The Genius Of Nier

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Too long. Luckily, Nier Automata isn’t out yet, so I can talk about this hot keyword and get some free traffic going my way.

Let’s get something out of the way first: I LOVE the original Nier. Videogame storytelling simply cannot get better. There are games with better stories, but I have never seen a game tell a good story this effectively.

I originally went into Nier for the hell of it. Having picked up a PS3 relatively late in its life, I hunted for the action RPGs that my PC platform lacked. The game looked and sounded unusual, so I thought “why not?” Initially disappointed, I pressed through regardless, encouraged by claims that it gets better. Oh, it does, and how.

It was about halfway through that I realized that Nier was part of my favorite piece of insanity: the Drakengard franchise. I honestly couldn’t tell. The characters were eccentric, the music was brilliant, and the budget was wonky, but other than that, it seemed as if they were not cut from the same cloth at all.

To illustrate, Drakengard games are like a crazy ex: full of great traits you can’t find anywhere else, but just don’t work in the end. Sure, you might remember the good times, but going for a replay inevitably leads to ruin. There is a kind of warped beauty about them, but no one in their right mind would ever call them good.

Nier, on the other hand, is that girl who looks great from afar, but reveals more and more imperfections when you get close. Most people would run away screaming at that point, but those with the tenacity to spend some time with her would learn that she could make them happy in a way no one else could.

Indeed, roughness almost killed this game dead. Now considered a cult classic, it struggled with sales back in the day. Lazy, partial reviews by major gaming press didn’t help as well, but talking about that alone would take too long.

But how does it tie into Drakengard, you ask? Oooof… this will take a while. After the final, joke ending of the original Drakengard, the final boss of that game enters our world and decomposes. Sadly, it also releases a disease that either kills people or turns them into mind-controlled monsters (their choice). The body of Caim’s dragon is recovered by the Japanese government and experimented on, becoming a source of magic. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A man (or very young man in the Japanese version) defends a little girl from what appear to be ghosts. He uses the power of a strange talking book to beat them away, but his daughter/sister (again, depending on version) seems to succumb to the disease.

Papa Nier, Badass, Altruism, Big Sword, Huge Weapon, White Hair, Dead, Delete Save

Papa Nier

The game then jumps one thousand three hundred and twelve years later, to apparently reveal the same pair of people, now living in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic (but still lush and green) land. The man (named Nier by default) is kind of a protector of their town, and defends it from the ghosts in the intro (called Shades by the villagers). Shades speak an incomprehensible language and are entirely malicious.

Yonah, Nier's daughter, sister, baggage, little girl

Yes, she’s wearing a drape.

The girl (named Yonah) doesn’t seem to have gotten over her sickness over the course of a millennium, so she can barely do anything at all. This is the part where the previously-mentioned imperfections play a large part. About half of the game is essentially a series of fetch quests and world-building. This pays off later, but is mostly agonizing early on.

Grimoire Weiss, Talking Book, Magic, Liam O'Brien, Snark

The expression says it all.

Through circumstances too complicated to explain, Nier gains possession, or rather companionship of another talking book. It calls itself Grimoire Weiss, and seems to be lacking a good part of its knowledge. Luckily, this knowledge can be recovered, so Nier uses Weiss to cast an ever-expanding assortment of spells throughout the game. Weiss is also quite a bit of a wise-ass, providing most of the game’s humor. Calling it Liam O’Brien’s greatest role would not be a stretch.

Kaine, Hermaphrodite, Saw swords, Companion, Shade, Possessed

No words for this character design.

As Nier continues his fetch-quests (most of these are aimed at helping people, but a lot produce nothing but tragedy), he comes across a hermit of a girl who calls herself Kaine. Kaine is a foul-mouthed, lovable minx who is on the hunt for a gargantuan shade that killed her grandma. Also, she may or may not have a penis. Overall, a charming person. She and Nier team up (her exchanges with Weiss are nothing but brilliant) and she eventually gets her revenge, but it soon becomes apparent that she is also partially possessed by a Shade. In time, she would become one herself.
Overall, Kaine was a lot of fun, and I loved the time she spent on the screen. Another performance of a career, this one from Laura Bailey.

Nier Emil, Skeleton, Moon face, Magic weapon, Sacrifice, Tragic

Cute little bugger. Right?

Saying who the fourth party member is would a major spoiler, so let’s just put his picture up here for the sake of completeness. Plenty of places on the internet with info on that guy. I’ll just say that his highlight scenes are among the most intense in the game.

In fact, saying pretty much anything beyond what I just did would completely ruin the experience for whoever was lucky to have yet to play it. Nier is tragic, immersive, and witty in a way very few games from Japan are. Not saying that Japan’s lacking in wits, it’s just that something tends to get lost in the translation. In this case, that didn’t happen. Everything about the localization is just about perfect.

Let’s leave it at that.

I know. I’ve already spoiled Drakengard 1& 2, so why not Nier? I’m not so sure I know the answer, but I’ll try to give one regardless. It was Nier that showed me that the people who made this just might in fact know what they are doing. It becomes hard to mock the craft of someone capable of taking you for a ride, turning the whole thing up on its head, and ending it all by wounding you horribly. Yet you somehow don’t hate them for it. In fact, you want more.

Thank you, Yoko Taro. Thank you for this work of genius. And fuck you. You know why.
M. T. Miller

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The Insanity of Drakengard Vol. 2

Drakengard 2, Cavia, Yoko Taro, Nowe, Manah, Eris, Caim, Angelus, Legna, JRPG, horrible

When something horrible goes wrong, does it effectively go right? The answer is no.

Sequels are hard. They rarely outperform the original in both acclaim and sales. And then there is the unique dilemma that only creators of strange things face: whether to make it more accessible (and risk alienating fans) or go full retard (and possibly live in a cardboard box for the rest of one’s life).

The makers of Drakengard 2 chose the former, and the world is poorer for it. I blame the absence of the series’ resident director/lunatic Yoko Taro. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ahem, the sequel to the most messed-up thing I’ve ever played, read or seen takes place in a timeline that vaguely follows the original’s first ending. Eighteen years have passed since the red dragon had agreed to become the next Seal, and the world is at peace once more. The Union has taken over, and you play as generic JRPG protagonist #9999. Let’s call him Nowe, since the game does so already.

One of the first things the Union has done after winning the war was to install a brand new set of Seals, and appoint some badass knights to defend them. This organization is headed by a guy named General Gismor (a definitely-not-evil guy), and the new Hierarch Seere (the kid from the first game). Four lieutenants serve under them, and they are just about the only interesting characters this game has to offer. With the exception of a happy few.

But let’s get back to our boy Nowe, who is incredibly boring. He is a reformed semi-wild child that was found in the company of a black dragon, and is about to become a knight. His draconic partnership (mysteriously attained at no Pact cost) basically makes him a special snowflake that rises through the ranks rapidly, and is in turn hated by more or less everyone. Everyone but his friend Eris.

Eris is your prototype First Girl We See. That means that she is bossy and serves to spout a whole lot of exposition, but is ultimately more or less useless for the plot except as a victim. She doesn’t even get to be Nowe’s love interest, besides showing an obvious infatuation with him. More on that later.

Anyway, despite becoming a knight, Nowe still hangs out with the black dragon who had raised him. This dragon (called Legna) is very fatherly and seems to have genuine affection for the young man. Together they embark on a series of jolly (and relatively unimportant) adventures in the name of the Union, until the actual story of the game takes off: the new Seals are under attack and their breaking must be stopped.

Nowe and Eris are then sent to defend a seal alongside a Lieutenant called Zhangpo. Like all Lieutenants, Zhango has a Pact with a supernatural creature, except his doesn’t actually appear in the game. Probably cut. The price he paid for his Pact was very strange: he is unable to eat, yet somehow still lives.

After visiting a Seal location, Nowe learns that the place is being kept in existence by draining the life-force of incarcerated Empire soldiers. He is horribly upset by that, despite having nothing better to suggest. Then again, the man hadn’t seen the Watchers/flying babies from the original, so he isn’t exactly acquainted with the alternative.

In defending the Seal, the party meets a fully-grown Manah. She is on an apparent crusade to liberate the soldiers of the old Empire, despite the fact that doing so would end the world. An amazing way to atone for almost destroying everything, I think. Of course, Nowe is instantly smitten with her. Manah kills Zhangpo, breaks the Seal, and is captured… for about an hour. As Eris prepares to burn her at the stake, she escapes by using sorcery.

Nowe returns to have a drink with General Gismor, only to be betrayed and poisoned, but Nowe’s apparent Super Saiyan heritage lets him survive it with zero consequence. He fights the general and escapes the Knights’ stronghold. Eris stays behind to mope, and Nowe and his dragon are left seemingly without backup.

They pick up Manah as they flee, and our hero decides to help her in breaking the Seals. Why, you ask? No idea. Men do silly things to impress women, I guess. The two of them proceed to the next Seal, this one defended by someone called Hanch. Hanch is a beautiful young woman whose Pact cost was her charm, so now no one willingly approaches her. She dies, of course, and her Seal breaks.

A new character joins your party; a guy called Urick. He is an… interesting sort.He is one of the Lieutenants of the Knights of the Seal, which means that his is the duty of defending one such location. Like all other Lieutenants (and Gismor for that matter) he has a little Pact himself. With Death. In exchange for his ability to die. I think this is a pretty sweet deal.

The game then kind of loses steam for a bit… until THIS happens. That’s right. The man, the legend, Caim arrives to save this game from being completely horrible! It turns out that our old friend is out to destroy the new Seals so he could see his dragon again. Manah flips out entirely, and I can’t say that I blame her.

You see, in-between the two games, Caim got a little bit busy. He took little Manah by the hand and basically dragged her out to every place that survived the disaster she had brought on. I presume the point of this was for the people to point at her and laugh, which they of course did. After a bit of time, Manah mistook this genuine affection for torment, so she escaped after stabbing him in the eye while he slept. He is understandably pissed.

You get away from Caim and proceed to the next Seal. It is being kept by a guy called Yaha, who is you standard elven fabulous blond guy. Yaha’s Pact with gnomes (yes, all of them) gives him ridiculous beauty, but also prevents him from feeling any sort of pleasure. He dies horribly and another Seal falls. Nowe doesn’t question why this is being done.

You reach another Seal, the guardian of which turns out to be Urick. He tells you that he wishes to help you out by dying, but doesn’t know how. Luckily, Caim arrives and fixes this problem by killing Death itself. Urick expires after throwing Caim into a deep chasm (he gets out pretty fast), and you can proceed further. Wheeee.

In continuation of this glorious pattern, you all reach the final Seal, which is defended by Gismor himself. Nowe tries to kill him, but hits Eris instead, who seems to die. Gismor drops his set of armor, revealing that he had given up his body for a bunch of darkness-based powers. How exactly this works, I have no idea. He seemed to have had a functional body for pretty much the entire game. So you fight, he loses, and he breaks the Seal himself. Just to spite Nowe or something. I don’t know.

We are then treated to a pretty cool scene of the red dragon getting freed from her shackles. It turns out that all of these previous Seals were in fact only there to keep her from getting free. Driven mad by the pain and imprisonment, the red dragon decides to set the world on fire. She doesn’t even recognize Caim. You have yourselves a major fight, and she plummets to the ground, mortally wounded. Caim meets her where she falls, and they die together, still bound via their Pact.

The sky breaks, and the world starts going crazy again. Eris turns out to be alive somehow, and Manah starts acting stranger than usual. Nowe and his dragon fly to an ancient dragon temple because reasons, where Nowe learns that he is something called a New Breed. Basically, he is the posthumous progeny of Inuart and Furiae from part one. Inuart had found a unique Seed of Resurrection (called the Bone Casket), entered it while still carrying her body, and out came a superpowered child who also had a partial pact with Inuart’s black dragon.

Manah gets possessed by the Watchers again (like she was in the first game), and Nowe gets inside her mind via means unexplained. He then basically exorcises them via the power of love. Legna reveals that he had only raised Nowe as a weapon to fight the Watchers (i. e. the flying babies), and that he expects the young man to step up and help him in conquering existence.

In the first ending, Nowe refuses, and Legna conjures up a legion of so-called holy dragons. Seere fights them with an army of golems, and Nowe officially goes Super Saiyan. He then proceeds to fight the dragon in a surprisingly poignant air mission (since he can now fly without assistance). Legna dies, and Seere makes Eris into the next Goddess/Seal. Nowe and Manah go off to lead their lives in enjoyment, while Eris does what she did throughout the game: watch them.

Now… I am getting tired only writing about this. Actually playing it is even worse, and becomes damn near intolerable when it comes to getting endings two and three. Why, you ask? Well, because unlike the original, Drakengard 2 doesn’t allow the player to start any mission they’ve beat at any time at all. What this means is that in order to unlock the additional endings, you need to play the whole game again, start to finish. At increased difficulty. I’d tolerate this if the different endings were in any way good. But they aren’t, and the game suffers horribly from it.

Ending two has Nowe actually choose to side with Legna. The Bone Casket appears, swallows up Manah, and Nowe has to destroy it along with her. Eris and Nowe then ride Legna up to the heavens to fight the floating babies for dominance over the world.

Ending three… is basically ending one with some additional scenes. That’s it. Whoopededoo. I’ll have you know that unlocking it takes up about 60 hours of one’s life. Truly, truly masterful.

So… what went wrong? Well, other than the Caim/red dragon stuff… pretty much everything. Every component of this game is lighter in tone than in the original, from the scenery, to the music, and all the way up to the characters themselves. The protagonist is absolutely insufferable, and can basically be summed up as a kid who chooses to end the world in order to impress a girl. Absolutely brilliant, I say.

There is a distinct lack of trying in everything. Character models stay still in cut-scenes as if they were statues. The game over-explains everything, so you see every possible twist from miles away. I wouldn’t be surprised if the development team had intended the whole Knights-of-the-Seal-not-being-that-bad thing as some kind of crazy twist, but their fear of losing your average player caused them to spoil their own story. And the thing with the endings was just horrendous.

Perhaps they hoped to compensate with the slightly improved gameplay, but in my eyes this wasn’t nearly enough. Drakengard has always sucked in that regard, and a slightly more fun Drakengard is still a thoroughly underwhelming game. Take away the madness, and all you’re left with is another me-too.

All in all, a game I can’t recommend even in summary form. It genuinely tired me to write this up. Luckily, the franchise only became better after this.

But that is a story for another time.

M. T. Miller

The Insanity of Drakengard

Drakengard, Cavia, Caim, Angelus, Nier, Blood, Mayhem, Madness, Babies

So innocent looking, this logo is.

Every once in a while, there comes a piece of media that makes me question the creators’ sanity. Drakengard didn’t do that. I am absolutely certain that this game was written by a lunatic.

With Nier Automata coming out next year, I thought I’d revisit this… strange franchise and put my thoughts about it back in order. As Dark Id said: strap in, kids. It’s going to get fucking weird.

Drakengard is a mixture of ground-based slaughter and aerial dragon-riding mayhem. In terms familiar to those who’ve seen the Blade movies: It has the strengths of neither and the weaknesses of both. This game is repetitive, frustrating, and flat-out unfun.

But Drakengard is paradoxically not about gameplay. Rather, what makes it stand out is the sheer and utter insanity of its story. Also the final boss, but I’ll get to that. There will be a whole lot of spoilers, so I’d advise anyone crazy enough to want to play this to stop reading right here. Actually scratch that. Just don’t play the original Drakengard. No one should actually play the original Drakengard.

The story takes place in a vaguely defined fantasy world where two forces called the Union and the Empire have been at war for a while. You play as Caim; a nobleman and psychopath. Our… hero has a real rage-boner for slaughtering everyone even loosely affiliated with the Empire. He also utterly hates dragons due to losing his parents to a black one.

Caim receives a deadly injury during battle and is forced into a so-called Pact with a female red dragon in order to survive. To finalize this pact he has to give up something, and apparently the d100 that determines this rolls on his voice. He remains mute up to the end of the game (barring a specific ending). Caim and the red dragon then proceed to murder absolutely everything in their path and turn the tide of war.

A bit later on, we learn that the Empire is actually being run by something called the Cult of the Watchers. This cult is attempting to break something called Seals, one of which is Caim’s sister, Furiae. Furiae had taken up a vow of chastity so she could become the bearer of this seal, much to the detriment of her fiancee Inuart. They are both complete and utter failures of characters and deserve each other in every possible way.

Inuart, being a complete wuss, gets captured by the Empire and brainwashed into accepting a Pact with a black dragon. This is of course the very same dragon that killed Caim’s parents. Having lost his ability to sing, Inuart beats up Caim and kidnaps Furiae. This is where everything goes completely and utterly insane.

While searching for his sister, Caim and the red dragon gather some party members. One of these is Leonard,  a blind pedophile paladin guy. The other is … Arioch, an elf-woman who had lost her children, and now likes to eat babies. Someone thought it would be a good idea to take her along. Probably as a joke.

The last party member is a kid called Seere, who is accompanied by a golem whom he has a Pact with. Seere had given up his time for this Pact, meaning that he can’t age. He is also looking for his sister; a girl called Manah.

The game then takes you on such lovely missions like killing child soldiers who keep asking for mercy as you cut them down. Leonard asks you you to spare them as well, for reasons I refuse to consider. Drakengard has a huge problem with children.

Anyway, after an utter massacre, you come across the game’s first ending where you find Furiae dead in the seat of the Cult of the Watchers. She had been killed off-screen, Inuart is crying next to her body, and a possessed little girl is dancing around them. This is Manah, Seere’s sister, who is apparently the cult’s prophet of sorts. Some plot-fu later, you end up fighting a flying, 50-foot tall, spellchucking Manah. After adding another notch to your child-belt, you are told that someone needs to become the new seal or reality will become undone. The red dragon offers to take up this duty, and the apocalypse is cancelled.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the game has a total of five endings, each more insane and messed-up than the last.

Drakengard’s second ending has Inuart drag Furiae’s dead body to something called a Seed of Resurrection. These large stones of sorts are fated to appear at the world’s end, and using them is supposedly forbidden. But of course, being a complete waste of air, Inuart messes everything up once more. Furiae is indeed revived, but as a harpy-like monster that kills Inuart as soon as she opens her eyes. Caim is forced to kill his sister, only to learn that every single Seed had spat out a copy of her.

So it’s apocalypse by evil clones!

The game’s third ending is by far the weakest. It has the red dragon break her pact when she is ordered to lead the other dragons on a great purge against humanity for reasons the game doesn’t bother explaining. Caim speaks, reminding us just how much better he was back when he was mute, and puts her down. He then charges out to face the army of dragons alone.

The fourth ending is something no sane creature could ever conceive.

With the final seal broken, the sky collapses and a bunch of gigantic, floating babies with teeth enter reality. They are closely followed by their mother, a so-called Queen Beast, who is apparently about to birth forth the end of the world. Arioch, everyone’s favorite baby-eating elf, gets caught up in the sight and is promptly devoured by these things. Leonard dies as well, blowing himself up to give the rest of the party more time to act.

Seere comes up with the idea to break his pact while on top of the Queen Beast, reasoning that the time he gave up would somehow stop her. Caim and the red dragon die flying him up to her. Seere breaks his pact, and most of Drakengard’s version of Europe is frozen in time.

The game’s final ending requires you to collect all available weapons. This is an incredibly frustrating and unfun task, the completion of which rewards you by… transporting you to present-day Tokyo, where the gameplay changes into a rhythm game. And not just any rhythm game, but a completely unfair and unfun nightmare that had people frothing at the mouth.

And after hours, possibly days of struggling with this thing, the player is treated to the sight of Caim and the dragon getting shot down by fighter jets! Holy hell!

Let’s paraphrase this. Drakengard forces you to collect every single instrument of murder in the game. So you would fight a boss that doesn’t let you use any single one of them. And then it rewards you by giving you a joke ending that also kills you. This is trolling at its absolute finest!

No work of entertainment has ever come close to being this messed up on so many levels. Then again, this game can hardly be considered entertaining, so I might be a bit inaccurate. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed it, but I can’t help but remember it every once in a while. Things this grotesque have a habit of burning themselves into one’s memory for good.

They create a strong impression. An impression that crushes like a mace.

M. T. Miller

Paladins

Paladins, Kinessa, Androxus, Hero Shooter, Game, League, MOBA, Sniper, Flank

Berserk’s Casca seems to have gotten over her autism and taken on sniping, while Totally Not Spawn shows off his gun.

Time is a limited resource.

As someone who’s been into video games for well over two decades, I’ve felt the sting of that fact pretty damn hard. With each new obligation, there comes less time for indulging in what I like.

Now an adult in body (if not in mind), I’m forced to skip titles I’d have otherwise eaten whole. And what I do play, I play terribly late. For instance, it took me five whole years to finally get around to playing the Arkham series. Big mistake. Those games are awesome.

There was one exception to this rule: League of Legends. I’ve played that game since beta. I have lived on the Fields of Justice. But year after year, the game kept changing, becoming more and more polished. More and more competitive. More and more… boring and team-based.

And thus, little by little, I started hating it. Gone were the insane ultimates, the radically powerful effects that let one snowball like crazy and blow everything up. Oh, sure, it’s still doable, but everything’s been done to make the impact of a single loose cannon (i. e. me) as limited as possible. I realize it is a team game. It always was. But it is not the insane thing I fell in love with.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Enter Paladins.

As most everyone, I didn’t even try getting into this game’s closed beta. The ponderous, supposedly strategic tone that Hi-Rez seems to have aimed for was not what I wanted, and the schizophrenic graphics didn’t do it at all for me at all. But this has completely and utterly changed once I’ve tried the open beta.

Wow, is this a different game than I expected.

Things explode, champions fly around and people die. That is the best summary I can give of my experience, and if this sounds exactly like any other shooter ever, that’s because it’s supposed to. This is the essence of adrenaline. Only less mindless.

Just like its evil step-brother Overwatch, Paladins is a team-based shooter with some MOBA elements. One picks a character, gets comfy, and proceeds to murder everyone on the opposing team, or instead be on the receiving end of mass murder. Supposedly there is also a strategic point to capture and a payload to deliver, but don’t believe that. All lies. The whole thing is hectic, colorful, and insanely fun.

Just the way League was back when it was fresh.

Add being free to this, and the fact that its player base is growing immensely (leading to practically no queue time), and I think we’ve got the Next Big Thing.

RIP Battleborn. It’s been fun.

M. T. Miller