In recent years it’s not every day that games wow its audience with a full package of fun gameplay, compelling storytelling and engaging worlds, so when Nier: Automata dropped earlier this year, it took plenty of people by surprise.
Nier: Automata is the lovechild between Drakengard director Yoko Taro and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Bayonetta developer Platinum Games. It acts as the fifth spiritual successor within the Drakengard series, which were originally dark European styled fantasy games – which is as convoluted as it sounds, with Nier: Automata being a Sci-Fi action game set in the distant future.
each game in the series is set within the same universe and so canonical events are referenced within each entry.
Whilst Yoko Taro is known for his surreal and deep storytelling, the Drakengard series has usually suffered from poor gameplay. The collaboration between Yoko Taro and Platinum Games allowed for deep and rich storytelling accompanied by well-executed mechanics, resulting in one of the best and most unexpected games of 2017.
There are some light spoilers from this point forward, read at your own discretion.
As mentioned, Nier: Automata is set in the distant future (11945 AD to be exact) during one of the on-going Machine Wars, you play as 2B (and later on 9S) who are incredibly self-aware androids whose mission is to destroy all machines and allow humans who are now colonized on the moon to return to Earth after being driven away with their initial invasion – however not much information is given as to how or why the machines invade, adding to the scepticism towards YoRHa, which is initially the military program that 2B and 9S are a part of.
What sets the story apart from your generic sci-fi tropes is that straight away the player begins the question the personality that androids have, how they convey emotion despite being emotionless. Of course, the story being directed by Yoko Taro later delves into themes such as existentialism, nihilism, xenophobia and other controversial, thought-provoking topics.
There are many games that are known to immerse players in their rich open worlds due to how civilized they are designed, but few manage to add a certain charm like Nier: Automata does, one of the reasons for this is the soundtrack and Nier: Automata’s which is absolutely astounding.
The game opens up the same way that most conventional games do, a starting level that allows you to get used to the mechanics and acts as a teaser for what is to come within game and of course this game does that incredibly well, grabbing the players attention with its large scale boss fight and lightly treading on the heavy topics that become more prominent later in the game.
After the mission, you’re taken to YoRHa’s base on the moon and that’s when the awe of the soundtrack begins to creep in with ‘Fortress of Lies’. The music is minimalist, atmospheric; it’s sharp yet has a calming demeanour. It somewhat replicates the sounds that a life-support machine makes. It accompanies a theme prevalent throughout the game and noticeable from the very beginning of being human, and what it means to be human.
Once the player has progressed a little further into the story and is sent to explore the vast and barren open world we are introduced to yet another important piece of music that is reoccurring with different dynamics throughout. ‘City Ruins (Rays of Light)’ is an important track in setting the mood for the environment, the player’s first experience in Yoko Taro’s post-apocalyptic world is a unique one.
Post-Apocalyptic settings usually have an emphasis on survival within a wasteland, yet Nier: Automata has a refreshing approach, suddenly it’s not a disgusting and macabre wasteland but an abandoned planet in which nature has taken back what is rightfully theirs, and the track that plays in the background sets a very innocent and infant mood; almost bittersweet, and it feels like a refreshing concept that the world you are exploring is not completely ugly and corrupt in a genre of storytelling that has recently started to become stale.
Moderate spoilers ahead, read at your own discretion.
Another stand out moment within the game is when 2B & 9S are invited to a village of machines that have abandoned the idea of war and have become pacifists. Identity and morality are also reoccurring themes throughout the story and how machines have adapted human personalities and are trying to replicate them from the defining moments of humanity to the failings.
Upon visiting the village the player is introduced to the charming and melodic ‘Pascal’ which features a vocal group of children. Rather than a melancholic string section for what is essentially a group of deserters and their families hiding in a refuge, the music that plays carries on from a theme prevalent in ‘City Ruins’ and creates an innocent environment, applying that to characters who are at an infant stage in the awareness of their existence. Many of the robots the player encounters in the village may be hundreds of years old, but some have adopted child-like personalities from humans they have studied adding to the game's concept of morality.
These are a couple of tracks that add to the environment and create a setting within a game world already built on the lore of four other games. Other examples of shining moments where the soundtrack elevates the story include tracks such as ‘Become as Gods’ which relies on a combination of machines chanting and a choral section, and plays during a negotiation with 2B when the Machines appear to have created their own religion, and further escalating into a cult; sacrificing themselves in the hopes that they evolve as a species.
Nier: Automata was certainly an underdog during 2017, it was a refreshing experience to play a deep and philosophical story where the art direction both visually and audibly paid off and if not compliment and elevate each other, making for a unique and artistic endeavour. Yoko Taro's vision has gone from quirky video games to bordering onto surrealist entertainment.