The new God of War title released last month, and it had many gamers talking about a subject that’s not brought up often in the gaming sphere–fatherhood. It’s for a good reason, too, as the tale of Kratos and Atreus is an amazingly told tale. But as Kratos learns to build bonds with his son and deals with the loss of his wife, I can’t help but think of a lesser-known gaming father and his tale. His wasn’t a story of redemption, though, but of sacrificing everything for your child. Today, we’re not going to talk about the God of War… we’re going to talk about father Nier.
Author’s note: This article will have complete spoilers for the title NieR. By extension, this article will also have some spoilers for NieR: Automata, although Automata will not be directly talked about. Read at your own risk!
Nier doomed all of humanity. He is the one man that is completely at fault for killing off the human race, sealing a fate of extinction for himself and everyone else. But, Nier isn’t some sort of super villain, whose evil plans succeed. No, Nier is a relatively simple man, and he only has one goal in mind throughout his tale: to save his daughter, Yonah.
At the beginning of NieR, we’re introduced to both father and daughter. It’s immediately clear, however, that Yonah is not well. She has contracted the Black Scrawl, a disease that isn’t elaborated on much, but is known to be terminal. Despite her tragic diagnosis, Nier desperately tries to find comfort and a cure for his ill daughter, taking on dangerous work killing Shades and exploring long abandoned ruins. Eventually Nier stumbles upon a talking book, and his adventures take him beyond the simple village and into the decimated world beyond its walls.
But, it becomes readily apparent that Nier doesn’t really care about the Shadowlord, or the state of the world, or whatever else Grimoire Weiss is chattering about in the background. While Nier does gain companions along the way, he still has one singular goal in mind–saving Yonah, by any means necessary.
At the halfway point of the game, Yonah is kidnapped by the Shadowlord (who looks suspiciously like Nier himself) for reasons unknown. Five years pass and Nier becomes gruffer, tougher, and loses an eye as the Shadows become more violent and attack the village frequently.
However, it’s at this point in the game we start to learn more about the Shades. The span of five years has changed them as well as our main character, and they’re more organized, intelligent, and… human looking. On repeated playthroughs, you learn that one of Nier’s companions, Kaine, can understand what the Shades are saying, but even in the first playthrough you know what she hears is not good.
Eventually, the players piece together that the Shades, the enemies that Nier has been killing throughout the whole game, are actually humans. Due to a chain of events in the distant past, humanity needed to have their souls separated from their bodies, to stop the corruption of the race due to a magical energy being forcefully put into their dimension. To clean up this dangerous magical debris, humanity created androids and empty soulless vessels called Replicants to make the world safe for humans again, and then the human souls would be inserted into their respective Replicant and everything would be okay.
Obviously, things didn’t go as planned. The Replicants gained souls of their own, and rejected the human souls, damning them to walk the world as Shades. The state of affairs for the world weren’t in a good place.
But to Nier? Again, none of this mattered. Even as these details are revealed, and even as some long-time friends try to stop him from facing the Shadowlord, Nier doesn’t stop to think about the consequences of his actions. All he cares about is getting his daughter home safe and sound.
And he eventually succeeds at that goal. Nier defeats the Shadowlord and saves Yonah, although things do not end well for him in later endings. But by this point, it’s obvious that the protagonist at least has an inkling of what he is doing. Replicants cannot reproduce, and by killing the Shadowlord and by extension the Shades, he’s not only killing humanity, but he’s also damning the Replicants to extinction as well.
But that’s just Nier. He’s a man willing to go to literally any length to save his daughter, even if it means the destruction of everyone else around him.
Of course, the game shows that he extends a reckless devotion to his companions as well, as the final (and canonical) ending has him erasing his entire existence to save a friend. Even if said friend is doomed to a melancholic existence because, well, the Replicants are going to die out.
NieR is not the easiest game to see to its final ending, but it’s a worthwhile trip, if only to see the lengths this father will go to simple saves the ones he loves most. In Taro fashion, this limitless devotion causes terrible consequences for the world and everyone involved, but it’s hard to fault Nier for his determination.