The majority of your time in Nier Automata is spent on the planet’s surface, exploring a post-apocalyptic husk reclaimed by a mixture of nature and machinery. 2B and 9S cannot complete their mission in the comfort of the bunker, so they venture outside in search of answers, repeating a vicious cycle of violence until it is finally broken in later playthroughs. It’s a melodic exercise in misery that is occasionally interrupted by brief visits to the bunker – a monochromatic sanctuary defined by sombre music and passive androids all carving out small pockets of personality amidst their obedient duties.
It’s also where our heroes return when things go wrong. Upon the detonation of their black boxes, all of their thoughts and memories are uploaded to the bunker, ready to be installed into another duo of androids ready to tackle the perpetual path of suffering once again. The wider picture is one defined by hopelessness, but time spent in the bunker reinforces that these androids are more human than we might expect, even if the muted colour palette and orchestral accompaniments try to convince us otherwise.
With the recent release of Nier Replicant and the reflection on Automata that came with it, my mind kept drifting back to the bunker, and how I wish the sequel spent more time with the silver space station our main characters were forced to call home. Its entire design feels deliberately uncomfortable. Beds, shelving, and other furniture so minimalist that even blankets are stripped away in favour of something that is purely operational.
It has a function and doesn’t need to be comforting, since such a concept should be unknowable to obedient androids. The Bunker gives off a vibe that is purposefully unwelcoming, like it wants the android population to fulfil their assigned roles and nothing more. There’s no time for needless distractions or emotional connections to colleagues that might otherwise distract from the wider, ultimately fruitless goal. Despite all this, it’s still home.
2B and 9S might be off murdering robots and being depressed on the surface, but life in the bunker continues onward. Androids converse and go about their daily lives, forming relationships and finding their feet even if the ultimate fate that awaits them is anything but peaceful. The humans are dead, they have been for thousands of years, but still they toil away, hoping that one day their masters will return to praise them. In the game itself, these stories are only ever glimpsed through snippets of dialogue, or operators chatting to 2B through audio communications to lament about unrequited crush or just to ensure our heroine is behaving herself.
It’s quiet moments that mimic everyday life, something I’m sure occupants of the bunker have grown accustomed to after thousands of years against the grindstone. I think this is why I’d love to have spent more time there in Nier Automata, taking in the trials and tribulations that these absurdly attractive androids perceive as normality. Sure, you can return there at any moment, but the dialogue runs dry and the ambient music can only transfix one for so long. Before my personal fixation could progress any further, the Bunker is destroyed as part of the ongoing narrative, left to crumble into nothingness as its debris floats into the endless void of space.
Nier Replicant’s quaint opening village serves a similar purpose, acting as a safe haven for our hero as he returns home again and again to take on quests and check on the wellbeing of the townspeople. He (presumably) grew up here, forming connections that could conceivably last a lifetime. The idea of such things being torn away is impossible to imagine, largely because he has always been in possession of humanity that Automata’s androids had to earn. The emotional turmoil that would soon befall him is tragic, but he can comprehend its weight, and the tragic circumstances of losing a place you’ve called home for decades.
This is why the destruction of Automata’s bunker is so devastating – it’s the last bastion of hope for a race of mechanical people who have no purpose beyond their own programming. Before they can truly discover the value of their own emotions and the humanity that awaits within, it’s all stripped away in service of nothing. The story wouldn’t be the same without this tragedy, so I don’t begrudge it, but Nier Automata could have shone all the more with a greater focus on the bunker. Perhaps some optional quests that explored the inner turmoil of different characters, with 2B journeying to the surface to receive trinkets or helping to solve relationship troubles between friends and loved ones.
Next: I Love That Nier Replicant Still Feels Like An Old School JRPG
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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously Gaming Editor over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.
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