Spoiler Warning: This post may contain spoilers for the game NieR: Automata
NieR: Automata elegantly poses the question of what exactly does it mean to be human?
Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, devoid of humanity, with a borderline transhumanist plot, NieR: Automata is littered with philosophical overtones. After an invasion of a machine army, humanity fled to the Moon leaving Earth behind. In their stead humanity created androids, called the YoRHa, to fight on their behalf. In the year 11945, the remnants of the planet continue to be ravaged by a proxy war between humanity and alien invaders; the YoRHa, left by humanity, versus the machines, left by alien invaders, perpetually fight on behalf of these entities. The protagonist is YoRHa No. 2 Type B (Battle), 2B for short.
We follow 2B down the automaton rabbit hole where we learn that the YoRHa androids are discouraged from showing any emotion, though it is evident they do feel them. We also begin to discover that the enemy machine lifeforms are expressing pain and emotion, though they are not supposed to; after all, they are just machines. A lax reference of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? easily comes to mind. This dichotomy between robots, of android against machine, is an interesting one; a difference of a future age contrasting an industrial one.
2B: Are we seriously being attacked with dead androids?
9S: Wait, I don't think...they aren't dead, they've been turned into weapons!
2B: Alright this ends now.
2B: We have to save those androids.
9S: I’m sorry 2b, their circuits are fried…I think they were only being kept alive by that enemy.
2B: Oh…what is it?
9S: That machine had some pretty weird things to say huh? It’s almost like it had actual emotion.
2B: The machines don’t have feelings, you’ve said that yourself.
9S: Yeah I, I guess.
Certainly, one is left to wonder just how can a correlation between androids, existentialism, and opera exist? Well, NieR: Automata weaves a rather enticing interlace.
Frankly, a personal favorite quest in the game leads the player into an abandoned amusement park. Any avid horror fan (zombies, anyone?) will agree this is a classic backdrop to set the stage for the unsettling. This familiar carnival scene draws on childhood memory coaxing nostalgia. This is furthered with an environment design that is reminiscent of Hallow Bastion or Traverse Town from the Kingdom Hearts series, not the most farfetched reference seeing as the two share Square Enix as a publisher. As is the case with all things nostalgic, something seems amiss.
Let’s play! Let’s sing! Oh wHat, fUn! LeT's bE haPPy toGETher!
-- Various dialog from machines at the amusement park
Friendly machines frolic around in merriment; they twirl, they throw confetti, they welcome the player into the park extending an invitation to join in on the fun. This is a stark contrast to every machine encounter until this point; less welcoming, more violent. This contrast breeds anticipation, the peace is downright eerie; what could be awaiting us ahead? Going through this stage one is on edge, anxiously awaiting for the jovial nature to turn at any given moment. The happy-go-lucky machines directly oppose the darker music we hear while exploring, this difference emphasizes unease.
9S: We'll regret it later if we let them escape, so let's take 'em out!...Do you really think it's a good idea to leave that tank behind?
2B: If they aren't hostile fighting them is a waste of time.
Even with a Goliath Tank appearing, although humorously parading around shooting balloons and confetti, this moment can remain non-hostile dependent on the players decision. In my play-through I chose not to ruin the fun and left the party tank alone.
2B: ...What's this?
Analysis: It is a device that propels humans on rails at high speeds for the purposes of amusement. It was commonly referred to as a roller coaster.
9S: Humans sure are strange creatures.
Eventually, things do turn sour. The saccharine twists into danger as 2B and her companion YoRHa No. 9 Type S (Scanner), 9S for short, board a roller coaster. The two fend off attacking machines as they whirl around the castle, snaking above the park. The roller coaster literally throws the androids into the belly of the beast, the boss fight.
The two approach a dilapidated stage and curtains draw to reveal an opera singer, known as Simone, ready to perform her distorted solo. Throughout the fight she sings “I must…become…more beautiful! More! More! More!”.
9S: Our records don't say anything about a machine like this!
A Goliath-class machine lifeform modeled after an opera singer, this unit attacked foes using the repurposed bodies of living androids. Obsessed with a certain other machine lifeform, she put great thought into her appearance - even going so far as to cannibalize her own kind. Alas, such garish decorations only ended up being a spectacular display of poor taste. her search for beauty eventually led to her demise when she attacked 2B and 9S.
-- INTEL – Unit Data entry for Beauvoir
Nier: Automata uses dynamic music to further immersive gameplay. When one walks around normally the music is calm, peaceful. When a fight begins the music starts to swell, becoming more intense and dramatic. Similar to opera, Nier: Automata’s sound engineering guides the player through its story through its use of music.
After Simone’s defeat we stumble into a Machine Village and meet a rather unusual machine known as Jean-Paul (yes, that one). Through various side quests it is revealed that Jean-Paul has many adoring fans; from the intel data it can be assumed that Simone became the way she did because of pursuit of Jean-Paul.
Indeed, the nod to existentialism becomes a thump over the head as Simone’s alternate name is later revealed to be Beauvoir. Aside from these Easter eggs, historically speaking opera and philosophy are not very far off from one another. Friedrich Nietzsche was a known member of Richard Wagner’s circle during the 1870’s and interestingly enough Wagner explored concepts such as dreams and the Oedipus myth that predated Sigmund Freud. In fact, Georg Groddeck wrote a study about The Ring of the Nibelung that gave the piece psychoanalytical merit.
Knowing that opera has influenced philosophy, literature, and art; it is almost a given that it would have an impact on video games as well.
Watch the Opera Boss fight here:
Stay tuned for more in this blog series exploring the cross section between opera and fandom culture.Find part one of the series here.
Tags: #VideoGames #YokoTaro #KeiichiOkabe #KeigoHoashi #AkihikoYoshida #PlatinumGames #SquareEnix #NieRAutomata #NieR #YoRHa #2B #9S #OperaSinger #Existentialism #JeanPaulSartre #SimoneDeBeauvoir
GIF/Image Sources (in order of appearance):
2. http://gameinz.net/nier-automata/3805/ & https://goo.gl/images/vWcLBW
4 & 5. http://light-san165.tumblr.com/post/158374385859/square-enix-nier-automata-scenery-1
8 &9. http://perishx.tumblr.com/post/162799007631/nier-automata-amusement-park
10. http://aminoapps.com & https://goo.gl/images/u47RMt
Any images not credited are screenshots from the blog writer's personal save file.