With the NieR: Automata Ver1.1a anime lastly up on its toes (regardless of the untimely hiatus), it looks as if an opportune time to mirror on what made the sport it’s adapting so particular. With the present sticking intently to the sport’s story to date, I wish to discuss some elements of the supply textual content that may’t be tailored. NieR: Automata is, in spite of everything, a exceptional storytelling achievement for the methods it expresses philosophical themes whereas enjoying into and subverting the language of video games. That is what narrative design is about. The best way the sport performs with its mechanics, techniques, sound, UI, style conventions, and many others., all contribute as a lot to the expertise as do the plot, characters, and writing.

SPOILER ALERT: This text is an exploration of a few of Nier: Automata’s themes and doable meanings primarily based on particular moments and design selections. To make such an evaluation fascinating I’ve to spoil some issues! So when you haven’t performed the sport and nonetheless intend to (you need to!), you’ve been warned.

NieR: Automata is a sport that explores the thought of being human. Satirically, it does this with out that includes a single human character. The characters are all (because the title suggests) automata that fall in one in all two camps within the midst of a centuries-spanning conflict with one another: there are the androids, our protagonists, created in humanity’s picture to take again Earth from alien invaders; and the machines, who served the alien military that overtook Earth millennia in the past. We study that these automata’s natural creators have gone extinct, leaving them to unknowingly proceed a conflict that has misplaced its authentic objective.

Significant Violence

Automata most frequently performs like a typical motion RPG. The participant receives duties, and should traverse house, work together with NPCs, and defeat a daft variety of enemies to satisfy these quest obligations. The sport’s prologue instantly throws us right into a cinematic motion sequence that has us decimate quite a few machine lifeforms, who we’re led to know because the pure enemies of our android characters’ trigger. As one would possibly anticipate in an motion sport, the answer to the battle is to kill the machines. Nonetheless, the extra we combat these machines, the extra the sport begins to play with this generic conference. In the midst of fights, machines start to precise human wishes via their very own comically (and, because of this, morbidly) automated voices: They categorical the will to avenge their fallen comrades, they plead for his or her lives, they beg for the preventing to cease. Our android protagonists ceaselessly dismiss these expressions as a result of they suppose themselves superior to the machines by advantage of being created within the picture of humankind. They reply with quips equivalent to: “Don’t hearken to them. They don’t really know what they’re saying. Machines don’t have emotions.”

machine enemies saying ow as the player attacks them
Wait. Am I the baddie?

Nonetheless, because the participant serving to the androids commit these genocidal actions, I couldn’t assist however be disturbed by these phrases. What if the machines can really feel? Ought to I be doing this? Generally I’d abandon a combat mid-action after listening to these uncanny utterances from my enemies. Some machines, like these within the carnival, are downright passive regardless of being targetable and killable like some other. Few video games so successfully make the participant query what they’re doing, and, in flip, query the conventions that it’s primarily based in. If all videogame baddies expressed human feelings and wishes whereas we wail on them, representing violence all of the sudden turns into rather more complicated.

The success of the sport’s influence on the participant will depend on their emotional funding within the characters. The androids are likable as a result of they work in direction of a shared objective and are keen to sacrifice themselves to guard one another and their trigger. Regardless of being advised that “feelings are forbidden” for them, they seem and behave fairly humanly — ultimately coming to precise love, hatred, compassion, distress, and different highly effective emotions that emerge from their harrowing lives. However the quintessential distinction between us and them is that they had been handed a transparent objective for his or her existence: to combat in opposition to the enemy within the identify of humanity.

This drive is expressed within the quests they obtain, which perform as crucial targets the androids unflinchingly conform to and internalize. Enjoying as 2B and 9S entails the characters accepting the duties handed to them, clinically executing them, and fascinating in occasional reflective banter in regards to the which means of those actions. Solely once we first play because the rebellious A2 will we obtain a quest, not within the type of an task from headquarters or different NPCs, however a private aim the character has determined for herself.

a message from the Council of Humanity assuring the androids that their cause is just
No matter you say, boss.

The sport’s biggest irony, nevertheless—which is essential to its functioning as the sport it’s—is that the means to the androids attaining a shared objective is perpetuated violence. Love, hatred, and the sense of obligation that energy these feelings inform our characters’ motivations within the latter portion of the sport. But, in current solely to lengthen an everlasting conflict in opposition to a villainized ‘different,’ violence turns into their solely outlet. On this sense, the sport does an awesome job contextualizing the violence inherent in its style in order that it nearly at all times feels worthy of questioning and turns into significant in that manner.

Our bodies of Knowledge

Automata wears its curiosity in exploring philosophical and theological themes loudly on its sleeve. One of many sport’s major philosophical considerations is asking what constitutes the self or the true essence of an individual. The androids have reproducible our bodies, however their knowledge is depicted as extra particular person and important. The sport represents the participant ‘dying’ because the destruction of the present player-character’s physique. The android’s knowledge—which is, importantly, additionally the participant’s knowledge—is then uploaded to one of many sport’s save factors, the place a brand new physique will get deployed so we proceed our journey with our character’s consciousness totally intact. The participant can then return to the spot the place they ‘died’ and retrieve the plug-in chip upgrades that had been geared up on the outdated physique. The sport makes a degree of this by that includes an unavoidable dying on the finish of its prologue part. It needs the participant to know that destruction of the androids’ our bodies doesn’t essentially equate to their dying. In spite of everything, this narrative element goes in opposition to commonplace videogame logic {that a} gameplay dying is similar because the player-character’s dying. This often makes tackling dying a difficult topic in videogames, however enjoying as an android bypasses the difficulty as a result of their nature is nearer to that of videogame avatars themselves. They’re technically immortal beings that may be infinitely reborn.

The sport ceaselessly reminds us that we’re enjoying as androids proper right down to its UI. Loading screens seem as a bootup sequence; plug-in chip customization entails actually putting in new components into the androids’ our bodies; and world-building intel, spatial mapping, and the androids’ inner database processes quest particulars. Furthermore, the sport’s HUD components have to be geared up with the suitable chips—integrating the arbitrary ways in which videogames characterize character ‘well being’ and embody QOL options like mini-maps with the character of the protagonists. This logical manner by which the UI capabilities and shows reveals how all videogame UI is android-like. In different video games, we’re in impact at all times enjoying as androids regardless of being advised by the sport’s story that our participant character is fabricated from flesh and bones. Automata revels on this cyborg logic that videogames work from and often take without any consideration. It needs us to really feel the humanity of its characters simply because it insists on reminding us that they’re not human.

the supply trader questioning whether he'd still be himself if he replaced his leg
One more android with an existential disaster.

The sport’s NPCs typically speculate about their humanity (or lack thereof). The facet quests they provide are often fetch quests via which their existential considerations unfurl. The primary facet quests come from the Resistance Camp’s shopkeepers and are necessary, functioning as a form of tutorial for the system. The Resistance Camp’s Provide Dealer, as an illustration, refuses to exchange one in all his legs as a consequence of a lingering feeling of existential dread. He’s already substituted all his different physique components no less than as soon as and wonders if eliminating this remaining piece of his authentic physique would make him lose a elementary a part of himself. The same scenario unravels with the Weapons Dealer. Upon finishing his facet quest, he questions whether or not the weapons he creates and sells solely lead to extra of his associates’ deaths. Regardless of their generic naming conventions, Automata’s shopkeepers level gamers to consider what implications their inventories—which embody the core techniques of the sport as an motion RPG—have on how we work together with the sport world. Chips alter the androids’ being, whereas weapons destroy different beings.

Regardless that the androids perceive how their our bodies are replaceable and their knowledge exists aside from it, they’ll’t assist however evaluate their existence to their human predecessors. Close to the express Christian symbolism the sport attracts on, an android’s knowledge is akin to a human soul. Working from the idea that the soul transcends the physique and encompasses the ‘true self,’ Automata performs with the notion of dying between the destruction of an android’s physique and the erasure of its knowledge.

What’s in a Save File?

Let’s speak in regards to the sport’s Ending E, its remaining canonical ending, which provides the participant a objective exterior to the sport world that nonetheless displays the principle themes of its central narrative. Acquiring this ending requires us to battle in opposition to the sport’s credit to defy the protagonists’ tragic destiny, reconstructing them in order that they may have an opportunity at an actual life (though whether or not this will probably be profitable stays ambiguous). The battle in opposition to the credit escalates to a brutally difficult affair. Until the participant is remarkably expert, they might want to settle for assist from a fellow participant via the sport’s community options to finish it. This assist is just not in real-time, however through the battle the sport’s interface shows that the opposite participant’s knowledge is destroyed as they shield us. Making certain this sacrifice is just not made in useless fuels the participant as they full this unusual and metatextual ‘remaining boss.’

After finishing the sequence and viewing the sport’s remaining cutscene, the participant is requested in the event that they wish to sacrifice their very own save knowledge to assist one other participant, a stranger, attain this ending. It’s a fairly jarring alternative. A save file is a bit of knowledge that accommodates a hint of the participant’s expertise. It’s tied to the reminiscence of that have, and capabilities as an archive of things and lore-filled intel that the participant devoted effort and time to accumulating. Furthermore, if the participant had extra content material they wished to finish, the save file may nonetheless be a website for future experiences. Aside from maybe a bodily copy of the sport itself, the save file is probably the most materials connection between a participant and their gameplay expertise. By this act of actual sacrifice, the participant might help one other participant to witness the one hopeful ending of the sport. It’s an ingenious manner of connecting gamers of a single-player sport in a fashion that penetrates actuality and encourages empathy.

a question presented to the player during the credits sequence that asks: "do you think games are silly little things?"
Nicely, do ya, punk?

The selection stays highly effective for the way it prompts self-reflection. When a sport permits solely diegetic company for the participant, it’s simple to immerse oneself within the digital world with out reflecting meaningfully on the expertise. But, when the participant is made to acknowledge {that a} alternative they’ll make in-game will have an effect on one other participant’s expertise in addition to their very own, all of the sudden they’re confronted with a dilemma. What’s necessary right here isn’t that each participant chooses self-sacrifice and someway turns into extra human by doing so; however that, no matter what the participant chooses, they may have conflicting emotions about their alternative.

Many RPGs immediate gamers to make complicated ethical selections in simulated situations. But this alternative, as a consequence of its grounding in interpersonal actuality, felt extra significant than some other. Both the participant should cope with the results an precise loss (by sacrificing their file) or appearing selfishly (by preserving one thing necessary to them). Each situations contain an emotional response that’s quintessentially human, even when the previous is arguably the extra transcendent of the 2 in the way in which it helps the sport’s narrative themes investigating what constitutes being human.

Enjoying Androids

Throughout the sport, this willingness to sacrifice is proven repeatedly within the selfless and caring actions of the androids. They combat for humanity and have interaction in a relentless cycle of destruction (each of their our bodies and recollections) as a result of they had been designed to and have internalized this objective. We management the androids via these obligations, which take the type of conventional RPG quests the place there’s little room for deviation through participant company. However as soon as the androids notice the extinction of people and, consequently, the meaninglessness of their existence, it provokes a nihilism that’s foundational for his or her ascension to humanity.

NPC dialogue explaining how the androids were designed  to derive pleasure from fighting
I see. So Platinum Video games is simply exploiting our android brains.

The sport’s androids are clearly able to human emotion and cognition, however they differ most importantly from their creators in the necessity to serve a pre-determined obligation. They behave like androids partially as a result of we, the human gamers, play them as androids. On this sense, the android might be seen because the consultant determine of a videogame’s player-character— a being whose freedom is relegated to the confines of sport design and the participant’s whims. Automata’s Ending E solely turns into out there as soon as the characters attain an existential all-time low. By it, we are able to set these characters free in order that they could start to create their very own which means.


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