While playing Nier Automata, the latest and greatest from genius director Yoko Taro and the experts at Platinum games, I felt a wide variety of emotions, but most interesting was that of existentialism. Existentialism is a… weird emotion to get from a game. Generally one plays video games for fun, or uses it for a de-stressor. Overall, I’ve been a strong proprietor of Video games improving one’s psyche, but in this case I felt an emotion I generally try my best to run as far away as possible from. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing to be honest, it show’s the strength of Taro’s writing and his willingness to weave a very adult narrative into a medium that is largely considered to be for kids. But this isn’t the first time he’s done this. Almost every game Taro has touched has had some kind of twist asking the player to reevaluate their situation and asks “Was it worth it?” While I don’t want to spoil too much for Nier Automata, as that just came out, I can talk about two of Taro’s other works, that being Drakengard and Nier. I think it’s important to examine these two games thoroughly as they help paint the sort of director Taro is. While I don’t think it’s unlikely one would have played either Nier or Drakengard, Nier Automata has gotten more attention and sales then most of the Drakengard series combined… so that’s why I thought it might be fun to dissect them. And yes, I know I’m not the first to do so, but everyone has unique feelings on games.
Drakengard at first glance looks like a standard JRPG, albeit a stylish as hell one, with very cool and slick character design, and the ability to use a dragon in combat, it seemed to have a cool concept… that is, until you play it. The game itself feels like Wal-mart brand Dynasty warriors with the big kick to differentiate them being that you can use a dragon in combat. all in all, it’s very… boring? unfun? completely different honestly from Nier Automata, and I feel bad for anyone that picked that up and said, “let’s play the rest of the games in the series”. The main draw the drakengard is not it’s combat or flight sections, and this is very deliberate. Yoko Taro felt it shouldn’t be fun plowing down millions of enemies and anyone who thought it fun was deemed messed up. Caim, our main protagonist, is not your brooding hero, or even an upbeat happy hero, he’s a psychopath that LOVES killing. While the main goal of the game is to protect you sister, it almost feels like Caim uses this journey as an excuse for killing. While Drakengard is not seeped in existential themes, the game does feel more like a commentary on life, and how fragile it is. Throughout the game you meet many characters that have created pacts with various creatures in an attempt to gain power, pacts however are a double edged sword and cause you to sacrifice something you care about. Unlike Berserk sacrifices, it’s not people you are sacrificing, it’s things like the ability to speak, or the ability to see, and so on. Caim for instance, initiates a pact with the Red dragon because both are on the verge of death, and becoming pact partners allows for both lives to be extended at the cost of his ability to speak (which is honestly a great subversion on the silent protagonist troop seen in many rpgs). To be honest, Yoko Taro’s entire game plan is that of subverting expectations. I’d kinda compare it to something like Evangelion or Xenogears, except the subversion is well thought out and not due to budget. Maybe something closer to Lain, yet way less esoteric. In review, Drakengard is a very smart story, with multiple outcomes to choose from (one of which is very End of Evangelion esque) But it’s less then desirable game play caused it not to gain much in the way of praise… Weirdly, enough, Square Enix thought that the Drakengard series had a bit of potential and greenlit Drakengard 2. While Drakengard 2 had expanded it’s gameplay a bit, the story was less then desirable and felt more geared towards teens rather then the adult market of the first game. partially this was due to the lack of involvemtn on Taro’s end. It wouldn’t be until Nier that Taro was back in the directing role and boy oh boy did he come back in style.
Nier is, in my opinion, the crown jewel of subverting expectations. While I feel Nier Automata is a bit more cheeky and on the nose, Nier is very much ambiguous, and never feels too obvious. Acting as a strange sequel to ending E of Drakengard, the game is set in a seemingly simple middle earth style world. The easiest comparison i can give is a setting similar to Zelda. And boy, does it remind you of Zelda. So much so that I’d recommend Nier to hardcore Zelda fans just to see their expectations quashed. Nier is most powerful to those that play a lot of video games, with the beginning of the game feeling quite mundane, standard, and even boring at times, but that’s part of the set up. Remember my comparison to Xenogears? for those that have played it, the first hour is very boring until of course your entire village gets destroy by a giant robot. lulling a person into a false sense of security is one of the most valuable skills that can be used to great effects in media, but i think in games it can be cranked up to 11. With Drakengard, we were very obviously killing humans, but in Nier, we’re fighting shades, which at first glance feel like some of the most video gamey enemies you could encounter. While I’d rather not spoil much about Nier, as I’m sure many people will want to try it out after playing Automata, but let’s just say it takes the themes of Drakengard 1 and flips them on their head. Nier, our main protagonist, is not a psychopath by any stretch of the imagination, but doesn’t exactly put much thought into killing shades either. All he can think about is the good of his daughter, who goes missing early in the game, as well as what’s good for his townsfolk. While the first play through is “relatively” tame, with most of the plot being dumped on in the last 3rd of the game, the second play through starts to make you feel similar to how I felt playing Nier Automata. Unlike Drakengard, I think Nier legitimately is a kinda fun game, and will be simple to pick up for anyone whose a fan of zelda style action rpgs.
In short, I probably could have ranted about both games longer (as these are just very cursory looks at these games) but I’m already looking this over and am going “No one will read all this crap” so tl;dr, if you wanna feel bad about yourself and are at a weird place in your life, play these games. To be honest, I’ve been feeling kinda bummed all around and as corny as it sounds, playing these very real games made me ask questions about myself and over all have made me feel a bit better and have had some kind of lust to better myself. regardless this has gone too long so until next time
-Glory to mankind-
Kyle Ellsworth O>