I cannot speak of Nier without condemning game journalism. I cannot speak of Nier by using my disdain for what is perceived as the pinnacle of this gaming generation’s storytelling. Yet, at the same time, I cannot speak of Nier in its own vacuum. I wrote, rewrote and deleted this article more times than I have anything else. I had hoped that after some time, the feelings evoked by this game would sink in and settle, allowing me to share my thoughts calmly. I had hoped that my journey to Gamescom would lead to a revelation. A single line or phrase that would break the dam and let my words flood a blank sheet of paper.
And that never happened. And that’s alright, it really is. I should be happy about it. I have played many games, talked and written about them, never finding anything that would leave me speechless. Yet this is the one time I admit I lack the skill to write about a topic reliably. Not because I’ll be biased, but because I lack the craftsmanship to express my emotions and feelings on this level. It would feel hollow and cheap.
Nier is, what I believe, a new benchmark in video game storytelling. It falls short in regards to gameplay and graphics. The former is an awkward hybrid that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. The latter is bad even for console standards. Yet that doesn’t matter, since this imperfect gem is worth more than an endless sea of perfect pebbles. It’s exactly these kind of games, the ones that stumble so much, that we learn so much from, that push certain boundaries nobody else ever will.
And Nier does this with its story. It is so well-told, that I do not wish to deprive you of any moment of it. That’s why I will only speak of it on a mechanical level, writing about methods, rather than context. We have an issue with gaming, in the sense that we are catching up with movies and books as far as storytelling goes. It is not about us telling the same stories that have existed for centuries, but rather that we are trying to achieve equivalents. We seek the Citizen Kane of gaming, as though we need points of comparison for our medium. Nier pursues the possible interwoven nature of gameplay and story in such a subtle way, that as you play it, you might even not notice it.
Let us consider, for one single moment, that Citizen Kane was a game. Everything is the same, save for the medium. It is impossible, as the moment the movements of your character are motivated by your input, the whole perspective shifts. It is not the same experience. Let us try a much familiar comparison: compare watching a Let’s Play to playing the actual game? Is the experience the same? Is the story still the same? The context is, but the way you experience and view it isn’t.
This is the hook that Nier grabs and clings on to. It takes the fact that you are the one pushing the character, causing the pre-scripted events, and focuses all its storytelling efforts on it. The strength of the experience is of such magnitude, that it collapses the wall that separates it from context and merges with it. It actually manages to place gameplay, sub-par gameplay at that, in such a careful position, that it reaches a new benchmark in interactive storytelling. It is a story you could never tell in any other creative medium without losing everything that actually makes it.
There is no book, no movie, no song that is like Nier. There never will be. It is an interactive experience through and through. And that is what makes it amazing. It is not a careful plot twist, excellent writing, or anything like that. It’s the whole experience, from the moment you pick up the controller, that slowly builds upon everything you have previously done. It isn’t one single moment that makes it amazing, but the imperfect whole.
It gives you as much as you invest, and what is even more amazing, it takes away from you, the more you invest. It reaches this utterly paradoxical state, that the minds of Molyneux and David Cage can only hope to ever invoke a glimmer of such emotion in the player. It is a game we dare not ignore, a title we dare not enter the next generation without having played it. As we build upon the graphics of older games and advance, so must we build upon Nier’s narrative before we venture any further.
As I write this, I cannot imagine what the next step in interactive storytelling would be after Nier. I can imagine the end-point of graphics, as it is the point where the line between virtual reality and reality blurs. But for interactive storytelling? I do not know where we go after this, and that means it’s the right track. That means that when we do make the next step, we will have achieved something utterly amazing.
Whether you are a developer, publisher, or just a gaming enthusiast, go and play Nier right now. Buy it, rent it, steal it, it doesn’t matter. Future generations will thank you for it.
Persnickety Perspective is a weekly column that deals with nitpicky and overparticular thoughts on the gaming industry, culture and games in general.
Miodrag hails from the land of Serbia. He is currently a college student trying to learn Japanese and speaks English, German and Serbian (as well as all the jabber similar enough to Serbian). He is primarily a PC gamer, but knows his way around various consoles, old and new.
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