What if I told you that you actually didn’t know all that much about some of your old favorite games? Why it resonated with you so much or perhaps even what made them so great in the first place? What if there were some aspects in those very games that you took for granted, when in actuality they were flashes of brilliance in game design?
That is exactly what I’m telling you right now.
Don’t believe me? Read on and welcome to “Brilliance in Gaming.”
If I were to wake tomorrow morning and attempt to rob my local bank armed only with a handful of Twizzlers, I would suffer some rather serious consequences.
I would walk into the lobby; jump on the counter and yell, “GET DOWN EVERYONE! I HAVE TWIZZLERS AND I’M NOT AFRAID TO USE THEM!”
It would take all but a moment for people to launch themselves to the ground in sequence, not unlike a series of dominoes, as the out of shape bank security guards waddled their way towards me.
I would slap some of the guards on the face with the Twizzlers and reach deep into my pockets with my other hand for a fist full of Skittles to throw, hoping it would act as some sort of kryptonite against my diabetic assailants.
Eventually, cops, the swat team, national guard and perhaps Bruce Willis would show up to overpower me with sheer numbers and I would be taken into custody.
The next day, my friends and family would appear on the news talking about how they just simply couldn’t understand why I decided to do something so crazy, and shed tears talking about how I was always a good person.
The day after that, the media would have a field day with all the different games I played and the music I listened to, talking about how my erratic behavior could be traced back to my love for Blazblue and the intro song to Dragon’s Dogma.
I would be locked away in prison waiting for my trial to start and I would plead insanity, choosing to represent myself wearing a bear suit. After that, it’s off to spend two years in the mental hospital before I can get back out to rob another bank, this time carrying a spray bottle of Febreze.
Now, let’s say I decided to do the same sort of thing in Steelport- this time, holding a big purple dildo bat instead.
This version of the story is a lot shorter.
I would do it and whether I succeeded or not, I would simply reload my last checkpoint and it would be like nothing happened at all.
That’s because Steelport is the fictional world of Saint’s Row, an open-world video game.
The topic of choice and consequence is one that pops up often in video games.
Titles like The Walking Dead tout their various decisions and how impactful they are to the continued storyline, and while that would be somewhat accurate within the context of the game world, it actually doesn’t matter at all to the players themselves.
While it’s true that those precious few that tell a compelling story can make the players feel invested in its world and characters to impact them emotionally, peel away that delicate surface and you’re back to realizing that everything lost or gained is a simple load file away.
But that’s how games are, right?
There are no real consequence to your actions that could have a direct and tangible effect on the player, and we accepted this notion as an unavoidable truth of the medium.
That is, until Nier came along.
The story of Nier is one of loss and perseverance.
To attempt to describe the full story in detail as an alternative to experiencing it for oneself is a feat beyond my talents, as it is massive and filled with countless intricacies.
Instead I will endeavor to highlight one of four possible endings and explain the significance of it.
After a grueling journey spanning several years, Nier manages to defeat the man who kidnapped his daughter Yonah, but before he could even take a moment to rejoice in this victory, his trusted companion Kaine succumbs to her fatal condition and becomes a monster.
Nier is forced to fight Kaine and incapacitate her. He is then given two choices: either to plunge his sword into her heart to free her from her misery, or to save her by turning her human by letting go of his very own existence, where the world will simply continue on like he never existed.
When the choice to save her is made, this is prompted to the player.
After saying yes, another message will appear just like it.
Over and over, it will ask you as though it was begging you not to do it.
Finally, this message appears.
Once the final choice is made, the player is asked to write the name they chose for Nier- the one that they decided to identify with. After that, the game would open up the all familiar menu screens that the player has seen countless times and begin systematically deleting everything.
All the quests, items, maps, weapons and finally the save files themselves would be deleted right in front of the player’s eyes and the game ends with the world continuing as though Nier, or rather the player, never existed there in the first place.
Going to the load screen after the credits have rolled will verify that indeed all records of the player in this world had perished.
The dozens of hours spent interacting with its various denizens, the hundreds of slain enemies and all the treasure that was discovered were nowhere to be found.
Anyone who has been a gamer long enough knows just exactly what it means to lose a save file, and it’s more or less one of the worst thing that can happen, as it has sent many into a blind rage with only broken pieces of controllers left to show for it.
Such an event is a tragedy- told as cautionary tales so others could avoid such a grisly fates.
However, in Nier the player is asked to knowingly, and more importantly, willingly, wash away their mark in the world they’ve invested dozens of hours in for a miracle that would otherwise be impossible.
It boldly leaps the chasm of preconceived notions of the genre and manages to add a direct and tangible consequence to a choice made within the game world that resonates beyond the fourth wall, all within the confines of its narrative and theme.
Oh and it also happen to have one of the greatest soundtracks to ever grace a video game, too.
Fun Tidbit: You do keep you trophies/achievements but honestly, I would have preferred if the game deleted those as well for even greater effect.