NieR: Automata: Breaking down the franchise for the future and reflecting on the worlds of Yoko Taro
The Word of God is deceitful
The Twist: It was all a dream, but not really.
The girl of your dreams, but with a twist.
After the events of Drakengard Ending E, where the Queen Grotesquerie is killed, magic is introduced into the “real world” and begins infecting the people of Japan with the “White Chlorination Syndrome.” Humans that come into contact with these particles are either turned into mindless, pale white zombies or turned into statues of salt. The government of Japan decides the situation is too far gone and calls for nukes, but instead of being destroyed the magic particles are spread throughout the world.
NieR: Gestalt opens with players trying to survive in this post-apocalyptic setting. A man is fighting off monsters to protect his sick daughter, and looking for food to keep them alive. The game then flashes forward to 1,300+ years later and reveals the main character was just having a weird dream.
Except it wasn't a dream.
Players go through the game fighting enemies called Shades, violent monsters that just want to kill humans. However, as more of the story unfolds, it's revealed that not everything is as it seems: The Shades are more human than anyone knows.
To survive the WCS pandemic, humanity initiated the Gestalt Project. Human souls were removed from their bodies and made into Gestalts, which held their memories and genetic information. This information would be used to create artificial bodies, called Replicants, that were immune to the disease, could fight the zombies off, and then become the bodies for humans to return to after the crisis was over and all of the magic particles were gone. Whenever a Replicant would die, its information was added to the Gestalt, and then a new Replicant would be created.
Humanity survived the WCS pandemic thanks to the Replicant system, but...
While the plan worked in that WCS and the zombies were wiped out completely, there was a fatal flaw in the plan: Replicants eventually became self-aware. These soulless bodies became their own people, and human Gestalts, later called Shades, couldn't be put back into a body if it's Replicant became self-aware. This is a huge problem.
Replicants cannot reproduce on their own, they have to be created from a Gestalt. Gestalts can't return to their bodies, and the “Relapse” phenomenon caused by the lack of a proper host body leads to Gestalts becoming less sentient and more violent over time. At the same time, when a Gestalt Relapses, the Replicant suffers a new disease, called the Black Scrawl, and dies. Since the Gestalt has been corrupted, that Replicant cannot be reborn.
These two products of humanity rely on each other for survival but are directly opposed to each other in their goals. The Replicants just want to live, but without Gestalts, they will die. Gestalts want their bodies back before they relapse and become corrupted, but cannot inhabit them. Contrary to what players are lead to believe throughout the game, there are no villains in this story, just victims of circumstance.
To hammer this point home further, it is revealed that the main character is the Replicant Nier, and the antagonist is the man from the dream sequence, the Nier Gestalt. They're both parts of the same person, with the exact same goal, saving their daughter, but in diametrically opposed positions due to the nature of the Gestalt/Replicant relationship. There is no hope in this situation either: If Replicant Nier wins his daughter's Gestalt will continue to corrupt, eventually killing her and making it so she cannot be reborn. Gestalt Nier successfully puts his daughter into her Replicant body, but she is rejected, dooming both daughters to certain, if eventual, death.
The best New Game+ ever created.
I've got nothing witty to post here, so gaze upon Yoko Taro.
Do you like New Game+? It's a cool feature, but most people don't feel the minor changes justify a second, often easier, playthrough of a game they just beat. NieR breaks that mold. Its New Game+ allows players to understand the dialogue of Shades, as well as catch more information on the Tritagonist Kaine.
What does understanding the Shades accomplish to make NieR's the undeniable greatest New Game+ ever created? It reveals that the player was the antagonist the entire time. It's like The Usual Suspects' Kaizer Soze reveal, complete with hints strewn about throughout the game, except done in a manner that can only be achieved through the superior nature of the gaming medium.
- In the early portion of the game, Shades will not attack players first. This only changes after the player gets Weiss and the ability to cast magic, which is anathema to them: Magic is the source of virtually all human suffering in their world.
- The tiny shades in the field area will drop children's toys. You may say that the shades could have murdered a Replicant child and taken the toy, but why would a mindless beast that does nothing but kill carry these things around?
- At one point Weiss explains that a particular Shade is a fully sentient being, and Replicant Nier still murders it without a second thought. He does not care that it's an intelligent creature, and throughout the game, he declares his intentions to destroy every last Shade there is.
- When traversing the Shadowlord's (Gestalt Nier's) castle, Kaine begins to tell herself that the enemies are just shades to keep herself from wavering. When players can finally understand what the Shades are saying, the actual story may turn their stomachs.
Replicant Nier, and the rest of Replicant society caved to the generalization of Shades as violent monsters based on the actions of a minority that had Relapsed and become corrupted. The entirety of the game is a made up of Replicant Nier slaughtering every Shade he can: Shades that have learned to recreate their lives, Shades begging him to spare the children, and even the Shade children calling for their parents.
Replicant Nier is a murderer, and we know how Yoko Taro feels about the endings murderers deserve.
The Legendary True Ending
The true ending to Nier is a bit of a legend among gamers. There are more people that have heard of the ending than have actually played the game. Why is that? Because it erases all of your save data in front of you, which is nightmare fuel to a certain subset of gamers. Not just the current save either, any NieR save data on your system gets trashed.
NieR's true ending can only be obtained by doing several playthroughs, as it requires players to unlock the other endings and collect all of the weapons hidden throughout the game. This plays into the genius of the ending: The player and Replicant Nier continually repeat their mistakes. Each ending becomes worse and worse as players use Replicant Nier to kill more innocents in the process of trying to uncover all of the endings.
Ending A looks like it will be good, but Replicant Nier killed his own Gestalt, ensuring his and his daughter's death via Black Scrawl, and destroyed the only means of forcing humanity back into a united whole. Ending B reveals Gestalt Nier's despair at having failed to save anyone, including his daughter Yonah. It closes with the surprise that Emil survived his apparent death and he foreshadows a clash between Replicant Nier and Kaine.
Ending C is a continuation of A and B, which reveals that Kaine actually succumbs to both Black Scrawl and Relapse, due to her nature as half Replicant and Shade. Replicant Nier battles and kills her to end her suffering then lives out the rest of his short time with his daughter as he did in Ending A. And don't forget, every Shade that Replicant Nier kills dooms a fellow Replicant to die of Black Scrawl. He has doomed all of humanity to extinction.
The only good decision you'll ever make you filthy degenerate.
Ending D is the true ending and shows that Nier's murderous path has been so horrible that the only way to redeem him is to sacrifice his entire existence for Kaine's life. By doing this, he is removed from having ever existed, meaning he was never there to commit the countless atrocities of all his previous playthroughs, and this is represented by the player losing their completed save file.
The thing that interests me the most, is the evolution of Yoko Taro's philosophy from Drakengard to NieR. In Drakengard, players controlled abjectly horrible people and put them into increasingly worse situations with endings befitting their actions. Each new ending requires players to struggle more, only to discover progressively worse endings.
In Nier, Replicant Nier is an asshole throughout the game, but he's mostly ignorant of his transgressions. There are no happy endings for Replicant NieR, as he's still a murderer, but the punishment lashes out at the players themselves. Replicant NieR had little to no idea that he was becoming one of history's greatest monsters, but the players not only became aware of the truth, they continued on in spite of it by continuing into New Game+.
The players are willfully murdering innocents for their own selfish sense of satisfaction that comes from completion, and that is why players are “rewarded” by seeing all of their hard work erased in front of their very eyes.