NieR: Automata is a game that gives the impression everything matters. Not only the androids you’re following, but the other “people” and items inhabiting the world. They’re all connected to 2B and 9S’ stories, but also have their own tales to tell. Things are realized in a way you don’t expect, helping to make NPCs you encounter and items you collect more interesting.
This is most obvious with major NPCs 2B and 9S will encounter on a regular basis. Which really isn’t too odd. NieR: Automata isn’t the only game to make important NPCs notable. It does stand out in the level of detail for these men and women. The moment you meet Anemone, the Resistance leader, an interaction occurs that hints at the depths of her character. Since most of us aren’t familiar with the YoRHa stage play, it isn’t obvious, but her reaction to 2B is a hint of things to come. The subtleties in her behavior toward Devola and Popola show an understanding of how she has to behave as a leader, so she does what’s best for every person involved. Jackass, despite having a rather unusual and seemingly descriptive name, shows this level of growth as she learns the truth about the world around her. She goes from letting one of her works get trapped and not aiding him to doing her best for the YoRHa. Pascal, a peaceful machine, is one of the most tragic figures in the game. Despite being someone 2B and 9S should be exterminating, the character arc with his village and children is one of the most heartbreaking game moments I’ve encountered in the last few years. These important NPCs are elaborate and real.
Even the NPCs who you might speak to sparingly matter. One of the people, because it’s impossible to think of these characters as anything else, who really touched me was in the Resistance Camp. It was the shopkeeper, one of the first people 2B and 9S aid. When you meet him, he mentions that his left leg doesn’t work. 2B suggests he fix it, but he says all materials go to the war effort. When you come back, you discover the real reason for his hesitance. That’s the only original part of him left, and he’s having an existential crisis over whether or not he’ll still be him if its replaced and repaired. Hence his decision to do nothing. 6O, 2B’s Operator, is an emotional android in a world where such things are supposed to be pushed aside. She asks about the weather, because she thinks it would be nice if 2B and 9S had a nice day for their explorations on Earth. She talks about how she liked another Operator and asked her out, but was turned down. These are two of many people you take to briefly and sparingly, but NieR: Automata gives them detailed personalities and important moments that make them memorable.
Then, there are the weapons. The Drakengard and NieR games have a habit of making sure it isn’t just the living creatures who have stories to tell. Equipment has lore to it to. Their stories grow the more effort you put into upgrading them, suggesting the deeper the connection between the warriors and their weapons, the better the understanding of it. Sometimes, we get to read fairytales. Faith tells the tragic story of a poet. Others are designed to make you think. Virtuous Contract offers the queries of a jaded warrior who wonders how long it’s possible to keep fighting.
Even better, these weapons help further build the ties between games. Let’s go back to Faith, the small sword you could find in the Flooded City. This is a weapon that harkens back all the way to the original Drakengard, though there it was called Nobuyoshi. In each game, the story behind this sword shares common themes. There’s always a poet tied to the sword. He’s always striving for more or better talent. How this goes for the user varies from game to game, but it tends to be tragic. Seeing these connections further reinforces the bonds and calls to mind past games and current adventures. It makes you remember that, just as the in-game characters tell you, these are actually relics. They’re reminders of the past, and you’re supposed to go over the information and recall what might have been.
The result is a game that feels like it is part of a living world. It isn’t just about 2B and 9S. There are other people in this world, and they matter as much. Their stories are just as valid, even if we aren’t able to really get to know them. The same goes for the weapons we encounter. They’re relics of a past civilization. Their stories remind us of what once was and offer us more insight into what came before. All of these pieces come together to provide a better realized and more engaging world.
NieR: Automata is available for the PlayStation 4 and PC.