really weird in a really Japanese way. That’s because Yoko Taro is an auteur game designer in the vein of Suda 51, Swery65, and Hideo Kojima: a Japanese game developer with unique vision, and is also a huge weirdo. I don’t use that term lightly. The dude wears a skull-faced moon mask in public.Anyway, Nier: Automata. I’m going to warn you, the rest of this post will be full of spoilers for Nier: Automata, Nier, and Drakengard. If you’re remotely interested in taking the full Nier: Automata ride, you should stop reading right now, get the game, and play through it three times. Don’t worry, it won’t be repetitive. If you’re okay with spoilers, read on. It’s time to dissect exactly how Yoko Taro is incredible.What’s Up With NierNier is a spin-off of Drakengard (Drag-On Dragoon in Japan, which is a much cooler name). Specifically, it’s based on the joke E ending of Drakengard where the main characters and final boss fall through a portal and end up in Tokyo, where they’re shot down by JSDF fighters. Nier shows how that joke ending completely doomed humanity.The giant Queen Beast disintegrated over Tokyo and particles of her body spread throughout the world. They caused White Chlorination Syndrome, whose victims are given a choice by these particles: Make a pact with an evil god and become a violent zombie, or refuse and become salt. To fix White Chlorination Syndrome, humanity devised Project Gestalt. Their solution was to separate humans’ souls from their bodies and become shadelike Gestalts, wait until White Chlorination Syndrome dies off, then put their souls in new bodies called Replicans. This took a little longer than expected, and eventually, Replicants grew their own souls.Cue the events of Nier, where the monsters you’re fighting through the game are the souls of humanity itself, and you aren’t even made aware of this until the end. Then, on the second playthrough, you can hear the shades’ screams and realize that you’ve been literally killing babies and children in soul form. Welcome to the bleakest game you could possibly make based off of the equivalent of Silent Hill 2’s UFO ending.Robots Fighting RobotsNier: Automata takes place nearly 10,000 years in the future. Humanity has been forced from the Earth by invading aliens, who sent machine life forms down to take over. For thousands of years, the last remaining humans have been asleep on the moon while their army of YoRHa androids fight the machine life forms. There’s a twist in that premise you can already guess, but it doesn’t matter as much to the narrative as you would think. It does, however, tie heavily into the game’s philosophical themes.Like in the first Nier, you see that the hordes of enemies you’ve been fighting can be incredibly human. They’re thinking and feeling, and have conversations and try to build families. And you know from the beginning that, like in the first Nier, you’re basically playing what should be an empty doll. All of the characters are machines, either androids created by humans or machine life created by aliens, but they’re all artificial. They’re automata.The big question is, what does it mean that they’re automata? Those machines you fight scream for mercy when they aren’t going berserk themselves, and through the first two playthroughs, 9S tries to reassure 2B and the player that they’re just emulating human behaviors. They aren’t actually feeling pain, or fear, or grief, and are just going through the programmed motions.Question HumanityIn terms of video games, that’s what they undeniably are doing. They were programmed to scream and run and get angry by the developers. That is certain. But in the world of the game, that line isn’t nearly as clear. It is, however, still there. You see that before you first meet the brothers Adam and Eve, where a group of robots are seemingly holding some form of domestic orgy, clanking their parts together mechanically despite lacking any genitalia (Adam and Eve also lack genitalia, though they’re both the bishiest Sephiroth-looking boys you’ve ever seen in a video game). Before the robots go berserk from your presence, you can’t tell if they’re really engaging in weirdly executed human behavior or are just emulating it.The question continues throughout the game, as you meet Pascal and his village of pacifist machines, and the robotic kingdom of the Forest King, and the robotic cult in the factory (a sequence that has one of the best tracks out of the game’s entire, spectacular soundtrack). For every new character or group you meet, the question becomes that much harder to answer.The Forest King’s kingdom appears to be a castle and a forest where robots are zealously following the mysterious Forest King. The Forest King led his group of robots to the forest, where they decided to stop waging war against the androids and simply create their own kingdom. It seems to be a genuine act of independence. However, the Forest King died before the events of the game, and his knights have been simply protecting an undeveloped machine baby as the new Forest King, puzzled by why it won’t grow and lacking any idea of what to do with themselves.The robotic cult seemed to rise quickly after you beat Adam, and when you enter the factory, it appears to be an earnest group of religious machines with their own rituals. You’re led to the leader of the cult, who is an empty robot shell, whose head falls off as you approach. The chants of the cult become the constant drone of fanatical machinery as you have to fight your way out.Pascal is the most humanlike character in the game but is visually unmistakably a machine. He led his machines to stop fighting and start a village where they could build a community and raise families. He seems like more of a friendly, complex person than any android in the game, and the villagers appear to be following their own independent interests and pursuits. Then something happens in the third playthrough which raises both existential and ethical questions, and that is something I won’t spoil.If the actions of these three groups aren’t enough to cast doubt on whether or not they’re actually sentient in some form, the notes you can pick up starting in the second playthrough make the question even more confusing. One note, in particular, a research log about the robots, observes that when left alone the machine life with pursuing a variety of philosophical, scientific, literary, and political approaches. They’ll try anything. And when they fail at something, they try again. And they fail in the exact same way. Why are they trying? Why are they doing the same things? Are they going through the motions, or trying to grow as people?The androids, actually made by humanity, are in an even worse state. You can guess one of the game’s big twists based on how Nier ended: Humanity is long-extinct, and the moon only holds a server with some information about humanity and a set of preprogrammed transmissions to send to YoRHa regularly. That alone is rough, but the third playthrough shows that the situation is even more dire than that.Kill Em All 11,945YoRHa was designed to fail. It was intended for YoRHa to be destroyed once it reached a certain point so a new generation of androids could continue the cycle, preserving the war that gave the androids purpose. With humanity dead, with no war to fight the androids had no reason to continue existing. Meanwhile, the machines were building a cannon to either destroy the moon server or launch an ark with machine life on it to seed another world.And all through the game it’s never entirely answered exactly what truly controlled the androids or the machines. YoRHa was developed and clearly had orders to function in the name of self-preservation, but it isn’t explicitly shown who was making sure the cycle would repeat, or how YoRHa would be rebuilt each time. The machines were clearly controlled by a mysterious “terminal” intelligence, but it isn’t quite shown exactly how it developed along with, before, or after the network administrators Adam and Eve.The nature of humanity continues to be questioned without humans ever being part of it, because of the actions of the androids and machines. And the nature of god continues to be questioned without any divine being part of it, because of the nature of the forces that influence them.These are really interesting philosophical questions asked by an action RPG video game where you play a blindfolded gothic lolita woman with a huge katana, dodging bullet patterns from robots that look like rusty versions of the Android mascot. Also, there’s a skull-moon-faced boy who rides around on a cart and sells you things when you get his attention by shooting him.Yeah, Nier: Automata is weird in a Japanese way, but it uses that Japanese weirdness to explore really, really interesting philosophical questions, all with the satisfying responsiveness of Platinum Games gameplay and one of the best soundtracks of the console generation. Game of the year contender, even outside of our regular schtick with the title. Yoko Taro is a nihilistic psychotic skull-faced moon man, but he made some excellent art with this game.Purchase Nier: Automata here from Amazon for $49.99. Game of the Year: Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive PeopleThe Witcher 3 Game of the Year edition launches this month, Gwent beta d… Stay on targetlast_img

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