Nier Fundamentally Changed Me

In a previous article related to music in video games, I brought up Keichi Okabe and the video game director Yoko Taro. I think it’s time to dedicate something to them specifically because Yoko Taro changed my perspective of the world. Obviously, this contains strong spoilers.

I will be primarily focusing on Nier Automata even though it’s a sequel to the game Nier (now named Nier Replicant). Although the games can be played independently of each other, they are tied in certain situations, but you can play both or either in any order and not miss anything important. The reason is simple: they take place a few thousand years apart. Before I move on, if you want to read this with background music then listen to the OST written by Keichi Okabe:

2A overlooking the city

Before I can explain why they fundamentally changed my perspective, I need to explore the story of the games first. As you can see from the screenshot above, the game takes place in a city of ruins, thousands of years after the first Nier (Nier Replicant). You start off the game as a character named “2B” who is part of an android group named YoRHa . Together, with another android named 9S, they are sent on a mission from an Earth-orbiting station to eliminate threats in the area.

The shortened version of why is because the mission of YoRHa is to return the Earth to a place where humans can occupy it once again. Through a project known as “Gestalt”, humans were sent to live on the moon to survive an alien invasion. But, it’s much more complicated than that.

Emil is a prototype from Gestalt and one of my favorite character designs ever

The reason why the games can be played independently is that the alien invasion happens between the first game and the second game. The aliens had invaded Earth during the deadly virus, leading to a series of unfortunate events for mankind. Within both, we learn that the project Gestalt was the separation of human bodies and souls to escape a deadly virus with the eventual goal of combining both later after the virus had been eradicated.

Instead of the humans being sent to the moon, the Gestalt project had the souls sent there, and their shells – or bodies – remained somewhere on Earth. Once the virus had been eradicated, the human souls sent to the moon would be recombined with their bodies on Earth. YoRHa’s goal, or so we’re told, is to eliminate any threats such as aliens and robots on Earth that prevent the project from completing.

The YoRHa spaceship orbiting Earth

Throughout Nier Automata, you spend your time fighting various robots, destroying any that you find to meet YoRHa’s goal. However, noticing that there are no signs of aliens, you begin to question the robots on the planet that were built by the aliens.

Hang in there because I’m getting to the point. While demolishing thousands upon thousands of robots, you justify the slaughter in the name of YoRHa and humanity while yelling the phrase “Glory to Mankind!” After you beat the game the first time you start over again as an android named 9S.

A robot named Beauvoir relentlessly chases after beauty

The thing with their names is that the number is their model, and each letter means something: A is for Attacker, B is for Battler, and S is for Scanner (like a scout). There are others, but these ones are important because 9S allows you to scan the memory of these robots instead of destroying them like 2B, the character you start the game with. While you can destroy robots with 9S through battles, you can also hack into their operating systems.

Within the hacking of operating systems, you begin to uncover something unexpected: the robots have memories and emotions. You begin to question why they emulate human emotion, and they claim that they’re mimicking humans. Thus, we discover at one point the humans and these robots coexisted. The robots were initially created as war machines by the aliens to destroy humans but eventually turned on their creators after humanity had been wiped out. The reason was simple: they no longer needed the aliens.

Where the first game (Nier Replicant) ties into Automata is returning to the Gestalt project. In the first Nier, you battle monsters known as “shades” and spend the duration of the game destroying them because they are attacking towns. Your mission is to kill the Shadowlord.

A Shade

Once you beat Nier Replicant, you learn how to understand the language of the shades and you can replay half of the game. You discover that they too have emotions, families they’re trying to protect, friends they love, and more. Shades are revealed to be the souls separated from humans through the Gestalt project and are essentially an “error” – they’re souls that can not be returned to a body.

We also discover that the Shadowlord is a human soul, while the human you thought you were playing with the entire game is simply part of the Gestalt project as a shell. The villages you have been helping this entire time are a mixture of humans, androids, or shells. We can assume, then, that the shades attacking the cities have been trying to gain or find their own shells.

Shadowlord (left), a soul, and Nier (right), a shell

With the destruction of the Shadowlord, the Gestalt project is considered a failure.

Returning back to Nier Automata, the androids’ sole purpose was to support humans and the Gestalt project. Given that the project is a failure, they create YoRHa to give androids a new mission so they continue having a reason to exist. Without a mission, they would resort to either chaos or nonexistence.

We learn the mission already failed thousands of years ago: humans no longer exist. Between the virus, the alien invasion, and the robots, they were completely eliminated. The souls that were supposed to go to the moon never made it and the shells have long since been destroyed. Essentially, YoRHa exists as a lie.

Characters from both games

What the games have taught me in perspective is that we often choose to justify our actions on a belief, whether or not that belief is justified. The Crusaders sought to destroy non-Christians in the name of God. They slaughtered thousands because it is their mission to destroy all faiths and have only one remain.

In the Nier games, we see a vicious cycle of revenge and violence to justify the means to an end. The virus kills humans. Humans kill other humans in the name of science (Gestalt), Shades attack humans, shells kill shades, aliens create robots, robots kill humans, robots kill aliens, and androids kill robots. The cycle of death is ongoing, each justified for its own reasons.

I often hear about the Uyghur genocide in China, although I don’t know how accurate the word “genocide” is since there are records of Chinese imprisonment for citizens with Muslim-based beliefs. The justification for this is that it is an atheistic nation and religion is strongly controlled, including those of the Christian faith, but we don’t hear about them.

Alleged Uyghur Prison

However, the people I often hear throwing the anti-Chinese propaganda don’t necessarily have room to talk either. The bombing of hundreds of thousands of citizens in Muslim-based countries is justified for alleged weapons of mass destruction (never found), and the war on terrorism.

A US Bombing in Iraq

However, we need to understand why we’re even fighting a war against terrorism. The World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 certainly instigated retributions from America. But, is it justified?

In 1989, the Soviet Union retreated from Afghanistan in a proxy war with the US. The intentions of the war are muddled in Cold War reasons. However, Osama Bin Laden of Al Qaeda became a leader in 1996 after years of fighting between various nations and peoples in the gulf region.

“The U.S. today, as a result of the arrogant atmosphere, has set a double standard, calling whoever goes against its injustice a terrorist,” bin Laden said in a 1997 interview with CNN. “It wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose on us agents to rule us, and then wants us to agree to all this.”

This was a retaliation for the US involvement in establishing governments in Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia during the gulf war. Seems familiar? To put it another way, it feels like the US was the aliens – invading a foreign land and imposing a new rule.

The cycle here continues like the Nier games: the US kills people, terrorist organization attacks back (9/11), and the US attacks terrorist organizations again in a 20-year war with trillions of dollars spent and countless lives. Now, we should assume that terrorist organizations will attack the US again.

The problem is this: we seek justification to do horrible crimes, hoping it offsets the horrible crimes they commit. Regardless of the justification, it doesn’t make it right. But, because we perceive things differently, we find ways to justify them.

Some people support Al Qaeda because they perceive that the US is an evil empire spreading its belief systems on other countries and that’s how they justify the bombings and violence committed. Likewise, the US justified the bombing of nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria because the US perceives they are evil terrorist-ran countries and thus it can be justified.

A less extreme case is the freedom of the press. I grew up strongly believing the press should have access to information and share it with the masses. However, the pandemic has led me to believe that there should be limitations, especially when disinformation is press from – what one would assume – a reliable source. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, but it has been more noticeable lately, especially when the media isn’t understanding the source materials on issues like masks, vaccinations, Critical Race Theory, Black Lives Matter, etc. For example, the false claims that vaccines cause autism – the news was delivered and spread to millions. Yet, the original doctor not only failed peer review, but his license was revoked for falsifying data. People still believe it.

People claim they don’t trust scientists like when scientists claim eggs are bad for you, then good, then bad again. Or claims that deodorant causes Alzheimer’s. It isn’t the scientists they distrust, but the news media’s interpretation of it. These claims are widely exaggerated. In that sense, I understand China’s perception of how news must be approved by the government, so it can prevent false information from spreading. However, the people may be blinded to some terrible things the government may be committing (see Uyghur imprisonment).

There needs to be a balance, though. People should have access to the information, but I believe it should be both peer-reviewed and press reviewed by people with knowledge of the subjects before it’s misinterpreted. How many times have we heard about a magic bullet for cancer, yet none has come?

Pascal, a robot in Nier Automata that teaches young robots about life

Nier changed my perspective of the world because we need to understand how others perceive it before we judge their opinions. Just because we perceive something someone is doing is wrong, doesn’t make it inherently wrong. Their perspective is that it’s right, and you’re the one that’s wrong. Each person has different reasons for their opinion. I think about transgenders, homosexuals, or even polyamorous communities. Some people perceive them as wrong, while others understand how they feel and accept them for who they are. Is it wrong to be either? It depends on your perspective. The irony of my own hypocrisy doesn’t escape me by recognizing that the people who don’t support LGBTQ communities are wrong and I recognize that’s a problem with perception.

The only time I disagree with differing perspectives is when human harm is involved. The crimes committed by either party are horrible. If Nier and history alike taught me anything it’s that retaliation will only keep escalating until one or both are eliminated.