Factions. In-fighting. The whispers of a bounty. For the past few days, the Nier: Automata community has been tearing itself apart over a secret chamber no one knows how to enter, which could be anything from a prank to cut content to a well-executed spot of viral marketing. Only one thing is certain: This entire saga is bonkers.
I mean, of course something like this would happen in the orbit of PlatinumGames’ Nier: Automata, an action-RPG so unpredictably weird you can inadvertently bring about the end of the game by eating a fish. Helmbed by game design legend Yoko Taro and first released in 2017, Nier: Automata is loaded with secrets and multiple endings. By last year, players thought they’d seen all the game had to offer when prominent modder and dataminer Lance McDonald found a loophole—buried in the game’s code—that lets you skip directly to the “real” ending. Even Yoko Taro himself seemed to confirmit as the “final secret.”
But two months ago, that final secret started to seem less than final. One Nier: Automata player, known only by their Reddit handle Sadfutago, posted a question to a few niche Nier subreddits: “How do you get in the church?”
The posts went largely ignored. The few people who responded were flummoxed. Huh? The church? What the hell is this kid on about?
But Sadfutago persisted, escalating the question from niche Nier subreddits up through to the extremely not-niche main page for the series. They posted video evidence of this church in a series of clips. (One such was filmed vertically on a cell phone, though it only shows the entrance to the antechamber that leads to the hallway at the end of which is this church.) Here, for reference, is one of the more thorough videos:
Pretty wild, right? But what’s most nuts here is that no one, seemingly including Sadfutago, knows how to get into this room. Set in the Copied City—a level in Nier: Automata with wide streets lined by Bavarian houses—the footage shows kinda-protagonist A2 entering a room, descending a ladder, and strolling down a hallway. All of the architecture looks like it fits right into anything else in the Copied City. It appears to be a legitimate discovery.
That doesn’t mean it is, per se. We know that there aren’t easily accessible tools to do something like mod the game, but there are multiple aspects of the whole thing that don’t quite add up.
“The evidence, at this point, is pointing so hard to the fact that it isn’t real it’s hard to believe it could be,” the Discord user Vats3, who goes by Church Non-Believer in the popular Nier modding Discord, told Kotaku. “The possibility of it being fake is so much higher than it being real.”
Over the past few days, Nier Discord users quickly spun up a handful of channels dedicated explicitly to figuring out how to get into the church. One of them, #church-hunt-live, has been on wildfire all morning, breaking down evidence both for and against the church’s veracity. At 9:40 a.m. ET, I looked away. When I checked back in, at 9:57 a.m. ET, the tally of new messages was staggering: 271. In 17 minutes. The channel has maintained that pace all day.
As with most Internet-powered debates, it’s a dizzyingly complex web of thoughts, feelings, and ideas, with a lot of people believing a lot of different things. But, yes, most people fall into one of two camps. In broad strokes now…
The Case For
Given how real the church and its surrounding environment look, it is, at first glance, easy to believe this is content that was initially set to be in Nier: Automata. It has voice acting, cinematics, the whole nine yards—pretty damn sophisticated to be a mod, as some community members initially believed.
Right now, the Nier modding community is in the process of trying to mock up the hidden church, just to see if it’s possible to add into the game, Discord user Meowsandstuff told Kotaku. It’s still a work in progress, but here’s an early look:
“I had started only working on it yesterday in order to visualize what the church would have looked like,” Meowsandstuff said. “It’s possible that the way I have modeled it may not be immediately compatible with Nier’s engine as it lacks important stuff such as textures on new areas.”
It’s been established that Sadfutago is playing on PlayStation 4, and appears to be using the 1.00 version of Nier: Automata—that is, a version that hasn’t had any updates roll out in the five years since release, meaning it’d theoretically comprise all the original game files.
Then there’s the name. At first, Nier players discerned that “futago” translates to “twins” in Japanese. That’d also track with the story of Nier: Automata, which features twins as part of its melancholic plotline. But, according to screenshots shared with Kotaku by Azura, a member of the Nier modding Discord, Sadfutago disputed the claim: In response to someone pointing it out, Sadfutago wrote, “?? no futago is a clan.” (Sadfutago did not respond to Kotaku’s requests for comment.)
Then again, judging from futago’s Reddit comment history, it’s also clear that there’s a communication barrier between the person who discovered the secret and everyone else. Messages seem stilted, so we can’t just assume there’s a 1:1 understanding of what’s going on. More on this when we get to the case against the secret door being real.
“Clan Futago is most likely a Naruto reference, convincing many people, me included, that OP is most likely a kid,” Azura said. Other messages, including one where Sanfutago mentions needing to use a “mom’s phone,” have reaffirmed this belief.
The area is also full of minor references, apparent nods to other titles from Platinum’s oeuvre, including Bayonetta, Drakengard, Bayonetta (which has a new entry slated for this year), and Nier: Replicant Buncha Numbers (which came out last year but, at the release of Nier: Automata, wouldn’t have been announced). This is all, if nothing else, a signature stamp from Yoko Taro.
“I wouldn’t put it past the devs to cut content teasing a new game,” Azura said.
The Case Against
“No idea HOW they made this video still, but it’s clearly not what they say it is,” McDonald wrote on Twitter. “They’re lying about the situation.”
Though no one can say so with 100% certainty—it’s harder to prove a negative than a positive—the evidence that there’s something fishy about this whole thing has been exhaustively cataloged in a 14-page Google Doc, widely credited as spearheaded by Meowsandstuff. (He described it to me as a “group effort.”) It even includes a spreadsheet pinpointing the exact times Sadfutago has posted to Reddit, alongside the erratic nature of those posts.
“Regardless if Sadfutago is lying or not, please do not harass them for information or otherwise!” reads a missive in bold font at the top of the document. (Given that many community members believe Sadfutago could be a minor, seriously, people, please heed that line.)
Part of the document details down to image discrepancies, but there’s some squabbling over the character model in the clip, which matches a “Yorha” character model in last year’s Nier: Replicant Buncha Numbers—right on down to the model’s bracelet. To some people, like Azura, that and other references means devs snuck something into the game. But to the folks who believe this whole thing is just a wild hoax, it’s a sign of savvy misdirection.
“Yoko Taro games are so full of references it’s totally within reason that he would make a hidden area with more references,” Vats3 said. “Anyone who knows Yoko Taro knows that, so a modder would totally use [it] to try and make their hoax more believable.”
That Sadfutago is allegedly playing a base version of the game means they’d have access to content that others, playing more updated versions of the game, wouldn’t be able to see. The gaming world is no stranger to wild discoveries from unpatched games. In 2018, for instance, players of an unpatched copy version of Shadow of the Tomb Raider found an entirely different ending that wasn’t supposed to be included in the retail release. But on the matter of Nier: Automata, questions remain.
“One prerelease review copy had been played through with no evidence of the secret,” Meowsandstuff said.
Then there’s the most cynical read: A version of Nier: Automata is coming to Nintendo Switch in October, which has given some people the impression that the whole thing could be a marketing scheme. Part of what’s fueling this conspiracy theory is that Sadfutago has continued posting on Reddit, but he appears to be repeating exactly what other people are saying about the discovery. While it’s possible there’s a language barrier, others now believe that perhaps this is a case of someone forgetting to log out of their account while trying to pose as other people. And if that’s the case, perhaps this is viral marketing after all. But we can’t say for certain.
Despite the mountain of evidence suggesting there’s something fishy about Sadfutago’s secret discovery, there’s still…no certain answer. Nier: Automata’s official feeds haven’t helped clarify anything either. After directing followers to look at his frustratingly vague Twitter bio, Yoko Taro weighed in again this morning. “Yesterday. My number of followers was increased over 1000 counts. But I am not what you expected. Normaly, I don[t tweet in English language. Because I am so foolish. And I love sausage and beer,” Taro wrote. (Same, dude. Same.)
When reached for comment, representatives for Square Enix did not immediately have anything to add on the record.
“It’s very unfortunate we can’t ask him about this,” Azura said.
On the Nier modding Discord, Meowsandstuff floated the idea of a $500 bounty for anyone who could legitimately, though noted to Kotaku that it wasn’t a “serious offer” (for the time being). If, hypothetically, there were to be a bounty, it’d need to show “clear source resolution video captured from the same machine the game was played on; including multiple angles and close ups of areas we have not much video or screenshots of,” he said.
Over the past 24 hours, I’ve been pretty immersed in the swirling community mystery around Nier’s secret church, and I get the sense I’ve barely scratched the surface. I also get the sense that, as with the internet’s best heated debates (who here remembers the Dress?), the conversation has only just gotten started, and may never end. Short of hard evidence—the sort of thing Meowsandstuff pointed out—neither side will get an answer here.
But I don’t think the answer is the point. Amid all the bullshit in the world right now—the housing crisis, the unchecked domestic fascism, the ongoing global pandemic, the sparks of a potential second—stuff like this is what we all need. It is fun to theorize, to hope, to get a distraction just for the shits and giggles.
“I keep wanting to believe it’s real,” Azura said. “It would be very, very funny honestly.”