After I finished Nier: Automata, a friend asked if I liked it. I was surprised that I wasn’t quite sure what my answer was.
I think much of the praise of the game is deserved. The fighting is fluid and flashy. And the music is simply amazing.
But I found myself thinking about the game long after I finished it. More so, I kept pondering about what the game was about and what it was trying to say.
If someone were to just play and beat the game, it comes off as pretty straightforward. You are one side (androids) and you have to fight the other (robots). Beat them all and the game’s over.
However, if you get through the game’s multiple playthroughs and endings, you see that Automata is trying to explore something deeper.
The central theme seems to be humanity. What does it mean to be human? Why are these artificial beings striving so hard to be human? Does merely acting out aspects of humanity allow you to attain it?
The game showcases various groups playing out different aspects of humanity: androids (loyalty, violence), robots (generosity, a sense of community), main characters (romantic love, jealousy, hatred), main antagonists (familial love, curiosity), the twins (guilt, duty).
It’s funny how these themes are explored with no actual humans involved. Also a helpful tidbit is that “Automata” is the plural form of “Automaton” which by definition means “a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being”.
Multiple perspectives are further reinforced by how often Automata shifts the play mechanics throughout the game. You’re constantly moving from overhead to 3-D to side-scrolling. It’s literally making you look at things from a different angle.
By the game’s (final) ending, I wasn’t sure what I was meant to feel or think. The resolution wasn’t exactly strong or definitive. However, I think the game ended and told its story exactly how it wanted to.
Automata‘s approach is very Japanese in how it explores ideas in an elliptical way. Heady concepts are pondered upon but rarely given any conclusions for the player.
It reminds me of the author, Haruki Murakami. His books consistently have a dream-like quality and he doesn’t coerce the characters (or the viewer) towards any conclusions to the themes and concepts he introduces. To me, it shows how Japanese storytelling is less direct than Western storytelling. Not better or worse, just more ponderous.
Funny that this game came out relatively close to Persona 5, another very Japanese-feeling game. There, the colorful pop and light-heartedness of anime is very much on display. Automata presents the other side that anime can take in the dark and philosophical. (Also, big swords, upskirt views, and nude non-anatomical boys.)
Furthermore, it didn’t help that I realized after playing, that this game is a continuation of a long and winding story that spans several games, books and even stageplays. I think Automata stands well enough on its own for newbies like myself, but I’m sure there are richer effects to be had for those more fully immersed in the overall lore (as convoluted and complex as it sounds).
I’d love to explore more in-depth about aspects of the game and their meaning (such as why the characters are blind-folded) but maybe that’s for another post.
In the end, I would say I really enjoyed that the game had something to say and wanted to explore some really ambitious concepts. I don’t think I loved the gameplay itself but am always a fan of a game that pushes the medium’s ability to tell story and be artistic.