Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Can The Nier: Automata Anime Capture The Game’s Magic?

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I admit that in many ways, Nier: Automata is made for an anime format. It largely is a playable anime, from the French maid cyborgs wielding big swords to the screaming of emotions during big fights. Like most video games from Japanese creators and studios, Nier: Automata has a massive, obvious anime influence.

So why am I so hesitant to be excited for the recently announced Nier anime? Because none of that is what makes the game, or its predecessor, such special achievements in the video game industry.

Yes, Nier: Automata is one of the best told video game stories ever created. Its ability to create a connection and impact with players is one of the most notable the industry has ever managed. The reason for that certainly has something to do with the story itself. While not particularly groundbreaking, it’s good enough to keep you invested.

A2 from Nier: Automata

Still, the reason the game has made such an impact, to the point it has enough fame for someone to decide to create an anime of it, is because it is a game, and because of how it uses the medium of gaming to communicate with the player. And that is something that cannot be translated to any other form of entertainment.

Sometimes its the way players have to keep battling a robot that we desperately do not want to. Sometimes it is the tedium of escorting a robot who walks frustratingly slowly. The pacing of the missions, the difficulty of a fight. Whether you spend hours farming items for a side quest connecting Automata to the original Nier, or unveiling all the weapon stories, there is a level of player involvement that makes you drive the story and creates the vast majority of my investment.

One of the most memorable parts of the game occurs when you start Route B. After spending all of Route A slaughtering machines, you find yourself…playing as a machine. You take control of this helpless little robot who has to carry a pail of oil to its dead “brother,” and if you trip and fall, you have to start all over. Yes, this has impact even if you just watch, but it is not the same as playing this opening for yourself.

And speaking of routes, much of what makes Nier’s storytelling special is its use of multiple playthroughs. Routes A and B may share largely the same content but they present said content with entirely different context. This is arguably the more important method through which Automata creates a connection to its characters and plot. Seeing the events of Route A again, but this time with full knowledge of the plot and added scenes, dialogue, and characterization, allows you to truly understand what the story is doing and make you think on what your characters are doing.

By the time Route C rolls around and you experience the story’s true finale, it hits differently than it would if you just received all this story and characterization at once in a traditional format.

Nier: Automata is a game designed explicitly to tell its story as a game, which is largely what separates it from other story-driven video games like your Naughty Dog or Rockstar adventures. HBO’s The Last of Us adaptation can absolutely reach the same heights as the game because the game tries to tell its story like a movie. I am always more wary of adapting something that depends entirely on the medium it was initially developed for.

Does any of this rant of mine mean that a Nier: Automata anime is doomed to fail? Of course not. They can transform the way the story is told. Nier’s world has plenty of side content and minor stories that can be fleshed out to hopefully provide the missing impact and context of multiple playthroughs. Intriguing characters can be expanded upon. Scenes like, say, reading about A2’s drop onto Earth to fight the robots can get proper scenes instead.

Plus, as I already said, much of Automata lends itself to anime.

For the time being, though, I think manageable expectations are important. Changes will happen. Some for the worse, and hopefully some for the better. The anime will not be able to tell the same story the game did. It will not be able to make you feel in the same way the game did. Hopefully it can find a way to replicate those emotions in its own way.

In my humble, rarely pessimistic opinion, though, I think this project has a tough road ahead. Nier: Automata’s story itself is not particularly rare or special. Like its predecessor, its story built such a loyal following is because of how unique it is within the gaming industry. Stripped of those elements and you’re probably left with another decent show that comes and goes.

I hope I am wrong.

Images Courtesy of Square Enix

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  • Bo

    Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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