By Jackson Anderson
Nier: Automata is a video game by the critically heralded niche developer PlatinumGames, masters of the spectacle fighter, or, in other words, games in which a protagonist (or antagonist, it doesn’t really matter) adventures through comically exaggerated worlds destroying everything in their path with an array of comically exaggerated attacks. Publisher Square Enix recently contracted the developer to reawaken the dormant series Nier, a bizarre cult classic that subverts genre tropes and has overt and covert commentary on the artificially of human life. In Nier: Automata you are B2: an android constructed by a small group of humans exiled in the moon with the task to –alongside a small flotilla of other androids– to retake the Earth from an army of non-sentient (or are they) machines.
That is all that you need to know about Nier: Automata the video game, because what really blew me away about it –and made me realize how incredible it was– was its adaptive and expansive soundtrack. Composer Keiichi Okabe outdid himself in spectacular fashion, employing an array of classic string instruments such as pianos, violins, and acoustic guitars during calmer, more cerebral moments in the game, before adding mechanical and industrial sounds through synthesizers for more intense spots and boss fights.
What is really incredible about Nier: Automata’s soundtrack, though, is how many minute and tailored tracks the game has. Minor spoilers for small side quests ahead. One example is there is a side quest in which the player is instructed to retrieve a music box for a friendly resistance member that belonged to their old friend. Once you find this box, it is revealed that this old friend perished at some point. If the player chooses to return the box and tell the resistance member that their friend is dead, the resistance camp theme –usually a calming and spartan acoustic guitar ballad– switches into a minor key on the xylophone: the music box that the player has just returned to the resistance member. Two incredibly minor characters that make no reappearance come to life through music, and the music box resounding through the camp as you exit makes for a bittersweet and touching experience.
A more light-hearted example of these specifically tailored tracks is another optional side quest in which a player has to escort a little girl safely back to her sister in a small village. It’s a happy return if you succeed, the entire village singing praises as you do, with rewards abound. The most beautiful and heart-warming change, however, is that the village’s theme, usually played by a flute, switches to a little girl singing it in la’s. It was so sweet and perfect that I didn’t want to exit the village. It perfectly encapsulated the feeling of reunification and hope that the villagers were experiencing better than any dialogue could have, and added an emotional layer to a video game that is difficult to achieve.
Not all studios can afford to have massive soundtracks like Nier can, unfortunately, but when the budget is there to go all-out, Okabe and PlatinumGames have set the new standard for soundtracks. Every single track on the expansive track list for Nier feels like it serves a purpose rather than to simply fill the silence. Instead, they complement what is happening on the screen and make each scene 3-Dimensional and lifelike in a way that not enough video game soundtracks do. Okabe and his team deserve high praise and recognition for a resounding success in one of the best video game soundtracks ever created.