This is For the Love of the Games. What is that? I’m glad I asked. For the Love of the Games is a new column in which I’m going to give you X number of reasons why you should play a largely overlooked and/or justifiably-considered “bad” game.
Sometimes I’m trying to shine some light on a hidden gem, sometimes I’m digging through a game’s muck to find what little redeeming quality it has, and other times I’m simply exploring a game as an example of what not to do.
Basically, if you think one of these is a game not worth playing, I’m here to tell you why you are wrong and should die peacefully in your sleep (just because I want you to die doesn’t mean I’m sort of monster) knowing that you are forever and objectively wrong.
In this first column, I’m giving you four reasons why you should play Nier, a little-known Square Enix game from 2010 that, at first glance, seems largely forgettable. White-haired anime hero with a big sword, frail white-haired anime girl you need to save, an overly-sexualized white-haired warrior chick — pretty much all you’d expect from a JRPG of little renown. But, as I previously stated, you’re wrong.
Here are four reasons why Nier is worth playing, simply for the love of the games.
Oh yeah, and I’m spoiling the fecal matter out of this game, so — you’ve been warned.
Nier Doesn’t Care What You Think.
You know how when you hear some wannabe music nerd describe their favorite band as, “Like, post-punk low-fi neo-math/gospel rockabilly” and you just want to throttle them while screaming a lecture about how syntax works? That feeling when you realize genre labels reach a saturation-level where they just melt into an amorphous, indistinguishable mass of pretension — lube for faux-intellectual jerking off? Nier is kind of like that.
Nier is an action-RPG/bullet-hell shooter that deviates into text adventure, platforming and Zelda-esque puzzle-solving. OK, that makes a bit more sense if you’re a gamer, but really, Nier is just Nier; Nier is as Nier as Nier can be. What’s Nier’s point of view? It’s a Nier-based game. What’s Nier trying to say? I dunno, something about now Nier is Nier.
Nier is about as self-absorbed as it can be, which isn’t a bad thing. Nier is just Nier, and you’re either going to connect with its darkness, weirdness, and obsessiveness or not relate at all.
Oh yeah, and did I mentioned that three of the main characters are an amnesiac talking book that shoots magic, a gay, adolescent, skeletal wizard boy who has Gorgon eyes (turns people to stone), and a foul-mouthed lingerie-clad hermaphrodite?
Whatever the case may be, you won’t play Nier and walk away with a heavy sigh and a quip about how it’s just like some other game. Nier doesn’t give a shit about your expectations, so much so that it straight-up changes genre at the drop of a hat, which is why. …
Nier is so Meta.
OK, so Nier does care about one thing: how meta and avant-garde you think it is. That’s right — Nier is a third-year art student; past the point where it draws dicks all over classroom walls to show off what a rebellious art student it is by making a “statement” about what “art” really “is,” but at the point where it thinks deconstruction is so first-year and appropriation is the new creation. Nier is an aggressive Smiths fan — not because Nier is emo, but because Nier understands how emo was simply born out of a total misinterpretation of The Smiths, who were “really just an ironic Talking Heads.” Also, Nier just got way into Warhol.
One thing that Nier makes a (somewhat inconsistent) trend of throughout the game is referencing other games. There’s an entire “dungeon” that’s just a series of short text adventures; a Link-like boy searching a grid-like dungeon room-by-room for a treasure (and striking a pose set to a victory jingle upon finding it); a hack-and-slash dungeon crawl viewed from an isometric camera; a (seemingly) deserted old mansion that fixes the camera and forces you to use conspicuously tank-like controls while wandering its halls, collecting elaborate keys and seals to unlock doors.
Are you making your “homage” checklist yet? Nier is the pop-art photo-collage of games.
You Don’t Know the Meaning of Sacrifice.
Requiring the player to “sacrifice” himself for the good of all is nothing new in video games (or any fiction, for that matter — the concept has been pretty in vogue since that Bible book started making Game of Thrones money). But Nier treats the concept as only a video game could.
For starters, Nier requires four playthroughs in order to achieve its “true” ending. The developers do help you out, by mercifully dropping you into the game’s half-way point in a New Game Plus with all of your experience and items from your previous play-through intact. But still, playing through the game four-ish times is a huge time sacrifice in and of itself.
And in typical fashion, the fourth, “true” ending requires you to sacrifice yourself for the good of the game’s other main characters. Nothing new here, except for the fact that you have to sacrifice not only your life, but your entire existence. That means your character never existed; no one, not even the daughter you’ve spent the game struggling to save, will remember you. And the game drives this point home as only a game can: by deleting your save.
That’s right, all those four(-ish) play-throughs gone in a flash. That’s dozens of hours of play, not to mention the experience and equipment you’ve carried between each play-through. All of it gone.
While that sounds agonizing, it’s really not so bad. You’ve already played the game four(-ish) times — do you really need ANOTHER New Game Plus? Don’t you have something that at least resembles a life to get back to?
Also, deleting your save just really emphasizes the weight of your choice; it’s a real-life parallel to what the character in the game has just done. A movie or a book can’t engage you with that kind of empowerment — to refuse or accept a decision and present you with a real-life consequence. Just like the father, you’ll probably never return to that world after that; you gave it up for the sake of your daughter and friends.
Congrats. Now go hit up a social anxiety support group and re-acclimate yourself to society.
Dark Ending, Right?
Nier begins with a man protecting his daughter from monsters in a ruined, but modern, post-apocalyptic city. The game then fast-forwards about 1,000 years to focus on an identical-looking man fighting to save his identical-looking daughter from monsters lead by a Big Bad referred to as the Shadow Lord. In doing so, you save your daughter and achieve victory. Yu also destroy a man’s life and doom humanity to extinction and spiritual limbo.
You see, those monsters are called Shades and the Shadow Lord is their “leader.” As you find out by the end of the game, Shades are really the spirits of humans who, long ago, separated their souls and bodies in order to live out the aforementioned apocalypse.
The “humans” populating the Earth in the 1,000-years-later future are actually soulless clones, originally intended to just keep an eye on the Earth, rid it of the marauding demons and disease that caused the apocalypse and act as hosts for human souls to return to once the world is safe again. Somewhere along the line the clones gained true sentience, forgot their purpose and just began living as humans.
Here’s the catch: the Shades are feral and the Shadow Lord is the only one able to retain his disembodied intelligence and make sure all those feral Shades can return to their clone bodies when the time comes.
The clones themselves are unable to procreate. They’re made from the “data” in their respective original selves’ Shades. In life they retain the same values, fears, motivations and personalities of their original selves. Essentially, they’re recycled consciousnesses. But when a Shade becomes completely mindless, it becomes impossible to generate a new clone for that person.
Basically, the Shadow Lord keeps the Shades alive, who in turn keep the clones alive (by acting as templates to make new clones), who in turn keep the humans alive (by acting as bodies for them to return to). The Shadow Lord is the keystone — if he goes, the whole Jenga Tower crashes.
You’ve probably figured out by now that the player and his daughter are clones of the duo from the game’s beginning, seeing as they’re identical in appearance. The infamous Shadow Lord is the actual Shade of the father; he kidnaps the player’s “daughter” in order to return her Shade to her cloned body.
By rescuing your daughter and defeating the Shadow Lord, you’re really extinguishing the last glimmer of hope that your original self has left. He’s just a guy doing whatever he must to save his daughter, just like you. Oh yeah, and there’s that whole Jenga Tower thing that I mentioned; seeing as the Shadow Lord is the only Shade who can return the human souls to their soulless husks, you also destroy any hope that humanity or the clones have of surviving.
Yeah. So, congratulations — you saved “your” daughter, killed a man and his daughter, doomed civilization, essentially committed two genocides, and left humanity to languish somewhere between life and death for eternity.
Originally posted at Digital Hippos