Category Archives: 2017

Cover Game features from January-December 2017.

Nier Automata: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

Nier creator Taro Yoko is particularly fascinated with death: not only the concept itself, but also how different people respond to it.

Yoko’s interest in the subject, as we’ve previously discussed, stems from a traumatic experience in his youth when he witnessed the accidental, easily avoidable death of a friend and discovered, to his surprise, that there was something oddly humorous in the moment as well as it being horrifying. Someone’s existence had come to a premature end, yes, but there was something fundamentally ridiculous about how it had happened; how sudden it was; and how everyone was powerless in the moment to prevent it from happening.

The inherent ridiculousness of death — particularly accidental death — is something that gamers have been familiar with for many years. And so what better medium through which to explore the concept itself — and what better characters to do so with than those that can’t die through conventional means?

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Nier Automata: Creating a Game That is “Unexpected”, That “Keeps Changing Form”

Nier creator Taro Yoko has some strong opinions about how to keep games interesting.

Last time, we heard how he felt that modern triple-A games were often fun for the first twenty minutes, but that he often became concerned these initially impressive titles would become tiresome after twenty or more hours. It was this mindset that caused him to design the original Nier with so many unusual features to it, and many of these — and more — have carried across to Nier: Automata.

Today, then, we’ll take a look at Nier: Automata’s mechanical aspects — and how Yoko’s collaboration with Platinum Games has helped him to realise his vision better than ever before.

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Nier Automata: Introduction and History

Nier: Automata is a fascinating game in its own right, but it becomes even more of an interesting story when you take it in context of everything that led to its creation.

In order to understand Nier: Automata and its predecessors, it is particularly important to understand creator Taro Yoko, one of the most distinctive “auteurs” in all of video game making — albeit one who, until the release of Automata, had largely flown under the radar in stark contrast to his contemporaries such as Hideo Kojima.

Yoko is a creator who, it’s fair to say, has consistently pushed back against the boundaries of what is “accepted practice” in video game development — both in terms of subject matter and mechanical considerations. And the results of his resistance to conventions and norms are some of the most distinctive and interesting — albeit sometimes flawed — creations in all of gaming.

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Ne no Kami: Inspiration and Intent

With visual novels having a lot more in common with conventional, non-interactive fiction than many other types of video games, it’s eminently possible for individual authors to give their work a clear sense of artistic identity and authorial voice.

Such is the case with Ne no Kami and Sacrament of the Zodiac, the work of Japanese circle Kuro Irodoru Yomiji and writer Fenrir Vier, who have made a great deal of effort to ensure that their work — and the world they’ve created — are internally consistent and true to their original visions.

In other words, unlike larger-scale projects developed by huge organisations, many members of whom have contrasting and conflicting priorities in development, the small team behind Ne no Kami was able to focus on giving their work a clear sense of artistic integrity rather than thinking of it as a “product” first, a creative work second.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pick Fenrir Vier’s brain about the creative process behind the development of such a piece of work.

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Ne no Kami: The Extended Universe – Sacrament of the Zodiac

Due to the fact that they are often rather substantial, ambitious undertakings, in many cases with multiple narrative routes, visual novels are often treated as “standalone” affairs. As such, it’s relatively rare to come across multiple works set in the same narrative universe.

There are exceptions, of course: the Grisaia series, which we covered last month, presently comprises three very long visual novels, with the series set to continue further later this year with Phantom Trigger, which unfolds after the conclusion of Yuuji’s adventure. And this month’s Cover Game, Ne no Kami: The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto, also falls into this category, with protagonist Len’s story unfolding across two games, the second of which is yet to be released.

Ne no Kami doesn’t stop there, though. At the very outset of the game, we’re introduced to two young women named Hitsuji and Arissa, the former of whom is a friend of protagonist Len. We don’t see them again for the duration of Ne no Kami’s narrative because they’re not directly relevant to Len’s story, though there are a couple of occasions where Len comes across things in her new life that remind her of her friend.

It is possible for us to find out more about these two mysterious young women, though, through the visual novel Sacrament of the Zodiac: The Confused Sheep and the Tamed Wolf, a title that unfolds in the same narrative universe as Ne no Kami, but which has a very different focus indeed.

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Ne no Kami: Love, Innocence and Ayakashi

The narrative of Ne no Kami: The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto has a number of different threads, all of which intertwine with one another to create a rather compelling whole.

We have the very personal story of the protagonist Len, as she attempts to come to terms with a new world that is vastly different from everything she has ever known. We have the story of humanity’s hidden struggle to protect the world against horrors that most people will never know about. And we have the story of lifelong feelings of love that, although based on a misunderstanding, have grown into something genuine that transcends traditional societal norms.

There’s a lot going on, in other words — even though the work as a whole is a single-route kinetic novel with no choices for the player to make. In many ways, though, that’s an entirely appropriate structure for the story Ne no Kami is trying to tell: more than anything else, it’s a tale of being swept along by fate, seemingly unable to deviate from the plan the Universe has for you despite your best efforts to find alternative solutions.

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Ne no Kami: Exploring Shinto Myths and Legends

One of the best things about the visual novel medium is its ability — and willingness — to tackle things that are outside the normal remit of “video games” as a whole.

In the case of Ne no Kami: The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto, a visual novel from small, independent Japanese circle Kuro Irodoru Yomiji, there’s a certain degree of “crossover” in terms of subject matter. We have the sort of “plucky young heroes tackle otherworldly horrors” angle that we’re most used to seeing from more conventional video games, but at the same time we also have some sensitively handled exploration of romantic relationships, disparate cultures colliding and young people trying to find their place in the world.

Of particular note is Ne no Kami’s exploration of traditional Japanese and Shinto mythology, an angle which it takes great pain to point out is only its author’s interpretation rather than “fact”. But this doesn’t make it in any way “invalid”, of course; mythology, by its very nature, doesn’t have any “factual” basis in the first place, and has only survived so long by being reinterpreted and passed on across thousands of years.

Before we investigate the game’s story in detail, then, it behooves us to have a general understanding of the mythology on which it is based.

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