For about the last week much of my free time was spent playing Nier. By all accounts, it’s really not a very good game. I was only devoting time to it because I have a voracious appetite for platinum trophies and it’s a fairly easy game to platinum. But while it isn’t very good, it does do a few things that I thought were kind of interesting. This post is going to contain massive spoilers for the game, and there really isn’t any way of getting around them. So if you haven’t played Nier and don’t want the story spoiled for you, you probably shouldn’t continue reading.
Nier has four different endings, requiring three playthroughs to see all of them. At the end of the first playthrough there’s a pretty major revelation about what the Shades you’ve been killing the entire game are. They’re humans, specifically human souls that were separated from their bodies. Nier is not a human. Nier, along with everyone else who looks human, is a Replicant, an empty shell that was created to contain a human’s genetic information so their soul would have a body to go back to once the disease that was ravaging the world was wiped out. The entire remaining human race had been turned into Gestalts, what Nier and other characters in the game refer to as Shades, to save them from this disease. Things went bad when Replicants developed sentience and thought the Gestalts were monsters and started killing them.
Once you’ve learned this and start your second playthrough, the game starts to do some interesting things. New cutscenes will crop up when you’re going through boss fights again, giving you backstory to the humans that you previously thought were simply monsters. In one instance, a Shade that you thought had taken control of a security robot was actually a young Shade whose mother had been killed by a group of Replicants who were hunting them down. The young Shade stumbles into the area crying, and the robot determines that the young Shade isn’t an intruder, but someone who needs to be protected. Just when the two have become great friends and are getting ready to go explore the world, Nier rolls in and mercilessly slaughters the two of them.
In another case, a group of Shades that have “possessed” most the Replicants in one village are afraid that Nier will eventually slaughter all of them, as he is wont to do. So they attempt to extend an olive branch to him and, while pretending to be the normal inhabitants of the village, open up a few shops and invite Nier to the village. Things go bad when Nier, not knowing what was going on, says he intends to slaughter every Shade he finds. This causes one Shade in disguise to lose his cool and attack Nier, which sets off every Shade in the village. When all is said and done, the village is reduced to no more than a crater in the side of a mountain, its entire population having been wiped out in the process.
The game does this kind of thing for every major fight until the end of the game. You find out that the bosses you fought were only trying to protect themselves from you since you’ve been killing so many of them. A disturbing number of these events have you unknowingly slaughtering children. But what makes them interesting is that only you, the player, actually know what’s going on. None of the characters know what Shades are until just before the ending, and they never learn the backstory of anyone they killed previously. So while you see these new scenes, the characters really have no idea about what they’re fighting. Simply put, the game is screwing around with you, taking you aside to basically say, “Hey, you’re kind of a dick, huh?” Even though, for the most part, the player isn’t actually going to care that they’ve been killing humans all along since most games have you killing humans without the deception.
One other neat thing occurs with the fourth and final ending. In it, one of the characters, Kaine, is possessed by a Shade and goes berserk. Nier is presented with a choice. He can kill her, which is what she wants, or he can sacrifice his own existence to return her to normal. Both options are valid, with the first one leading to the game’s third ending. But if you choose to sacrifice Nier’s existence, the game carries it out in an interesting way. Once you make the choice (and say yes when it asks you four more times if you’re really sure) you get to watch as the game slowly erases all your data. It erases your inventory, your weapons, your character stats, everything, until the book that served as the menu is completely blank. And all of your data really is gone. It erases all the Nier save files on your profile. If you try to start a new game, you can’t input the same name for Nier that you used previously. It’s an interesting way to carry out the idea of Nier sacrificing his entire existence to save Kaine.
So yeah, Nier is interesting. It’s not really good, but it is trying to do some neat stuff and I can respect that, even if they aren’t always executed very well.
You can get it for less than $20 on Amazon, if you’re curious.