Nier: Gestalt (2010, Japan)

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Premise:

The apparent hero of this story is Nier. Seeking a cure for his daughter’s fatal illness, known as the black scrawl, his quest takes us on a journey through a post-apocalyptic fantasy world that grows stranger with each step.

Destructive creatures called ‘shades’ roam the lands, driving humanity to the brink of extinction. Behind them all is an enigma known only as the Shadowlord. However, there is more to this world than what it seems. Nier’s journey raises questions about the origins of the shades, the black scrawl, and humanity itself.

What to expect

Firstly, despite having a premise that initially seems cliché, the world and the characters leave a lasting impression that few games can boast. The story speaks volumes about human nature, suffering, and good and evil. However, prepare to commit, because this is a game that must be finished to be fully appreciated.

Secondly, the soundtrack is one of the game’s biggest selling points. Each track carries an exciting and eerie mysticism that permeates the game. I recommend that anyone give the soundtrack a listen.

Overall, expect:

  • Beautiful soundtrack
  • Engaging and believable characters
  • Plot-driven world
  • Everything is not what it seems!

Discussion (Warning: Spoilers)

Nier:Gestalt has many selling-points, from the soundtrack to the characters and to the overall tone. However, there is another aspect I believe demands closer inspection.

Firstly, we have the Shadowlord. He is out to save his daughter, mirroring Nier’s quest. Yet the story does not end with a peaceful understanding between Nier and the Shadowlord. It ends with bloodshed, because neither Nier nor the Shadowlord can achieve his goal without stopping the other. Nier slays a man whose actions are no more evil or good than his own.

Secondly, we have the shades. It is almost instinctive to think that the shades are evil. Just look at them! Their dark, hulking forms with unnaturally long limbs and ominously hollow voices make them seem like perfect incarnation of pain or fear!

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We only learn at the end of the game that they are arguably more “human” than the supposedly human main characters. The second play-through of Nier:Gestalt adds dialogue from the shades that Nier encounters. The player now understands the shades’ language and can hear them cry out against the suffering Nier is causing. In their eyes, Nier is the true villain.

All of the characters in Nier: Gestalt have motivations that appear reasonable and even noble when viewed in isolation. However, they are shown to be selfish and destructive when viewed in the larger context.

Despite this revelation, the player is not given a choice redeem himself or herself by abandoning Nier’s quest. Nier proves that he would go to any lengths to save his daughter, and we are forced to face the reality that this is not a tale of good and evil. It is a conflict without higher ideals, laid out in all its selfish and morally-grey humanity.

If this interpretation of Nier: Gestalt seems nihilistic, there is one additional element that is certain to drive home this feeling of existential meaninglessness. If you wish, it can be discovered by finishing the game a third and final time. Enjoy!

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