NieR: Automata: Breaking down the franchise for the future and reflecting on the worlds of Yoko Taro

The Word of God is deceitful

NieR: Automata and the end of humanity.*

Those who played through the NieR: Automata demo know that the upcoming game takes full advantage of Platinum's over the top flair and Yoko Taro's knack for mindf*cking the audience. There was something mind blowing about literally fighting the stage, as the factory 2B, our new protagonist, was exploring transforms itself into an obscenely large robot. The shenanigans didn't stop there.

The demo's ending completely destroyed expectations fans had coming into it, and created more questions than it answered. Where does this demo fit into the timeline? Are 2B and 9S truly androids? Why are they not allowed to express emotion? If 2B and 9S die at the end, who do we control when the game comes out? What is the true state of humanity?

Yoko Taro claims that both NieR games take place in that same world, but at vastly different time periods. This is easily seen when comparing dates between the two games: NieR Gestalt took place around the year 3465, and the Nier Automata demo takes place on March 10, 11945. That's not a typo, that's just an age we'd never see in most human media. Something's not right though…

NieR lore currently states that Gestalts, the actual humans of NieR, go extinct in the year 4198, and aliens arrive on Earth in 5012. This doesn't seem to fit with NieR: Automata, where the humans are said to have fled to the moon when the war against the aliens' living machines turned sour. The aliens didn't arrive until almost 800 years after the functional extinction of humanity. How did humans flee to the moon if they went extinct?

I've got a theory on this.

A new Genesis?

Nier EmilEmil is still around.

In Nier: Gestalt, Emil is an ancient human that was experimented on to create an ultimate weapon. These experiments granted him seemingly eternal youth, and incredible magical power. Emil is not a Replicant, has no Gestalt, and is seemingly the only pure human left alive after the events of NieR: Gestalt. When Gestalts died out in 4198, all of the Replicants would have died as well due to Black Scrawl disease, but none of this would affect Emil. This can be seen by the fact that he survives well into the events of NieR: Automata.

By the end of Nier: Gestalt, Emil is the only known entity that possesses the innate ability to cast magic, which comes from the world of Drakengard, as previously mentioned. More specifically, the magic used by Emil has ties to the Cult of the Watchers, the group responsible for summoning the beast that would eventually crash into Japan and infect the Earth with deadly magic particles.

It's important to remember Emil's magic and its ties to the Cult of the Watchers, because we later see one of NieR: Automata's major new characters, Eve, sporting the symbol of the cult. It's possible that Eve's twin brother Adam also possesses the symbol. This is an important point for my theory.

Adam and Eve are both listed as humans, and possess magic powers tied to the Cult of the Watchers, but the only living creature that was human and had those very same powers was Emil. It's my belief that Emil is the origin of humans in NieR: Automata, a new Genesis for humanity that's alluded to by the names of Adam and Eve.

Furthermore, I would speculate that the aliens arrived on Earth, and through Emil, revived the human species. Thousands of years later, this would lead to conflict between the new humans and aliens. However, that's just my theory, and soon time will tell if it holds up as well as my Dark Souls theories.

What do you think the inevitable twist will be in NieR: Automata? How do you feel about Yoko Taro's philosophy on video game stories and their incorporation into game design? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below.

The Twist: It was all a dream, but not really.

Kaine NierThe 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.

Nier WCSHumanity 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.

Yoko TaroI'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.

For example:

  • 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.

nier eraseThe 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.

Nier Automata, my way too early pick for Game of the Year 2017, is almost upon us! The demo has been well received, thanks to its unique visual style, the slickest UI ever created, and simplified controls. Platinum Games has been working hard to distil the feel of a full-on character action game into a simplified Action-RPG, with great success. When combining that with Platinum's flair for over the top set pieces and Square Enix's superior visual designs, the result is something I can only describe as “Eyegasmic.”

There's also a healthy buzz making the rounds in most gaming communities, and there's even tons of fanart going around. Most of which is due to an NSFW photoshop, made by a troll. It turned into a small-scale scandal and resulted in one of the best responses from a developer ever. In fact, let this response be your first exposure to Yoko Taro if you're not familiar with his previous works.

Yoko Taro is different from your typical game developer, and that's why games bearing his name have some legendarily twisted stories, which stem from his own personal beliefs. To look at this, we're going into spoiler territory for Drakengard and the original NieR, before speculating on a possible twist in NieR: Automata. The odds are good most of you reading this have never played these games and never will, so you might as well disregard the spoiler warning for games that are over a decade old.

My theory on NieR: Automata, which may become a spoiler for the upcoming game and will spoil the end of the demo, will be tucked away safely on the last page.

Murderers do not get to have happy endings.

CaimNot your kind of heroes.

The driving theme behind Yoko Taro's stories is his belief that people shouldn't be rewarded for killing, and yet most video games focus on just that, so he puts killing into his games. With that in mind, he tries to write stories backward: He creates endings that range from depressing but positive, to holy sh*t what the hell is happening. These are all endings that killers deserve, with the more positive endings tied to the offending players and characters, invariably murderers in someone's eyes, having to suffer.

Starting with the ending makes it easier to come up with events that would justify their dark nature. Yoko Taro's characters are then created with flawed traits and unique situations that would put them into said events. This is something Drakengard plays straight, and NieR subverts, as you'll see going forward.

In Drakengard, players control a character named Caim. He was a prince that was loved by his family and people, lived a charmed life, and was taught by his just and righteous father. Tragedy would strike when the Empire instigated an attack on his kingdom, which resulted in its fall and Caim witnessing the brutal death of his parents, who are mauled by a black dragon. This is a fairly typical, if somewhat more graphic than usual, set up for a fantasy hero's tragic backstory.

Except Caim is a protagonist, not a hero: He gives in to the love of killing. Caim becomes a sociopath that uses his claims of revenge and status as a soldier to indulge in the pleasure he feels from murder. While some of the killing is done out of necessity, not all of it is. There are clearly times where Caim is killing because he wants to feel the rush he gets from the act itself. For example, he slaughters an entire force of child soldiers. Caim's party member Leonard begs him not to kill the children, as he murders every single one of them in front of Leonard. (It's edited to make it less awful in the English release) Even the human-hating Red Dragon begins to feel Caim is taking it a bit too far.

Caim sounds like a great guy, right? Wait until you see the rest of his party: The previously mentioned Leonard is a pedophile, and his little brothers were murdered while he was busy getting his rocks off in the woods. Arioch is a woman that went mad after the murder of her children, her bouts of screaming are often interrupted by fits of laughter, and her only desire is to protect children…by cannibalizing them and keeping them safe in her womb. The final member is Seere, a six-year-old child that has lost his ability to age due to a pact with the Golem. He's quickly taken under Leonard's wing…

Twisted twist endings.

The endings to Drakengard were so messed up because they were a reflection of these corrupted protagonists' actions. The best possible ending sees the primary antagonist, Manah, forced to live as long as possible, forced to face the fact she will be the most hated entity of all eternity. On top of that, the Red Dragon, the only living thing left in the world that Caim has a somewhat functional relationship with, sacrifices itself to become the goddess seal, an undying being that protects the order of the world at the cost of eternal suffering.

That may seem more bittersweet than twisted until you realize Manah was a six-year-old girl that was treated like the “Child Called It” by her mother, before being mind raped by otherworldly entities and forced to set the world on course for the apocalypse. In this ending, her mind is freed after her final battle, she's pleading to be killed so she can die believing someone loved her, and the protagonist refuses and swears to make her live through her worst fear: The realization that every single person hates her guts.

Again, that is the good ending, and they only get worse from there. How much worse? Drakengard is said to have the most horrific ending to ever be put into a video game. Ending D. I've embedded the video above, because if you haven't seen it, you're going to think I'm pulling the details of this game and this ending straight from my ass for shock value. It's almost as shocking as the quality of the early oughts voice acting.

NieR: A serious spinoff from a joke ending.

Drakengard's Ending E was seen as a troll ending. Caim and the Red Dragon fly through a dimensional portal to modern day Tokyo, where the duo defeats the Queen Grotesquery in a singing rhythm game. After their foe is destroyed and the world is saved, a pair of fighter jets killed them with missiles, trivializing the incredible power of dragons and making a mockery of the entire game in some fans' eyes.

Drakengard was panned by critics as a game, with its story receiving most of the praise, but loved by fans. It was a dark, different, and well-crafted story that descended into madness, which leads to a cult following. Drakengard 2 did not have Yoko Taro as a director, was panned by critics, and mostly panned by fans. This lead to him being put back into the director's seat for the next entry into the franchise.

Where did he pick up the story? 40 years after Ending E of the original Drakengard. That's right: Yoko Taro made NieR, the next entry in the Drakengard franchise, the entry he personally considered to be the true Drakengard 3, a follow-up to what many fans thought was a shitty attempt at a funny ending. This man, this genius, fucks with his fans in such a glorious manner that I just want to shake his hand.