This article contains significant spoilers regarding NieR and NieR: Automata.
When I played the original NieR more than half a decade ago, I don’t think I could have ever have foreseen how much it’d resonate with me or that it would be one of many titles essential in changing how I view games today. While flawed, the variety in level design, off-kilter writing, fantastic music, and its surprisingly vulgar yet compassionate cast made a huge impact on me.
I hardly expected NieR to get a proper sequel, nor could I have imagined how disappointing the final result would be.
Japanese Visual novels are nearly impenetrable without the ability to read the language. They’re essentially choose your own adventure books with music and heavily recycled 2D graphics, which often makes playing one as a foreigner feel fruitless. It’s a lot of glazing over Japanese text while characters switch between one of a handful of frames overlayed on a static background. You can attempt to read the mood of the scene based off voice acting and what little visual information you can grasp, but likely you’re missing most of the context.
Scum of the Brave isn’t too different from the above scenario. If you aren’t willing to test your observation skills, you’ll likely come out feeling quite lost. Nevertheless, it does have some quirks that make it slightly more palatable to the foreign eye than your usual visual novel.
I wouldn’t say I’m a mobile game aficionado. I dumped six months into Puzzles and Dragons, played two months of Final Fantasy: Grand Masters and experienced the riveting Hill Cliff Horse, which was like being in a Gaia Online chat room… But as a horse. I was a very tiny and pretty horse with wings. Clearly I’m the most qualified to talk about Nintendo’s mobile efforts with Fire Emblem Heroes.
The Japanese indie / doujin fighting game scene isn’t anything new or unheard of. While no Guilty Gear or BlazBlue in popularity, there are titles like Melty Blood that have gained at least some following. Inaho Town: Dynamite Bomb!! isn’t the most obscure doujin fighter either, yet it also lacks much fanfare. I generally go into doujin games expecting little, but found the title to be surprisingly accessible and competent for the genre.
Aside from the initial reveal, I’ve largely ignored of NieR: Automata. I’ve got nothing against it, I just don’t get much out of preview coverage. Demos, trailers, etc. all present an image of a game, yet the lack of information leaves me more uncertain than confident. It’s up to the consumer to fill in the blanks, whether they be positive or negative. Nonetheless, I succumbed to temptation and played Automata’s Demo 120161128. So, I guess we’ll go down this rabbit hole of speculation and assumptions, because I can’t stop thinking about it and probably not for the reasons others can’t.
NieR: Automata is developed by PlatinumGames. That’s a simple and well-known fact that brings joy to many. There are few developers that could contest with their pedigree when it comes to third-person melee-focused action games. Mixing their high intensity combat with the world of NieR is a promising combination and likely the reason why so much hype is building around Automata.
However, PlatinumGames’ involvement and Square Enix’s expectations of the title mostly cause me distress.
Most Japanese indie games haven’t been prevalent in the industry over the last decade. A growing Steam presence is starting to bring many of these games to light, but plenty have yet to make the transition. Until recently, they were almost exclusively created for low-print runs at Japanese conventions or, in the cases of digital distribution, shoved in the obscure corners of the internet. This includes Aqua Cube, a cute puzzle platformer released for PC back in 2008.
Although not exclusive to the medium, one of my favorite things about video games is how many elements are includes within a single work. Everything from level design, artistic style, story telling, cinematic direction, music and numerous other bits contributes to the title as a whole. Each aspect can pull from different inspirations as well as individually succeed or fail, while still coming together as one product.
The game-focused aspects of video games are likely most important to the majority of people. However, sometimes developers simply use them as a vehicle for the overall experience rather than the main draw.