I finally finished Nier: Automata and I don’t think I’ll ever play it again. I don’t mean that in an, “Oh thank god the game is over, I am free now,” way that I felt finishing The Last Of Us 2—a game hellbent on holding on to you long after what any normal, non-sadistic storyteller would consider the end of a game. Finishing Nier: Automata felt kinda like an amicable break-up, like the game was telling me, “We had a good run, but now it’s over and we both need to move on,” and I’m strangely okay with that.
Heads up, by the way, spoilers ahead.
Nier: Automata and I had been dancing around each other for the last three or so years before finally hooking up about a week ago. I’d shoot it shy glances from afar, totally interested in what it had to offer but unwilling to make the first move. We were formally introduced to each other through a shared acquaintance, Xbox Game Pass—who has proven to be a clutch wing-gamer—and from there we decided to take our relationship to the next level.
Nier was the perfect gentle-game those first few hours. It got me so many lovely gifts, like an interesting and varied combat style, an emotionally devastating story and, foremost among all its presents, Pascal and his machine village. Nier would often serenade me with beautiful songs—it has such a lovely singing voice, one I could and often did listen to for hours. I once spent an entire afternoon with Nier during which I did nothing except try to beat one hacking side-quest, I am so very thankful that the normal and hacking versions of “Pascal” are so pleasant to listen to that I didn’t mind the constant repetition.
I appreciated Nier’s sense of humor. It was constantly playing pranks on me, like that time I got one of the bad endings right at the start of the B route because I accidentally went to a place I thought I was supposed to go. There was also that fish ending and the ending where I once again strayed too far from the correct path. That joke wasn’t so funny to me, as that fight—right at the beginning of the C route—was unforgivably brutal and I was underleveled, and in trying to put some distance between me and a horde of YoRHa attackers, I went too far away and got another bad end.
Our relationship wasn’t always fun and fancy free. As with any couple, there were some rough patches. For example, Nier is very bad at compromising. It likes bullet hells, I do not. So we compromised and I got a lot of bullet hell sections. The boss fight against Ko-Shi and Ro-Shi sucked hardcore too because Nier can be so far up its own ass it doesn’t realize its own innovation can get boring after a while. Yes, switching between A2 and 9S to fight a boss was cool the first handful of times, but extremely tedious and borderline headache inducing the next 20. I get it, you’re so clever, now can I please finish this fight normally?
For as much fun as I was having with Nier, toward the end, our relationship was starting to show its cracks. Nier is extremely emotionally manipulative. Pascal’s story didn’t have to end that way, but Nier made me experience that heartache for no other reason than its own twisted satisfaction. Also the clown bots, fuck those clown bots. I have never in my life been so unsettled by a video game enemy (which I’m not even sure counts as an enemy because they don’t aggro you and therefore you are not forced to fight them) than I was by those clown bots.
I knew sooner or later the ride would have to come to an end, only I wasn’t expecting Nier to end our relationship on its terms. After the E ending, I was presented with a choice to either help other players struggling with the final tough-as-shit shoot ‘em portion of the credits at the cost of all my save data, or continue on with my data and not offering help. Since I also benefited from the help of other players (remember bullet hells = bad) I thought it’d be only right to pay it forward. Logically I knew what “all your save data will be deleted” meant, but it’s a whole different story watching Nier torch every single piece of evidence of our relationship one by one. All those swords he got me with their stories? Gone. All the OS chips I painstakingly arranged into configurations ideal for leveling vs. combat? Poof. Pascal and his village? *sniffs* Goodbye. But while I was in the midst of appreciating the final bullet hell fight (and the staggeringly beautiful way the song changes from one voice to a chorus when you accept help), and the final hopeful true ending, I realized something—Nier deleting all that data put the final period on our relationship in a way no other game has before.
Usually when you end a game, your save files remain. They wait for you, strung along by your lies and delusions of returning for that 100% completion trophy. Then one day, your promises are forgotten as you delete the neglected files to free up space on your console’s hard drive. Nier: Automata is not with that bullshit—when you say goodbye, it’s goodbye for real. Even though the decision to delete save data is 100% initiated by the player, and there are no penalties associated with not deleting the data even if a player accepts help to complete the final bullet hell fight, it still feels like a dick thing to do. Especially in a game that ends the way it does. A2 overcame her hard-coded hatred for machines, coming to care for Pascal and his pacifists. Pods 153 and 042 restored everyone’s bodies and memories for no other reason than their own newly emergent affection knowing it could lead to the same heartbreaking outcomes but hoping it wouldn’t. How could one then accept help from others knowing what it cost and not offer that help in return? It would feel like a repudiation of everything Yoko Taro hoped a player would get out of the story.
There’s a tendency in gamers to want more from games in the form of story-extending DLC or sequels or New Game+ options. There’s nothing stopping me from starting a new relationship (and save file) with Nier: Automata. But I know myself, I hate repetition and starting things over. With no save data to pick up where I left off or even choose where to start since I had unlocked chapter select, Nier told me under no uncertain terms “this cannot continue” and I’m glad for it. We’re done. We had fun, but we’re over, and like any amicable separation it’s best to enjoy the fond memories while moving forward to create new ones with new games. I don’t yet know what’s waiting for me, I think I need some alone time to process my time with Nier (and mourn making the wrong decision for Pascal), but when I’m ready to put myself back out there, I know my buddy Game Pass will set me up right.