Father Knows Best – Nier

This is the third in a series of articles dealing with fatherhood in video games. If you want to read the articles on Bioshockand Bioshock 2, go for it.As always, spoilers abound below.

In Bioshock, fatherhood was something you observed more than actively participated in. The Little Sisters and their Big Daddies were a happy little unit, until you came along and ruined everything.

In Bioshock 2, fatherhood became a larger part of the story. Your actions as you hunted for your stolen daughter influenced how she grew up. It’s fatherhood represented as a series of choices that give you, the player, a sense of agency in raising this girl. Even if there’re only one or two ways it can turn out.

Nier (pronounced Who The Fuck Knows) samples from both of these approaches. Released in April to middling reviews, Nier did get a nice review in the New York Times of a little less than a thousand words. I like to use video game reviews in the Times as a sort of barometer for what might be worth playing. Mr. Schiesel, while he does have a tendency to wax poetic about Video Games As Art (remember, we don’t talk about that here), shares the same sort of sensibilities about games that I do. Beyond an agreement with the reviewer’s judgements, though, there’s also the fact that it’s rare that one of these reviews show up. So when one does, I pay attention. Of course, Mr. Schiesel doesn’t like everything – his Dante’s Inferno review is damning with faint praise. But if he likes something, and I can wade through the lily-gilding, I generally think about giving it a shot.
Back to Nier, though.

"Look, pal, I don't have all fucking day here. Can we get to discussing me already? This sword is real heavy." a big sword joke courtesy of the year 1997

Graphics that look like they could’ve been released two years ago, a clumsy control system which makes it nearly impossible to dodge some attacks, and weapons that require you to spend countless hours searching for one incredibly rare item in order to fully upgrade them. Information is often withheld from the player (some of my weapons are light, some of them are heavy – I have no idea what that means in terms of gameplay) or given to them incorrectly (fuck you fishing minigame).

Oh, and a kickass story and characters (with awesome voice-acting too) that in make it worth wading through the bullshit. In fact, if the story grips you in the right way, you won’t even care about the stuff I listed above. So the graphics look a little dated? Who gives a shit. You keep getting hit and it’s ruining your combo? Blow it out your ass. You can’t find the rare Eagle Egg that’ll allow you to upgrade Deathslaughter to level 4 so you can get the achievement for upgrading all of your weapons? You’re killing me. And if you can’t go online to find a guide to fishing, you should probably kill yourself.

In fact, Nier‘s story and characters are so good that I’m going to give them their own article. I’m just going to talk about the father and his daughter, Yonah, for a second.

"...do you think we could buy a shirt for me?" "Girl, look at my fucking clothes. Does it look like we have shirt money?"

Basic idea of the story: Yonah, the father’s daughter (whose name you’ll enter at the beginning of the game), has a terrible disease known as the Black Scrawl. She’s dying. As her father, your job is to run around and kill a bunch of shit while looking for a cure. Basically, the first act follows a pattern: go somewhere, murder something big and ugly, go back to check on Yonah, let the game tug on your hearstrings for a bit, repeat.

Like Bioshock, it’s a closed circuit of family. A father and a daughter. You cannot affect the daughter in anyway – she’s already a defined character. Going out and murdering an entire horde of sheep will not make her say “Father, no! Sheep! They’re just animals!” She is who she is.

Yet, like in Bioshock 2, she’s “your” daughter. This is especially effective on the game’s part if you enter your own name at the beginning. Generally, I don’t do that. If a game asks me to name a character, it generally becomes something like Harry Thomas. But it had been so long since any game had asked me what my name was, I automatically replied typed in “Joseph”. So throughout this game, Joseph and Yonah are having dinner, talking about her illness, sharing their worries, and so on.

Maybe I’m just a big softy, but it got to me. Even though I didn’t have the same reaction I did in Bioshock 2 when I saw how my actions affected my daughter there, I still came to care about this girl who called “me” father. Which makes the story all the more interesting when it really gets going.

But that’s a discussion for next time. Join us then, when we’ll meet the various characters of Nier, including a hermaphroditic possessed woman who refuses to wear clothes beyond some lingerie.

"Yeah, I'm genderqueer, bitch. Deal with it." "Oh, I'm sorry, I couldn't hear your characterization over the pandering you've got on your chest."


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