In the gaming world, summertime is when the biggest games of the year get announced. But not every game revealed during this time is the next Call of Duty or Halo. I want to talk to you instead about Nier 2, a sequel to a game you’ve probably never heard of—and why I think it might be incredible.
At the June gaming convention known as E3, many of gaming’s biggest companies hold their own press conferences to reveal upcoming games. Square Enix, the company behind games like Final Fantasy and Tomb Raider, used its conference to talk about Nier 2 in addition to its other upcoming games. And it left many people scratching their heads.
Why use one of the biggest stages in gaming to announce a sequel to the little known cult classic Nier? Released in the shadow of the looming Final Fantasy XIII back in 2010, Nier was taken out to the dogs as soon as it was released. The game sold poorly, and was found in bargain bins within weeks. Nier was not exactly a critical darling, either. Rather famously, Justin McElroy of Joystiq failed to turn a review of the game in due to his frustration with its fishing mini game. So why on Earth would Square Enix work with respected action game developer Platinum Games to make a sequel to this dud half a decade later?
DEFYING ALL CONVENTIONS
To me, Nier is incredibly special. The game exists between the planes of genre and narrative convention. It can be a text adventure for 20 minutes then turn into a bullet hell shooter next. To see the true ending you had to complete it four times for all the pieces to gel together. This complete disregard for the conventions of standard game design made Nier stand out from the rest. And you wouldn’t even know it during the game’s opening hours, an outer layer made out of a bland, generic action fantasy game that made many people dismiss it entirely. Nier rewards players that stick with the game, and it’s one hell of a ride.
You’re first introduced to the titular Nier and his daughter Yonah in the year 2048, when they’re struggling to survive after what seems to have been a nuclear attack. After a brief combat section the game undergoes a complete shift into a peaceful meadow 1,312 years into the future. From then on you are set on a series of mundane tasks—kill sheep, find a dog, go fishing. The game starts to find its tone, which unlike most other aspects of it, stays consistent throughout.
Nier at first follows a relatively simplistic plot of a father trying to cure his daughter of an illness, but it spirals in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. An overarching theme of the fear of death and despair fills the game, painting Nier with a brush of darkness not dissimilar to 2011’s undisputed classic Dark Souls. Accompanying this is Keiichi Okabe’s magnificent, melancholic soundtrack to the game, with solemn acoustic guitars and strings that add to Nier’s ability to extend an arm and pull you in.
The game’s most messed up and intriguing bit—the thing that really makes it incredible—doesn’t even come into play until your fourth time through it. The game has four main different endings that add more story beats as you play through again. Ending B leads on from Ending A, and so on and so forth. On completion of the third ending, you begin to hear “Shades” of your enemies as you kill them. Bosses cry and weep. Enemies start to beg you to spare them and start saying things like “Please don’t hurt our children, they don’t know any better.”
Nier doesn’t heed these voices, continuing on his quest to save his daughter, proclaiming that he will kill “every last one of them"—a line completely unchanged from the first playthrough of the game. The haunting shadow that this casts upon each subsequent playthrough is harrowing. It quickly becomes clear that Nier is not a good man.
HOW TO JUSTIFY ANYTHING
The game’s director, Yoko Taro, has commented on his philosophy regarding violence in video games. In his previous games, such as the Drakengard series, he "made everyone insane” because that’s the only context in which all that violence makes sense. With Nier, he learned that “you don’t have to be insane to kill someone; you just have to think that it is right.”
For all its thematic complexity and genre-busting disregard for convention, Nier wasn’t exactly fun to play. I’ll concede that point to its critics. Yet Taro said in an interview with Polygon that he likens Nier to a puppy that someone has abandoned—flawed, but deserving of love.
A sequel to Nier is something that no one in the industry could have anticipated, but Square Enix has been taking more chances with different titles that go against the grain with games. Just look at Life is Strange, a game about a teenage girl who can rewind time. It’s a brilliant precedent to set for the future of the games industry as a whole.
Yoko Taro and other Square Enix staff have now embedded themselves within Platinum Games’s studio in Osaka to continue with further development of Nier 2. With Platinum handling the combat mechanics of the game, they could remedy the weakest point of Nier and add more depth and intricacy. Putting the talents together like this could make Nier 2 absolutely huge.
I don’t know what it will ultimately look like, or even when it’s going to come out. But no matter what, it’s guaranteed to be weird, dark and unconventional, and for that if nothing else I’m excited.
Sayem Ahmed is a freelance writer who lives in the UK and claims the Dragon’s Dogma opening screen is the best thing to have ever happened to video games. Sayem has also written for sites like Gamespot UK and Red Bull. In his spare time he likes to pet cats and build plastic robots.
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