MAJOR Spoiler Warning for Nier: Automata, including some of its sidequests. Usually I wouldn’t do this, but this is an incredible game that everyone should play themselves if possible. Please only read if you’ve beaten the game or don’t care.
Nier: Automata has an incredible world. It’s a world that’s desolate and abandoned, and yet it contains more signs of being lived in than the world of most games. Nier: Automata manages to nail the feeling of desperation that the game needs in order to work, while also maintaining a strong sense of nature and life. This extends to every bit of the game’s world, from the backstory to the actual in-game actions. Everything in the game contributes to building a specific tone while exploring a few questions about life, and I’d like to explore how it does that.
The part of the game that shows the world the best is its sidequests. Like in the first Nier, the sidequests in this game rarely have happy endings. There are some which show hope, but even those are hopeful in spite of the world, not because of it. The endings to most of the siequests result in sadness and introspection, because they just don’t work out for those involved. This is a world which is fundamentally broken, and the sidequests generally reflect this.
A few sidequests stand out in particular. One is 11B’s Memento. An android(16D) in the YoRHa bunker asks you to find a memento of her mentor, 11B. When you find said memento, her sword, you’ll find a log of hers showing that she was planning on deserting before she died. This is sad on its own, but what happens after this makes it worse. You have the option of telling 16D about the log or not doing so, and her reaction changes based on what you do. If you tell her she’ll laugh and claim that she’s happy 11B died, as she was always getting in her way. If you don’t tell her she’ll explain that they were lovers, and that she now intends to become a Battler-type android, as she no longer has anyone left to defend. Either way, you won’t be left feeling happy after this sidequest.
Another quest that stands out is Amnesia. In this quest you talk to a Resistance member who had her memory data damaged, but she finds out that a woman in a red hood killed her friend. She sends you to find out who this is, but of course you eventually find the evidence to prove that it was her who did it. Things take a very dark turn here, as she suddenly snaps, admitting that she killed her while also seeming to take joy in it. She admits that she’s a YoRHa Type-E android, an executor, as she cackles over the fact she killed her friend. There’s no more to this quest, you simply have to quietly leave as an ominous track plays, with 9S and 2B clearly shaken by her behavior.
The final sad sidequest I’m going to look at is The Wandering Couple. In this quest you try to help a couple of deserting Resistance members run away. While you try to help them, they get attacked in their escape plan, and eventually you find them badly damaged. After helping them here, one of the androids claims that their only solution is to format their memories so that they’ll be accepted back. After one of them does so, the one who suggested it changes his personality and admits that’s why she had him format himself, claiming she’s done so many times before. 2B, 9S, and Pascal are clearly not happy with this act, but none of them are able to do anything about it. It’s merely a sad part of the world.
The world isn’t consistently awful to everyone who lives in it, as much as those sidequests may have made it seem that way. Many are making the best of things, building new futures for themselves while they have a chance to do so. One great example of this is Pascal’s machine village, a place for peaceful machines to go in order to live something approaching an ordinary life. In this quite village, the machines are able to live much as humans did before dying off.
The village unfortunately doesn’t last forever. Eventually the logic virus overtakes many of its citizens, inspiring an attack which wipes the village out. But the fact that life was even able to exist there, even if it was only able to do so by copying the humans of the past, says something. This isn’t just a world that still has life, it’s a world in which life is still evolving. Much of that evolution comes from taking past ideas, but through that life will eventually move on.
This sad mix of hope and despair exists throughout the game. The story very much reflects this, but many of the sidequests do as well. Quests like The Lost Girl and Find a Present are happy quests, showing the life within this world, but those you help in these quests eventually die. That’s not so different from the real world though. Death comes to all living things, and Nier: Automata makes it very clear that the androids and the machines are living beings. That death is sad of course, but it’s also very human.
And that brings me to the main point: humanity. While you’re first told that humanity still resides on the moon, it becomes clear as the game goes on that the human race is extinct, and has been for millennia. We were able to survive, in a form, through our first apocalypse, but the events at the end of the first Nier were too much, and humanity is no longer around. And yet, everything about us that really matters is still on the planet.
Everything humanity admires in itself: our wisdom, our creativity, our tenacity, our strength, our empathy. These things all exist within the beings created in our image: the androids and the machines. Both of these groups, though created to fight or do our bidding, have evolved beyond their programming, becoming human in every way that matters.
The game communicates this in many ways, but the most clear is the imitation of humans by the machines. As I said, for the most part machines only copy humans. They don’t create totally new societies, rather, they try and create societies and things based on what we tried ourselves. Androids on the other hand do everything for the human race, including giving up their lives. Both groups value what humanity has to offer so much that they became human over time.
This is shown by the eventual outcomes of these ventures. The machines eventually start testing totally new ideas in the form of Adam and Eve, giving birth to totally new life, even if they used humans as a basis. Androids on the other hand abandon their goal to emotion, with the final act being driven by the desires of A2 and 9S. Little remains of either group’s goal, they’ve both become species of sapient individuals, with their own wills, beings who can go beyond humanity.
And so, I’m hopeful about the world of Nier: Automata. It’s not a happy game, but life isn’t happy as a whole. Rather than happy, Automata is a hopeful game. It’s hopeful that machines and androids will not only reach humanity, but surpass us, eventually avoiding the fates we bring upon ourselves. In life, things won’t work out, and there will be times you’re unhappy. Eventually, we will all die. And yet, there’s plenty of hope to be had. We can make the world better, and the future can be a brighter place. I believe that, and so does Nier: Automata.