The Characters of Nier

Way, way back in the mists of time (May 27th, to be exact), I concluded my barely literate and amateur level analysis of fatherhood in video games with a post on Nier. But one post is never enough, so let’s talk about Nier some more. Guess what? We’ve got spoilers ahead, children. As the atheist said to the pope, deal with it.

Today we’re discussing the characters. Later this week (he said, uncertain of the veracity of the statement) we’ll do a breakdown of the first two endings and what makes them some of the most satisfying video game endings I’ve seen recently. And after that, we’ll move on to other pastures.

With me? Good.

look i can’t come up with funny captions all the goddamn time just look at the picture

Nier & Yonah

What’s their deal? Nier is a chill bro with a sick daughter. In order to make ends meet in the post-apocalyptic world of the game, he goes out and hits shit with his sword. He claims not to have any other skills, but he can beat the crap out of anything. He’s got a strong sense of justice, a hatred of shades (mysterious and spooooky creatures that appeared soon after the apocalypse) and loyalty to his friends.

Yonah is a sick girl who gets stolen away at the end of the first act. I guess you’re supposed to go save her or some shit but the game throws a bunch of shit at you like go catch 25 different fish or whatever and then deliver this package to some asshole out in the middle of nowhere and maybe you’ll get a cool sword from it. How can I say no to the possibility of a cool sword?!

Why do I care? I care because they’ve got a really sweet relationship going on. One of the sidequests for the game is “get Yonah some ingredients so she can cook you a nasty stew, then lie to her and say it’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten”. When was the last time you tried to build up your daughter’s self esteem in a video game? Probably never, unless you’ve played Princess Maker (and if you have, lie and say you haven’t).

Nier himself fits into a lot of RPG hero molds: big buff white dude with a sword. What makes him so goshdarn special to me, though, is the raw unbridled rage he unleashes in the second act. See, Yonah just got took by the Shadowlord, right? And then five years later, Nier’s finally got a lead on how to rescue her, right? What’s that lead?

Murder every goddamn shade in the world and see what happens.

That’s it, that’s the extent of his plan. It’s a horrible plan, which the man knows, but he doesn’t know what else to do. Having just destroyed one of the four villages in the entire game just to kill one big ass shade, he’s trying to comfort one of his party. All he says is “Don’t look backwards.” He knows that he’s doing awful things, but if it leads him back to his daughter, then fuck it, let’s get bloody. His voice actor deserves some credit for this, too. In fact, every voice actor in this game is pretty much the tits.

It’s just refreshing to see a video game hero who has angst but doesn’t spend all goddamn day whining about it.

Weiss is the one who's a floating book.

Grimoire Weiss

What’s… his(?) deal? He’s a floating magic book that basically sits there and insults you while letting you shoot magic spells at shit.

Why do I care? Honestly, I’m not really sure. I mean, I like Weiss, but as his short write-up above might demonstrate, I don’t have much thought on him. Sure, he’s apparently a big part of the storyline,  but I mean I have no idea what that part really is. Basically, he’s a slightly British asshole that floats around and talks down to you.

He’s still pretty cool, though.

*takes a bite out of that ass*

Kainé

What’s her deal? Kainé is a totally bodacious babe with bomb-ass breasts and a dick (possibly?). See, somewhere in the game’s development, the producers or someone like them leaked some information that your female companion is a hermaphrodite. And, well, the VidGameBlogosphere ate that shit right up. All of a sudden, headlines were blaring about how the Japanese were really pushing gender boundaries with the development of a fully realized (and fully figured heheheheh) genderqueer character blah blah blah.

Then the game comes out and except for a couple of small references, Kainé’s gender(s) isn’t (aren’t) mentioned at all. What we got instead is pretty cool, though: a foulmouthed swordswoman who lives only to rip, tear, and destroy.

ALSO DID YOU SEE DEM TITTTTAYZ

Why do I care? Unfortunately, I don’t really want to get into the Big Reason, because it’d fit in much more nicely with the ending breakdowns coming later this week. Basically, though, she’s a cool character: a strong female character without any sort of the GRRL POWER which designers seem to think is what’ll drag women to the video game table. You know, the kind where the male protagonist says “What, a girl? Girls can’t fire a gun!” and then the girl shoots down like 30 aliens with one shot and heaves her rifle across her also-heaving bosom and says, “Don’t spend so much time playing with your… guns, boys.”

Because as a gamer that’s all I really want out of a woman. Innuendo implying I masturbate way too often, just like mom used to do.

If I was a creepy skeleton, I'd probably be smiling all the time, too.

Emil

What’s his deal? Emil is really the best example of this game’s motif: life fucking sucks. When you first meet him, he’s this little kid living in a huge creepy mansion with a lame butler. He’s got a serious problem: when he looks at people it ends up all Medusa. He’s understandably pretty lonely. His biggest moment in the first act is sealing off a huge monster in the basement of a library so it doesn’t kill everyone. Of course, he also traps Kainé in the stone. Nice going, dipshit.

In the second act, though, shit gets real for him. He’s spent the past five years researching his curse and thinks he’s found the way to bring Kainé back. So you go, and it turns out that the mansion is over a top secret laboratory, just like hit zombie video game House of the Dead. Long story short, Emil was actually created to seal away a weapon of mass magical destruction, so you go and beat it up, and then he becomes the weapon of mass destruction: a creepy round headed skeleton. That’s some shit, right?

Why do I care? Because Emil is just so goddamn sweet. He’s got this squeaky little boy voice coming out of a creepy bobble headed skeleton thing, and he’s just so happy to have friends, to be part of the gang. Of course, once he’s found his friendship, he’s forced to sacrifice himself in the end game. Why? Because life fucking sucks. Again, it’s a character type you don’t see often: tweens and teens in video games are generally either completely morose dipshits or precocious twee dipshits. Like every other character, Emil’s writing and acting has an honesty to it. If you can find a video of some of the second half of the game, watch it so you can hear these characters talk with each other.

* * *

What’s the takeaway here? Is it that fleshed out characters with believable reactions and motivations are cool? Yeah. But the other reason these characters work is because their story closely mirrors not only the game’s narrative arc, but the actions of the player as well (more on that in the next post, too). People will go on and on about how Grand Theft Auto IV‘s Niko Bellic is such a sad character, a true tragic hero. He just wanted to get away from his past in the Vaguely Eastern European Country he came from, go clean and live the American dream. If all you saw were the cutscenes, then, yes, that’s a pretty good approximation of GTAIV.

But in between getting dragged deeper and deeper into a life of crime, Niko will run around and kill like a million cops, then peel out in a stolen expensive sports car and run down like a billion pedestrians. This is what happens when the developers have a story they want to tell, but are also trapped in a form where people demand the ability to play around. The two are in deep conflict, and it ends up that I can’t take Niko’s violence-weary act since I know he just shot someone for eating a hot dog.

If you want to tell a story, developers, and it’s a good one, then I don’t mind being hemmed in. On the other hand, if you want to give me a playground to live out all sorts of violent fantasies, make sure that your overarching plot ties into this free-roam experience.

Next time around, we’ll talk about the first two endings of Nier.

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