NieR Retrospective – An Underappreciated Gemon December 24, 2016 by Mitch Jay
NieR released back in 2010, developed by the now defunct Cavia and published by Square Enix, and now NieR: Automata is nearly upon us with Director Taro Yoko back at the helm. NieR passed by a lot of people when it shouldn’t have, and it really boasts one of the most human, beautifully bittersweet stories in gaming.
I didn’t like NieR much when I first played it – the fishing mini-game was something I wasn’t willing to invest time into back then, and it’s with great shame that I shelved it afterwards. Later I decided to push myself through it and after a quick Google for how to fish, it turns out a lot of people faced the same issue, I was on my way to enjoying an experience that I’ll never forget. Whilst this has been safe to read so far, be warned that there are heavy spoilers ahead concerning the multiple endings of the game.
Boasts one of the most human, beautifully bittersweet stories in gaming.
NieR is the most depressing game that I’ve played. It follows a father wanting to find a cure for his daughter, Yonah, who’s dying from the Black Scrawl which has ravaged the world they live in, which is also hugely inhabited by creatures called Shade. There are multiple endings but all of them are rather bleak, although if you decide to not pry further then you can be left with a rather happy ending where NieR and Yonah live happily ever after. If you replay the game, however, the ending is extended and forces you to make some very crucial decisions – none of which are happy.
Your friend, the foul-mouthed but loveable Kainé, has lived her life being inhabited by a Shade which she doesn’t have full control over and in the end, it wins over and takes full possession. After a brutal battle with the woman that NieR has clearly come to develop feelings for over the course of their journey, he’s either forced to kill her or to sacrifice himself to save her – you don’t just die though, everybody forgets that you ever existed and it deletes the save from your console. This is basically it. There’s no true happy ending, somebody has to die and a daughter grows up without ever knowing her father or you have the blood of your loved one on your hands. There’s no cure to the Black Scrawl so regardless, nobody gets to live a full life.
NieR’s narrative constantly flips the tables on whether you’re a hero or a villain.
Ah, I forgot to mention that all of this happens after you defeat the Shadowlord, a man who’s trying to save the Shades who are actually souls that just want to return to their human bodies, and deprive his daughter of having a father. Yes, you spend the entire game trying to save your daughter just to take away the life of the father of someone else’s daughter. It’s horrible, it’s emotional, but you’re forced to do it if you wish to be with Yonah again. NieR’s narrative constantly flips the tables on whether you’re a hero or a villain and at the end it turns out you’re neither – you’re just a father who wants nothing more than to be with and help his daughter.
If it isn’t depressing enough, then be warned that the second playthrough is liable to drive you to tears. You spend the first playthrough murdering Shade’s and other threats with the knowledge that they’re a threat to your existence but a second playthrough turns that on its head. Cutscenes and dialogue show the Shade’s, wolves, etc, in their own habitats and that they were just trying to live without being killed but sadly, humans decided to attack them and have them killed – you participate, never knowing that everything some Shade’s and other lifeforms did was for self-preservation and in some instances, they hadn’t done anything at all. It makes you feel like the enemy, and it’s a powerful blow that you’re powerless to change – you’re going to kill these people because NieR isn’t aware of any of these things, only you as the player are.
An unforgettable experience.
NieR may not have been the most polished game gameplay-wise, although it has an incredible soundtrack and English Dub, but what NieR does have is a huge heart. Heart-breaking, bittersweet and ever so crushing, NieR is a game that’s brimming with hope in a world that’s been lost. NieR never stops trying to help his daughter, and Kainé, Emil and Grimore Weiss are happy to travel with him as he’s the only person to have accepted them for who they are. Whilst it’s easy to see just how devastating the story is, it’s also easy to see how lovely and warming it is to see the main cast band together in a world that’s unforgiving – a world that continues to be unforgiving in spite of this but they know they did all they could, and that they’ve done good in the world.
The game is pretty rare and hard to find now but if you ever get the chance, I urge you to play it. It’s an unforgettable experience and one of my all-time favourite games, and I’d love for Square Enix to remaster the game and give more people the chance to play it. NieR: Automata is set after the events of NieR and whilst Emil may still be around, and isn’t a victim of the Black Scrawl, it’s unlikely that we’ll see NieR, Yonah and Kainé again. What I do hope to see is a sequel that’s as memorable as its original, and I’m happy that Square Enix have revisited the series which deserved another chance to wow the world. This time, don’t let it pass you by – play it, support it, and enjoy it once it releases in the West next March.