NieR is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, yay! The original NieR is among my top ten games, and I’ve been yearning for a remake for years. I’d have happily have taken a remaster, heck, I’d have taken a direct port! Square Enix has delivered once again though, and now I’m waiting to see the first slice of gameplay in a slick new engine.
As is presumably the same for many of you, I’ve only ever played NieR Gestalt. The differences between Gestalt, which was released specifically for Western audiences, and Replicant, which was made for Japan, are minor. The key differences are that Gestalt is about a father and daughter, whilst Replicant is about a brother and sister. I’m looking forward to playing the version I’ve never played, even if I am very attached to the father-daughter relationship.
Major spoilers for NieR follow, along with minor NieR Automata spoilers, so please come back later if you’re looking to play the original or the upcoming remake for yourself.
So, NieR isn’t a happy game. In fact, it’s the most depressing game I’ve played. Not often do good things happen to these characters, and their backstories are tragic. However, they do the best they can, and it’s through that that I’m always rooting for them, and devastated when bad things happen. Our protagonist simply wants to care for their loved one, knowing that their futures are destined to be bleak. But there’s always hope at the end of the tunnel, isn’t there? Even if it’s a little different to what you might have expected.
A very cool thing NieR did is in how much it expands the world on subsequent playthroughs. NieR Automata fans will know of this, how save data is erased to symbolise a big sacrifice, and how your enemies aren’t quite what they seem. There isn’t much “bad” in this world, just people, creatures, and robots trying to do their best to care for their families and friends. No one is at fault for the Black Scrawl which is ravaging the world, but nobody knows what to do about it, either, leading humans to blame the Shades — the shadow-like creature you can see below.
NieR is a memorable journey, but two sequences really stood out to me. Playing through the game, you come across a pack of wolves who’ve killed a girl named Fyra. In response, you’re tasked with killing the wolves, which you’re successful in doing so. You see the pain in the leader’s eyes, and you feel bad for them, even though they attacked the humans first.
Or so you thought. On a second playthrough, it’s shown that the wolves retaliated as the humans were killing members of their pack. This information wasn’t shared to you, but you can’t change what happens. You, again, kill these wolves, knowing that maybe you wouldn’t have gotten involved if you knew the truth. There are no winners here — just a series of unneeded losses.
The second moment is when you come across P-33, a robot, who has become friends with a shade called Kalil. This is, as far as we know, unprecedented. A shade and a robot becoming friends? Nobody could’ve guessed. The story behind them is nice, but you only come across them because a man named Gideon, believes that they killed his older brother, Jakob. After this, Gideon becomes obsessed with murdering P-33, despite later learning that it was just a horrible accident.
Similar with the wolves, you too think that this robot and this shade have no feelings of humanity. You kill them both. On a second playthrough, it’s revealed that they’re planning to leave the Junk Heap to explore the rest of the world. You and your party cut their dreams short. It’s heartbreaking, and again, if your party knew better, maybe they never would have gotten involved.
NieR excels in showing you that you don’t always know the larger picture, and it is masterful storytelling. You’re acting on your own biased judgements of the shades and the robots, who you believe to be evil, wretched things, but like humans, they’re not all the same. Some are good, and would never hurt a human. They want to live, just like Nier, Yonah, Kaine, Emil and many of the other human characters do. It’s easy to see the human race as the force of destruction in Nier, and everything else is unfortunate to be in the way.
NieR will break your heart, time and time again, but it’s so worth playing through at least twice, to see the wider picture.
Happy anniversary, NieR.