Whyyyy did they change the voices?
Probably the most memorable and charming aspect of the original was the snippy dialogue, but in this version everybody enunciates everything too much and speaks too slowly. It doesn't match that George Lucas style pilot barking the original had going.
Several line changes feel worse too, like "hey Einstein I'm on your side" to "hey genius I'm on your side". It somehow just feels less culturally relevant. The lack of cockpit view also makes this worse I think. Some of the designs look less striking somehow in this version.
The 3d is cool tho
The narration and presentation create a really uniquely relaxing environment that I really enjoy. It really feels like playing an imaginative card game with a veteran GM. Yoko Taro's signature small stories being there for every npc that you can unlock just by playing and collecting their card is a cool idea too.
But, because of that comitment to presentation, everything takes a million years. The battles play out on a wooden surface that needs to be taken out and placed onto the main board, and that and every card placement animation takes way too long. The movement and input feels sluggish because the game has to turn off player input in between animation states, or at least that's how it feels. It's like, you know you gotta go left, so you hit left ten times, but you have to wait for the minor animations working in the background that you've stopped noticing to end first, before it registers anything. And any inputs you've made before the end of that don't get listened to, so it makes the game feel kind of...stubborn.
The worst part though is the combat is just braindead. In the demo at least, there's no choices to be made, you can either kill the enemy in two turns or in one turn. It's very hard to lose advantage in anything. I feel kind of insulted when the narrator keeps congratulating me for victories and I keep hitting level ups when I didn't experience any feeling of combat
my disc has stopped working after numerous technical issues. I checked the disc and found large circular scratches on the back, which concerned me about my 15 year old ps2. However other discs seem to not reproduce this after some testing. Anyone else noticed this happen with their ps2 only on dual-layered discs?
game's pretty good btw! A lot of cool concepts and interesting ideas that go in a different direction from xenogears (or even what I imagined an episode 1 xenogears would look like based on its perfect works description). Would like to finish it :>
This review contains spoilers
Xenogears is the messiest game I’ve ever played. There’s so much I love about this game and still so much frustrates me playing it.
I wanna start with what I think is the most fascinating thing about xenogears. I want to shoutout @NeonMorris’s review for the idea of xenogears using religious iconography, symbolism, kabbalah, psychoanalysis, etc not to comment on those things but rather to build and demonstrate the oppressive systems and structures governing society and the effects it has on the fracturing of people.
To take it a step further, the actual journey of playing xenogears is like the feeling of discovering that everything you know about your life is just a contained bubble, a cage you’ve been unknowingly trapped in that acts as a facsimile of what’s around it, except that this happens over and over and over in a nightmarish, recursive endless paradox.
The intro of lahan village so effortlessly creates the facade of peaceful idyllic jrpg starting zone with funky characters, cool jokes, romantic tension, well-meaning people, and then shatters it in an instant sending the main character out into a world of political machinations and wars that have no meaning, and into his own fractured identity of a transplant of a transplant of a transplant.
This pattern continues, spiralling further and further into madness. First, a desert kingdom of an abdicated prince turned pirate because of a tyrant. But actually that tyrant is a stooge. He’s playing into the hands of some other force. But actually the real bad guy is not that force but rather this other empire of interlinking cells and prisons stepping on an underclass of demihumans. But actually it’s not the empire that’s bad but rather the ufo’s that visit the empire and give them shit to oppress people with and wage war for power with. But actually it’s the church running all of this shit, they’re the ones in charge to shepard the masses into a false and bloody heaven. Nope, the church is a front. Always been a front, duh. It’s actually these evil creatures that a priest must exterminate by stylishly shooting firearms out of the sleeves of his loose robes. Oh wait, those are just humans too, turned into nightmares by an oppressive force overseeing the church...
The rabithole continues, endlessly, until the discovery that god is an interstellar weapon who invented humans to be spare parts for his reviving body, and it’s like, what then? Was all of this meaningless?
It is in this futile but necessary exercise of breaking shackles of enclosure around the world of the player and the world of xenogears characters, only to discover yet another world of shackles on top of that one, in an endless domino effect, that defines xenogears for me. Even the symbolism, the religious overtones, the political intrigue, the gnostic lexicon, are all systems to rigidly structure the world. Everything is overflowing with keywords, references, and historical implications. Every question answered leads to tens more.
The game succeeds at expressing this aspect through scene structure. Most chapters in this game change the general loop of the game to create a “sub-game” that imitate the stakes of the next fake world of hierarchy the heroes are in. The kislev prison block section comes to mind as almost a mystery game of its own with distinct sections that all feel different, leading to an overseas section that feels completely different in style and tone. The “shape” of this game’s narrative is my favorite part about it.
In keeping with its gnostic message and spirit of the material universe being a cruel, twisted facsimile of the immaterial and spiritual world, the worlds of xenogears are each facsimiles containing each other like an endless matryoshka doll, even god itself. The search for truth can only be brought through a gnosis of human connection, something beyond the material, the bonds of people coming together and breaking through the systems of history, government, psychosis, etc. to find the true god, the god that resides in the machine residing in man residing in the machine residing in man residing in the machine residing in man.. And so on.
A lot of what frustrates me about this game, however, is in the gameplay. While I like the structure of the scenes and narrative pacing, I don’t feel the game’s themes of oppression or shattered character psyche’s are expressed particularly well through the combat.
I think the parallels through on-foot combat and gear combat are cool in the sense that the gears represent a kind of exponential manifestation of the growing physical will of the characters.
On foot combat basically has 3 questions you need to keep in mind each turn.
Do you want to prioritize learning new deathblows (permanent skills that will make on-gear capabilities higher too)? If so, noodle around and press random buttons without causing a learned deathblow, knowing this is suboptimal for damage,
Do you want to use a deathblow to cause some short term bursts of damage? End your combo in a deathblow to do some damage, but you won’t gain much in the long term of this battle and the long term after this battle.
Do you want to stock up points to pull off a combo of learned deathblows? Use one or a few moves to do very little damage, to get little long term reward for after this battle, for the sake of doing a huge combo of all your current potential ability.
Spells and items add only but a little to these three key questions, but I would say on paper these make a generally decently interesting combat system. The problem is by the end of disc 1 most of the enemies act the same way and by disc 2 there are so few on-foot combat sections it barely matters at all. I don’t think the game has enough combat encounters to really push this system to what it can do.
The mech combat system is even simpler. You don’t want to run out of health or fuel, and you want to do attacks that maximize those perimeters. You can’t learn new abilities in gear, so you only need to consider the extent of the current battle and maybe battles after this one if you foresee trouble with fuel/health.
It would be a lot better if you could get off gears mid battle, or if the game had more sections where choosing between being in a gear and being on foot had more of an impact, but more often than not, you have to be in one or the other, and most of the time you’re not even sure which it’s gonna be till you get in the dungeon, making choosing party members difficult.
I had like three party members with near maxed out deathblows with everyone else barely at half their movelists. The game is structured well for narrative, but it isn’t structured well to utilize its own systems, and the combat scenarios are not designed well enough to test the player on its own concepts.
Parts of it remind me of dragon quest 8, with the idea of sacrificing damage to build up future damage, and protecting yourself in that build-up. When it works, it feels great, but it stops working eventually. The gear combat on the other hand, mainly feels fun for delivering flashy animations and seeing the theatrics of these large things perform martial arts moves, but not much more than that. Spend more fuel for faster turns, and use my attack levels now or keep building up more for a larger one are about the only questions you need to ask with them.
The spell system works, but it feels very minimal and mainly included because they felt it was “necessary”. While eventually the magic system of the game is explained with intriguing lore, I found that it didn’t add that much to the combat system, mostly being very situational.
Character customization was similarly minimal. There are some choices to be made, but it’s neither particularly demanding, interesting, nor streamlined or user-friendly.
The game is being pulled in lots of different directions, certain parts of the game have things that are only ever used in that one part, and never mentioned again. Things like the weight mechanic, card game, gear battler, etc. While they are cool, I think it’s a bit too much and too messy, and as a result, nothing but cutscenes and narrative structure feels particularly concentrated on as the lead voice of the ensemble of these elements.
The narrative, although the best part of the game, isn’t without flaws either. I think many scenes are in need of editing and trimming. Some lines just go on for way too long, some parts of conversations are just absurd to me in delivery (billy telling bart he almost went into prostitution to be able to afford care for his sister, in front of all the characters he just met) feel hamfisted and overbearing. There are needless repetitions in the script, like: the player being explained the ignas/kislev war at the start, only for parts of it to be reexplained to fei later; fei being incapacitated multiple times in the game, sometimes for the same reasons; fei being nearly put in carbonite once to introduce carbonite as a concept, then the same scene happens again but this time they actually put him in the carbonite; nanomachines turning people into mutants several times in disc 2, etc. Stuff just seems to be happening multiple times when it didn’t need to and served little purpose.
Furthermore I was rather disappointed with disc 2’s storytelling style. When I saw screenshots and videos of people sitting in chairs, I got really excited to see what that was all about. But it didn’t really work for me. I think the visual of people in chairs suspended in space with giant objects floating around them gave me the impression that disc 2 was gonna be the moment where the game stops paying as much attention to the world and its properties and more on the characters and their issues, their minds, what makes them tick. But instead of that, the characters were simply almost recalling things that happened or they had done as if they were dreams of distant memories, with little focus on character writing aside from the first few dreams. While thematically making sense given the end-game revelations, I’m not sure of the tone they were going for with it. When the seated characters are spouting paragraphs of text, I still don’t know how to read those parts in terms of tone. Are they wistful? Regretful? Melancholic? Sometimes I feel like they should be, but it reads more neutrally in some scenes. While I think it looks great, it comes off clumsy. And it’s clear when playing the game that the game systems would not have been able to last long enough or be able to retain interest even if those sections were fleshed out, the combat, exploration, and customization would’ve gotten even staler faster had that been the case. And I wish there were some kind of explanation as to why they were dreaming all those scenes. Maybe something like they were all swallowed by the zohar modifier or being restructured into deus while fei was speaking to the wave existence, just SOMETHING to contextualize it.
I wanna say lastly, as cool as the idea of fei and elly as characters and entities are, I found a lot of the scenes between them, especially on disc 2, kind of bad. Elly is damselled way too often in this game needing the player to rescue her or help her in general, but by disc 2, Fei kind of speaks very chauvinistically toward her and it’s not clear if it’s meant to be read that way. I found it jarring and distracting from what should be an eternal romance echoed through time. Elly’s character in general felt very weak-willed for a lot of the game except for when she needed to not be and she suddenly became a mother Theresa figure to all the downtrodden(??), which felt rather sudden a development for me personally.
There were still some great scenes between them earlier on, I especially liked the ones where Fei tells her to stop doing those dang drugs and holds her gear down with his own, and the one where he shows her Kislev being destroyed on the ground level to show her the true effects of her staying in the army.
Sorry if this review is all over the place, but this is a game that goes in so many directions it can be hard to keep track. I feel I really need to replay this game at least one to two more times to really even keep a handle on it, and probably read more perfect works, listen to more podcasts, play xenosaga, etc etc.
If it were my choice, however, I do not think xenogears works best as a game. I think if they were to remake it, it would be great to see it as an anime series rather than a game (although I would be interested in hearing opposing opinions on why the game aspects of this game help it). Since I am incapable of refraining, I’ve already spent many afternoons daydreaming how this story would look as an anime. I would personally keep the mixed media style of the game, and have the characters be animated in 2D (or 3D that looks identical to 2D thanks to shaders) similar to the art style they have in the game, but with slightly more realism and more shading on skin tone. The backgrounds would be either photographs or models, or at least realistically textured rendered metallic corridors when applicable, and the gears could be physically photographed models as well. I think it would make for a cool and experimental aesthetic beyond the typical 3d/2d type stuff seen in evangelion rebuilds.
This is my first guilty gear I've played and I only played one match while waiting for the install.
I have no idea what I was doing but it was like ikaruga if ikaruga had sonic adventure 2 energy with Samsho normals and I felt like laughing the whole time until the very end when all of a sudden the music sounded like no surprises Radiohead and I felt like crying
the only zelda game in need of a remake. do it ya cowards.
for real though the on-screen enemies that instantiate 2d platforming/combat sectors based on terrain is so genius that I can't believe it isn't used in like tons of games now. Playing zelda 2 today feels like playing a modern day PC indie mixed genre hit in 1987. I never really liked metroidvanias, but give me this instead any day
What surprised me about this game is how considerate it is. Between meal tips, detailed stretch demonstrations, feedbacks and bits of advice, it has little touches that ask you what you think of the difficulty or how you're feeling in general, considers your surroundings and lots of other minute variables. When you have to get up or change positions, it reminds you not to rush. It will check your pulse, tell you how you're doing, and when it thinks you might be tired, asks you to consider if you want to stop now, or when you might want to stop and take a break, creating a supra-cognizance and to allow the player to reconsider and evaluate their own personal goals.
It feels very much like a personal trainer in the form of a game. The way the ring peripheral is used is also very smart with the game and level design. It's all very simple, but very effective at feeling like a game rather than a haphazard mishmash of conflicting goals between personal fitness and play. It allows for the fitness goals to dictate the mechanics and the player's personal goals to modulate the details of the game through a flexible rpg system.
I embrace and welcome the ludic future, a true extension of the ludic past. More gamification of lifestyle and personal or experiential expression, less gamification to maximize profit incentive and user retention.
This is gonna be just an analysis of differences I noticed between the original version and S versions, and how I feel they actually effect the experience of the game.
I now own 3 different versions of this game (vanilla PS4, S Switch, and S PS4). I played a bit of it in 2018 before leaving it shelved to finish other games in the series before returning to it. I did the same thing with the switch version when it came out, but I felt something was fundamentally different about the experience of playing it on Switch, so I had decided to finish my file on PS4 before returning to the extra stuff on Switch. Now that the S version is on PS4, it makes everything a lot more complicated.
Anyway, here is some of the magic of the original vanilla version I felt that you won't find on either S version:
Dynamic lighting on nearly every light source, as well as global dynamic lighting: It seems like every light, bright spot, and torch can cast large and even strong shadows, which was really surprising to me at how real and tangible it made the environments feel. The ladder in starting village to the right of the entrance will cast a large shadow from the torch near that moves quickly and angularly away from it as you go up it, stretching it across the length of the cave. As well as the sun causing flares with the camera, the stone surfaces picking up specular lighting in the houses. I'm not usually one to prioritize graphics, but DQ environments are so memorable, minimal, and striking that I think it really added to the atmosphere of all the locations I remember. I'm led to believe that the mentioned ladder in that starting village was placed there in order to show off lighting capability with the dynamic shadow casting.
Foliage and foliage motion: Grass is thicker and lusher in vanilla, and it sways much more to the simulated wind effects. Some people have complained about this actually because it tends to come off strangely on higher resolutions. I liked it though.
The Midi effect: The use of synthesized tracks over symphonic tracks was controversial in 2018, but I think it allowed for a really interesting effect. Here you had the highest fidelity Dragon Quest and possibly JRPG, presented in the most cinematic fashion possible regarding event choreography , blocking, and lighting, and the heart of the picture, the sound, was playing harsh, boisterous, synthetic music in a way that some found irritating but I thought was pretty confident in expressing a core theme: that at the end of the day, all the dressing, nuance, lighting, modeling, and fidelity on display here is still an extension of the simplest possible stuff; the same stuff that began in the 80s, and I mean that mechanically, artistically, conceptually. I haven't finished the game yet, but it's like even after 30 years, games are all based on the same foundations: actions, roles, and mechanics working together in a system to convey a feeling, and even in 200 years that won't change, and the ability to convey a really affecting story through a game can still be based on the simplest possible techniques-given grandiosity, weight, gesture, context, and theme.
I think the switch version loses that subtle feeling completely because the intense "fidelity-ness" of it is lost, so the music doesn't have anything to be a contrast with. Instead, with the S version, you have a 2D mode running parallel to the chapters of the 3D mode, conveying the same kind of idea in an alternate mode, rather than taking advantage of modern technical specs. I think the PS4 S version comes closer to that feeling when combining the sharpened 3D with the synthesized track, but like I said, with the loss of foliage motion and dynamic lighting, it's not all there yet.
A nice parallel to that effect is the combination of 2D mode with the symphonic soundtrack, highlighting instead the emotional power capable even in scenes made of the simplest ingredients, sprites, menus, text, and X and Y movement. The fidelity of the soundtrack adds a layer to those old but never out-of-date techniques and styles.
There are some things to mention about the updated S version on PS4: the lighting change to baked lighting although creating a more uniform look to environments, allows for some more color and less over-blooming in certain spots. The new models reflect less light than before, and the effect in the original version where character's skins will literally glow in the sunlight is gone (it always looked plasticy and unnatural to me), some surfaces and areas have actually been updated from vanilla to look better overall, and the new draconian options are nice. I think adding randomness to NPC interactions is a really good place for Dragon Quest to do more Dragon quest-type stuff. I think Dragon quest has always been about re-exploring the familiar in order to transform it once again to the unfamiliar, making you see something you think is standard as if it's your first time all over again. Seeing NPC's lie to me or my characters fumble in awkwardness through what should be routine overworld conversations was really unexpected and hilarious, and added a dynamic aspect to an otherwise overlooked motion of speaking to even the most basic of characters. I think it also adds some of the charm and humor I felt was somewhat missing from NPCs of the original version.
The one thing I do miss though is first person mode. I just really liked going around and sometimes just standing still to gawk at the environment design or the warm people doing their thing. The photo mode just doesn't cut the same feeling for me. Not sure why they removed it or didn't restore it on the PS4 version of S.
All that said and done, I'm probably gonna switch over to the S version on PS4 and finish it there. I was gonna play both versions, but when hearing about how long this game actually is, and given how much I really like the extra draconian NPC interaction based modes, as well as all the other extra story content, I'll play the S version through to the end, and probably keep the switch version as an airplane 2D mode game.
This review contains spoilers
About four years ago, I played the original Nier while diving through the drakengard series to get to Automata. I played the game early in the semester that I started learning game programming and coding for art in general. I experienced it at a very formative time, when I was just becoming interested in creating multi-genre video games in the spirit of multi-medium art and film grammar. I believed, and still believe, that in the same way that individual film scenes are composites of shots, edits, and intersections of various art forms creating a single larger narrative, the narrative games of the future would be changing their equivalent elements scene by scene to compose the building blocks of their own narratives. Those equivalent elements rather than being shots and edits and such instead being systems of loops and mechanics and control that are narratively driven to convey themes and personal experience, and that the games of the future I describe would be shifting their mechanical genres and play systems as the narrative shifts tones and ideas to convey the story and message. Basically creating environments of rules and systems around the player to communicate those themes psychologically rather than through primarily literary and visual means (although literary and visual means play a large role).
Nier showed me a blueprint for something that attempts something like that with its genre-bending and narrative recontextualization. But at the same time, I was deeply disappointed with the game, because it did not quite live up to what I had in mind once the promise of such a game was shown to me. This was a game I had been dreaming of for so long, a game so ambitious in style and structure that when I heard it had text adventures and resident evil sections I couldn’t wait to play it. Once I started playing I was so in love with the concepts and world it presents at the start, and had burned out in Route B so hard that I realized this wasn’t quite the game I wanted it to be. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it at the time, and I believed that Routes B and C not changing much of the moment to moment gameplay, and the requirement for weapons collection being too much of an ask of the player for me to be able to recommend this game to people I knew. I youtube’d the rest of the narrative content and watched a separate full playthrough to try and get some other perspectives on the game.
At the time I was writing a small game design blog, and I wanted to write about Nier, but I never did. At the time, I had no idea the original Nier had such a massive following so attached to its minute details and parts that I see now on this website, so try to cut me some slack for the arrogance I might display saying this, but I was going to write a piece kind of like “fixing Nier”. Basically, I was so in love with the promise of the game but felt so disappointed by how I felt it didn’t live up to its potential, that I started thinking what kinds of changes I would’ve wanted to see if they ever got the chance to recreate it with more budget and time. I will summarize what I was thinking at the time quickly here before talking about Replicant Vers. 1.22 to critically interrogate my own conceptions of the game and how they’ve changed over time and with the new version.
What I loved most about the original Nier, was the metaphor of the final boss. That through the products of a failed world and people, the only attempt at salvaging what was left of the world was once again dismantled by human miscommunication enforced by violence, and apart from all the social and meta-level commentary of the violence of Nier, on the individual and spiritual level of the protagonist of Nier, the metaphor is that when a person is propelled to violence guided by self-justification and a lack of communication or misguided communication, the body becomes at war with the soul.
When a person is pushed to curl a fist and strike until their beliefs no longer remain evident and need constant further force to convince itself to keep striking, the war between body and mind has already begun, and whatever the fist is hitting no longer matters. The vehicle for violence has become its own purpose and it will strike with no end as long as the body believes it to be true.
That was my reading of Replicant Nier fighting Gestalt Nier for the objectified dream of a Yona, and I was going to write an article about ways I thought the game could live up to that kind of thesis more. Here are the changes I was thinking:
1) Route A would be Replicant Nier’s story as we see in the game now, but with Route B the protagonist could switch to Gestalt Nier. It would be him on his quest to get Yona’s body from Replicant Nier and eventually reunite all getsalts with replicants. And every so often in that route, there would be a playable flashback sequence to Gestalt Nier’s experience prior to becoming the original gestalt, and bits of what happened in laboratories with scientists and what the earth was like before the bodies and souls were separated would show up, kind of teasing the player along with more of the type of stuff that was in the Gestalt documents that you get in shadowlord’s castle.
2) After this proposed Route B, Route C would be a redo of Route A but you play as Kaine, dealing with her own grief of having to be an accomplice to a quest only she knows the truth of, as well as having to deal with her crumbling morality and having to constantly redefine herself and her identity against the dehumanizing voice in her ear. This would give more weight to the choice of ending c/d and what the player truly values, saving a damaged person that you’ve gotten to know the real plight of, or being given the chance to search for new meaning in a post-damaged world, a world whose destruction you’ve become the accomplice of by enacting your quest of purging.
3) Misc changes: I felt the combat was actually pretty good for the most part, but I would’ve wanted to see some more variety and options, especially past route A. For example, buffs to some of your spells that go underused,and a slower 1 on 1 form of combat with even more weight. I was mostly let down by what felt like undercooked systems in the weapon upgrading system and the word system. I almost never felt like the words changed much in the original game and felt superfluous, when they should’ve been a much bigger part in a game about language and communication as violence. The weapons not having weapon stories also felt like something was missing, and a lot of the time it felt like the new weapons I was getting were worse than the upgraded ones I already had, and it was annoying going back to the same place to upgrade them and didn’t really feel like it meshed with the game structurally.
There! Those are the feelings I had about what I would’ve wanted to see changed in the game. Truth be told, when I got to automata I felt a little vindicated when I saw how they handle that game’s routes B and C and the character switching. When they announced this remake, I was really excited to see what changes and additions they would make to the original game, the game I felt would’ve benefited the most of any game I had from a remake since to fill up to that potential I saw in it at first, now that they have more budget and time.
I was actually surprised to see that Routes B and C were still mostly the same as before, with some added scenes, of course, but that REPETITIVENESS was still there. The realization that this repetition must be by design and not a method of lengthening game time or making up for lack of budget/time, as well as seeing the love for this game online has forced me to re-examine this game from the ground up.
I will now begin this endeavor.
First off, what struck me here lately about replaying this game is that the game seems to not care for the most part that the examples it gives of the many genres it contains aren’t really all that good. The text adventure is not that great of a text adventure, the block puzzles are alright, the diablo section is cool but shallow, the riddles are really basic, platforming is mostly the same, and the resident evil section camera angles aren’t even that cool or interesting. Plus the boss fights really have only a few gimmicks that they show you and then they kinda end. The point is that these genres are merely present, and that they’re all calling back to the history of games itself, rather than to make individual statements about the scenes they are in, or at least that’s how I came to read them now. More on this later.
The combat is still fun, and moreso now than before, but it always ends up superfluous by Route B and borderline mindless in Route C. Even playing the game on hard mode just turns the game into a huge repetitive exercise that takes a lot of your energy by making you press the buttons more from how much more health enemies get, as well as making those timed weak points really hard to nail, forcing you to repeat sections of long fights. And this happens no matter at which Route you decide to turn on Hard mode, because it makes all the enemies scale to your level, when on normal, they do not.The point is that even trying to make the game more fun for yourself by trying to make it more demanding of the player to learn the systems only still ends in tedium.
This game is a systematic dismantling of the concept and structure we as players know of as the “Quest”. The quest that puts into motion that journey of heroes through the history of the (violent) participatory fiction we call video games. It is constructed to force the player to alienate and distance themselves from the quest of the hero’s journey and reexamine it. I believe this is the goal of the multi-genreism found in Nier. So let us examine that quest.
The first route of the game is when the game is truly fun. It pulls you in with the sickest cold-open bait and switch in games and makes you wanna know just what the hell is going on. The quest is begun via dramatic irony even without the character knowing; the player wants to know what the relationship between two characters are across 1412 years. The entire first half of the game is a really engaging first act of a hero’s journey, with fun fantasy banter, new characters showing up at a brisk pace, adventures and locales galore. It’s essentially a remix of game genres spliced together to create a familiar but fun adventure with some self aware humor.
By the second half of the first route, the game becomes twisted, but only subtly. The player doesn’t recognize it at first. The characters are motivated by bloodlust, the air is sour, the ecosystem has declined, and the tone is bleak. Revisiting those locales and genres now feels less propelling and more dire, but the player pushes through and despite odds and sacrifices, he takes down the baddy only to discover that, well, you already know.
For me, Route B was the point where all the fun had vanished. I already knew the twists and that the voices would get added, so I just ran through it as quickly as I could, making a few side stops on the way. By the end, I was exhausted and took a break. However, I found myself hesitating in boss fights. Waiting to hear their lines end before striking them down. Not striking as self-righteously as I did before. Even though I know beforehand the changes, I still felt a little bit of that “should I really be doing this” feeling. But overall, I can’t say I was emotionally affected by much of what happened.
I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me for this. I had seen so many others praise these characters and gut wrenching moments so much, but I couldn’t find myself attached to the cast. Sure, they were cool and I enjoyed being with them, but I felt like there wasn’t enough of it. Enough time, enough conversations, enough moments to truly get attached. I felt closer to Kaine after reading her dreams, but she was still distant. The camera is always pulled back in most scenes, and her struggle is only told to me via voice lines and text, not given to me as the player to understand and fight with. I found it really odd that Automata had really emotionally affected me by having characters that were more like objects and concepts, while Replicant had what felt more like real characters and relationships but didn’t really grow on me. Perhaps that’s just me though.
However the new campfire and other group scene honestly did give me a feeling of warmth amid the slow and boring. I was wishing for more of that, but I had to savor what little I got.
I finished the fight and got the ending. I was honestly getting sick of hearing Emil’s theme every scene. It was like constant misery theatrics and was starting to desensitize me to the events of the game. The weapon stories I was grinding through on the side were further alienations. My tools of (in)justice were tools of cartoonish slaughter or horrible misdemeanors of the past.
With the requirement for weapon collection, I decided to take Route C slower and take in the sights more. Do side quests. Get to know the world. A few things on this route changed that made me take a step back.
First, I began to actually resent the main character. I had heard his tirades and justifications long enough. I wanted to leave him behind.
The complete eradication of difficulty or danger turned the game from an action roleplaying game to a game about gaming. The weapon stats didnt matter anymore. I had been changing my equipped words and engaging with the system a lot prior, but at this point there wasn’t any reason to. Words lost their meaning. I was skipping through most of the text anyway, since I had read it all before. I was going through the motions. I was just using whatever weapons looked cool. Upgrading only gave me more information about what kind of fucked up people were using them before.
The change to the ship section actually really surprised me, and I realized that defeating the shade before kaine was forced to use the postman as a hostage allowed her to read her the shade’s letter to him, and that both the communication of truth, and the communication of a lie refuse closure to trauma, and that was one of the main themes repeated in a lot of sidequests and events. Tell the truth to the junk heap boys, the lighthouse lady, the red bag wife, etc or lie. And neither one actually creates a “good” resolution. It’s in the doubt of such actions after the fact that we can mull on and come up with a meaning of our own to be able to deal with trauma and loss.
Emil’s text scenes I really enjoyed. I felt that he was a natural kind of foil to the main character and in fact it made me realize all the part members bar weiss have some sort of single other family member they are dealing with trauma over. It made me reconsider some of the characters and events even though I had seen these cutscenes so many times over. I actually was starting to feel a little more attached to them. The emil sacrifice scene got me more emotionally invested, and the scene where Kaine just wails on protag right after that elicited a more complicated response and appreciation from me.
The new devola and popola scenes gave some needed context for their perspective on this whole affair. Their own grappling with their existence, as I was with my own and so were the other characters. Their insistence of themselves and the protagonist as tools of a separate goal began to make me feel like the alienation I was feeling from the characters was intentional, and these characters really are sort of objects spun by relationships.
I eventually got all the weapons. I think my desire for more from the characters could have been aided by the sidequests if they were better, but aside from a handful of good ones, a lot of them were silent and didn’t give more banter and were generally unpleasant to play.
By the end of Route C I began to get a rhythm for the monotony. The genre sections were more like exercises I had memorized. It honestly began to remind me of the feeling of Tarkovsky’s “sculpting in time” idea. The way his movies would drag on and on with scenes of nothing happening and people’s faces in a single moment. The way he believed that something special would happen when the audience had begun to FEEL the time they were spending with characters on screen, literally feel the time go by. A place you can only reach once you’ve become bored, and can engage with the material in a new way, transcend the boredom with your own participation once something really does happen. I think in its repetition and sheer time/boredom spent, Nier manages to come as close to that philosophy as it can, arguably closer than Tarkovsky did in the film medium.
The game began to fully destruct the quest for me at this point, it felt pointless. Meaningless. Route A left me with an ambiguous flashback, Route B left me with a scene behind vaseline of the other halves of my characters.
I began to really think about how Yona isn’t even considered important by endings C and D. She’s not even present in the scenes. And I realized that Yona is one of the most objectified characters I’ve ever seen in a game, and I mean that in the way that the main character and narrative intentionally objectify her. She starts the game as a character, but by the second half, she is not really a character anymore because she is not allowed into the relationships of the game. She is the quest. Her image is the quest. The protagonist doesn’t truly know her. He cannot know her, because he doesn’t spend time with her.
The only way the protagonist and by extension the player can know her is through loading screen text, letters, words, a distant way of understanding someone you won’t really ever meet. The protagonist uses her as a means to justify his actions because without her serving that role he would live a meaningless existence, in a meaningless world of game genres. He wants to cure her and save her, but he never talks to her. All Yona really wants from him, the entire game, is for him to be with her, and he denies her that for the quest to save her.
We are complicit in neglecting her for the first half because we believe in the quest, we believe in the illusion and facade of the fun times and adventures and macguffins because we have former experiences of these things turning out fruitfully. But by the second half, we are complicit in allowing her character to become an objectification for the main character to slaughter on her behalf. Now, of course, this complicitness is not to say the player is at fault, the player is merely performing a role, and the role is not just to enact violence, but to build a gradual understanding of that violence, why it happens, what it means, and how to go from there.
So the game shifts to instead suddenly becoming very concerned with the relationship of the player and Kaine, with the final choice presented. I thought for a while what to choose and what’s at stake, and I chose choice D.
But then I backed out, because I had flashes of all he drudgery and time I spent going all over the place and through loading screens of letters and skimming the stupid forest of myth text section for the color of the girl’s eyes and of fighting the same enemy types and falling into water or sand and suddenly the feeling of all records of my time in boredom and repetition being erased felt bad. So I killed Kaine. And saw what unfolded.
And, seeing him kiss her and her thank me for putting her out of life and ending her constant grappling with her own morality and conscience. Well, it actually made me feel sick. Like really sick. I felt gross at the thought of taking a life that was so troubled and close to mine, someone who had become my “weapon”.
So I reloaded the save and did the whole song and dance and skipped the cutscenes to redo the choice. I had mixed feelings of Ending D. I felt it was certainly interesting, as I had back when I played the original, but I don’t think it feels substantive enough an ending to finish off the core themes of the game. Was self sacrifice to the one character who we were really trying to save and who we were actually spending the most time with the only way out of the cycle of misguided vengeance and violence? Actually pretty buddhist, when you think about it, a release from the cycle of pain and suffering in the form of non-existence.
I don’t know why the game doesn’t tell the player how to get this ending when it tells them about all the other ones. Is it meant to be something you experience by accident upon returning to the game years or months later? Is it meant to be some kind of secret? Are we meant to engage with discourse online about the game to discover there was more to it?
I don’t know, but I do know that to go back to the first half of the game again after experiencing only the second half 3+ times over was a shock to the system. I had forgotten how much I missed the real quest. The good times, the first time I met my friends, the locales I visited, the bright outdoors and the sheep and wildlife. I had been so adjusted and used to the monotony, the stubbornness, the tragedy, that I forgot this game was fun to play back then. I was rolling through the game in anticipation of what Ending E could possibly be, but it was a fun speedrun. I had forgotten about the bridge to the lost shrine, the bright sunlight and warm tones, the funner songs and being around a happy town.
Becoming friends with kaine hit me a little bit more now that I had known her through the time I spent with her, and gotten to know her more through that sheer time, and the splitoff happened. Playing as kaine was amazing, she controlled excellently and it was so refreshing to do something new, and hear her react and talk about new stuff. It felt like reuniting with an old friend. The tree machine stuff and its role in the puzzlebox of this world was intriguing as I pushed on, and seeing emile and her reconnect (and why does he have 4 arms!!!) and all that stuff was just a treat. Seeing the tiebacks to automata was for sure interesting but what got me the most was seeing her finally come to terms with her loss, wrestle with her past, and realize what gives her meaning. Kaine was the real protagonist all along, and her wrestling her destiny from the hands of the protagonist in the form of a subversion of Ending D was truly amazing. What if you sacrifice your existence for someone, and they do it right back? You delete ANOTHER save file to get the older one back. The world you know is over, and above the large blooming flower between us she is finally reunited with the people that mean the most to her, not the quest they had been obsessed with, but with the family she had finally been given. And I love that emil says it outright, that maybe what they had been doing wasn’t good at all, and Kaine sees the meaningless of the world around them, compounding on the constructs of mindlessness and repetition the player had experienced, she holds young, innocent Nier in her arms. Not the older, bloodlusted, murderous Nier, but the young boy-on-a-quest nier.
The final lunar tear in a series using the flower symbolizing a violent end of the old and the start of something new, even if it results in violence and meaninglessness again, a last wish blooming into reality, and the title screen is replaced from the flower to the weapons of the party, discarded and left behind.
At the end of the hero’s quest, as haunted and fucked up as it gets in cycles of repetition and violence and justification all that jazz, the true hero, Kaine, still actually reaches the final stage of the Campbellian hero’s journey. Of all the stages in that monomyth structure, my favorite was always the final one, and if you had to discard all and leave one, this would be the one I would salvage: the freedom to live. All nier endings turn from prose into a kind of visual poetry, and I believe this one is thematically consistent with that stage: no longer regretting the past, no longer anticipating the future, living in the moment is the only place left to live now for Kaine, and that’s where she finds her meaning.
I think I learned a lot more about what this game was really going for now, not just the body and soul bit I had mentioned before, but also the deconstruction of the quest, the violence of power, the desire for justification, finding meaning in the meaninglessness, the objectification of the one you love for the sake of your own desire for a purpose. It’s all there, even if the game made me have to get bored to finally see it. I still think Automata is the better game, and it still got me more emotional (the suicide attack line fucking kills me every time when the pod says it in that game), and I still think the credits scene in Automata’s ending E is my favorite ending to any game ever (right up there with Earthbound’s), but this game does kind of go into the cycles of violence a bit more incisively than that one on a psychological level to the player.
If there’s one thing I hope for in the future, this may come as a surprise, but I would really like Yoko Taro to create a new game and story that doesn’t have any violence in it. He’s made so many deconstructions of violence and types of violence, between communication in violence, justification in violence, cycles of violence, insanity of violence, sex and violence, and especially, the role of violence in video games.
I would like to see him make an experimental genre-defying game without any violence, to go beyond his norm and try something new and challenging. And I want to see the promise of Nier, of that magic game made of other games, be pushed further and further even beyond these genres into something even greater.