Nier: Automata’s Director & Composer Talk About Being Hard On Themselves

Nier: Automata has seen a great deal of success since its release, earning accolades, inspiring theatrical productions and concerts, and has captured the attention of players worldwide.

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Siliconera spoke with director Yoko Taro and its composer Keiichi Okabe a year after the game’s release to talk to them about how they felt about their work a year later, why they are so hard on their creations, and perhaps stirred up some (joking) emotions between the two of them over who is getting praised.

What has been going on with you after Nier: Automata’s release?

Yoko Taro, Director of Nier: Automata – After release, we did have a few theatrical performances in Japan, so it wasn’t that we released the game and that was it. Although, I finally feel like everything around Nier: Automata has finally come to a conclusion.

Keiichi Okabe, Composer for Nier: Automata – Just to speak about the music a little bit, Yoko-san earlier mentioned that there was a theatrical performance. Well, we had that, but we also had a concert in Japan, and we also released an arrangement album, and I’m coming out with a piano arrangement album. So, for me, it’s actually still going.

Taro – It’s been one year since release. We’re really grateful for all of the support we’ve received for this title froms fans and media alike. It was a year that we really felt gratitude that fans and media continued to like the game for a year.

Where the game has been completed for so long, have your emotions toward the game changed over the year? Is it strange to look back on something you completed a year ago?

Okabe – Like I said earlier, Nier: Automata is still continuing, for me, so it doesn’t feel too different from when we released the game. But, right after release, I listened to my music and thought “Oh, I should have done this or I should have changed that.” Now that it’s been a year, all of that feeling has gone away, and now I’m actually able to play the game and enjoy the music that I created.

Taro – A little while ago, we did a thirty hour livestream relay. They told us to take turns playing through the game. At that time when I saw Nier, I felt more nostalgic toward the title. Right after release, myself, I don’t play my games because I end up wanting to fix things in them. Looking back at it a little while ago, I felt that I was able to just accept the game as is, and enjoy it as is. I felt it was a big change of heart in myself.

You both seem to be very hard on yourselves. What do you feel that does for your work?

Taro – I’m just a negative person. So, I don’t think that what I’m creating is really good. In that sense, I’m constantly striving to try to make it better. So, I think that does work in a positive way, in a sense, but at the same time, I don’t think that what I’ve created , ultimately, is good either. I think it’s just a dark way of seeing what I do.

[Turns to Okabe] Okabe san, you think that what you create is really good, right? You think that it’s really good yourself, right? [laughs]

Okabe – [laughs] It’s not that I really praise myself, at all, for my music. Japanese people have this longing – they love Western things in general. It’s the same for Western music. I, especially, think that I got caught smack in the middle of that generation that was looking at Western music and just received so much shock from the differences and how cool it was. So, I was always listening to Western music and striving to create that type of music as well. I think that a lot of Japanese people were the same. We always wanted to, not mimic, but try to create Western music as well because we all thought that Japanese music ‘kinda sucked’ and was ‘uncool’, I guess.

This is just what I think, but I feel that when Westerners think about Japanese music, they would imagine a more traditional Japanese style of music. In truth, what Japanese music is really like is, of course there is traditional music, but it’s more Westernized because we strive to make our music more Western. However, there’s always that part in it that you can’t take out that’s really Japanese. So, while we still try to mimic Western music, it still has that Japanese essence in it.

I actually always hated that. I always tried to make it more Western, as much as possible, but now that I’ve aged, myself, I was able to look at it objectively – see myself objectively – and take it all in and accept the fact that Japanese music has that Japanese taste to it that we can’t do anything about, and to appreciate that as well.

So when I was creating the music for our previous title – for Nier –  Yoko-san told me that he wanted vocals in it. When you include vocals in music, then the melody becomes the more important part of that music. So, I felt that the Japanese style of music – that melody would fit in really nicely with a more Western track, and it would create a really good fusion. That’s how I ended up with what I had for my previous title, and that’s what I based Nier: Automata’s music off of. It grew from there.

With all of that in mind, I’m just really happy that we received so many awards for music and that’s it’s still being talked about and receiving accolades even after a year. But I don’t praise myself for it. [laughs]

Your sense of humor is also very hard on yourselves. What do you feel that brings to your work as well?

Taro – I don’t see it more as humor – I’m just really a dark and negative person by heart. I just think that kind of warped personality is kind of, maybe, shown as humor when it comes into my games or in interviews like this where I don’t answer the way you would imagine I would answer. I don’t give 100% serious answers sometimes, and I think that’s because of the warped nature that I have. I think that’s reflected in the games I make as well.

Okabe – Just speaking for myself, I do think that people might see me as more negative as well, but I think that’s it’s also because this is one of the first times in my life that I’ve been praised for what I do. If I was young, I think that I would have taken that the wrong way and thought that is was all myself – all my strength and my power in my music. Now that I’ve aged, I feel that I can see it from an objective point of view and realize that it’s not just me. There are so many other things that are involved in making this successful and making my music successful as well.

When I was young, because a lot of what I did was not recognized, I was really jealous of all the other, similar generation of composers who were accepted and praised. I was looking at them and I was really mad at them. Now that I’m older, and because I see myself objectively, I feel that I don’t praise myself as much any more because I see how many other things are involved. I think that, from an outside perspective, that may make it seem like I’m self-deprecating or being very hard on myself, but I don’t think that’s really the case.

And Yoko-san, as well, I feel like he praises other people more, now, than before, and I feel that that’s because he’s aged as well. I feel that he, now, understands that it’s not just him any more either, and that there are so many things involved in making a game successful.

Taro – I think that we are really close to our death, and so I really need to just start to praise other people and be kind to them because our time is limited on this Earth.

Some have said that Nier: Automata has helped them build up hope in dark times in their lives. How do you feel about your work pulling people from their own personal darkness?

Taro – I actually received some personal messages saying that it helped people or that it stopped them from committing suicide. I can’t really come to feel that I’ve saved them or helped them myself. I do feel like the game was just able to stay close with them – to be by their side. I think that’s just because games, in general, have so many different opportunities and essences. I believe that if I provide a lot of different types of answers in my game, then the player will find the answer that they need for themselves – that’s most suited for them.

I think it’s very difficult to make a game that explicitly goes out to try to save people, but I think that it’s possible to help them by creating a lot of different types of answers in the game.

Okabe – I don’t feel like my music was the reason to give hope to other people. I feel like it was more in the background, if anything. If, when you’re playing Nier and you felt like you were being saved – if you felt hope from it – you would most likely have heard my music running in the background. So, you would have associated my music with that feeling, so I feel that, just being able to take part in that is something that I am happy I was able to do. I am very grateful that I was able to participate in such a project that may have been able to give hope to players.

Music can be a big part in getting someone to open up, emotionally. I feel like you may be selling yourself a little short, Okabe-san.

Taro – You don’t need to praise him any more. [laughs]

Okabe – I am happy to be told that. I think I am also kind of negative, as a personality, and so, even if something is really fun, I would also search for something that is negative behind it. Even when I’m having fun, it’s not 100% fun. I just have that kind of sadness behind it as well. On the flip side, when something is sad, I always look for the hope behind it as well, and that might just be because I haven’t felt that kind of ultimate despair in my life, but I’ve always been kind of in-between those emotions. I don’t become extremely happy or extremely sad. I’ve always been in the middle.

I think that that’s reflected in my music because even if I try to create music that’s really fun, I always try to implement some kind of melancholic feel to it, or when it’s sad music, I always try to have some kind of hopefulness to it. For Nier: Automata, aside from myself, we had a team of composers, and Hoashi-san [Keigo Hoashi] a composer on my team, is a person who can create more of that extreme happiness or extreme sadness. So, I think that he would be much better at creating music that is more expressive in that way, but I feel that because Yoko-san’s creation and storyline is also that kind of middle ground between happiness and sadness, my music probably has better synergy with his work because it follows that kind of same feeling.

I think that that’s one of my strengths against other composers, but I feel that strength is something Yoko-san never praises me for. [laughs]

Taro – If I praise Okabe-san, he will create music more like Hoashi-san – that’s more extreme than what I want. So I don’t praise him. [laughs]

So you just try to keep him right in the middle? [laughs]

Taro – I always think that Okabe-san should retire and Hoashi-san should create the music for all of my titles moving forward.

Okabe – As you can see from what he said, I don’t think that he understands why the music from Nier: Automata has been praised so much because he feels that I should retire. [laughs]


[A playful fistfight breaks out]


I think what resonates with people is your honesty about how the real world works. We call it dark, but life can be really dark at times. Do you feel that this honesty is an important part of your work?

Taro – It’s not more honesty, per se, but I feel that video games, in general, mimic the real world, and because the real world has so many different things happening that aren’t just good or bad, I want the world in the game to have that in there as well so that many things happen in that game. I also feel that I, as a creator, shouldn’t impose my ideas and thoughts into the game design, but rather just try to depict the world as is. So that’s what I strive for.

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Joel Couture
Joel is a contributor who has been covering games for Siliconera, Game Developer, IndieGamesPlus,, Warp Door, and more over the years, and has written book-length studies on Undertale, P.T., Friday the 13th, and Kirby's Dream Land.