A Blind Non-Review of Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…

In 2017 I turned twenty-one years old, an age I can still call “tender” with partial, but not total irony. When I was twenty-one, I had already been drinking for two years. When I was twenty-one, I played Nier: Automata and it floored me. Then I played the original Nier and gained perspective. Then, some months later, I had an unrelated Panic Crisis about the world raisin-drying, oceans boiling, and everyone dying. At the tail end of those heavy-breathing weeks I went to college to look at the art of video games with a monocle over one eye.

I had first heard of Nier from an article on HardcoreGaming101.net. (The publishing date at the top of the article does not align with my memory; I swear that I read about it some time in 2016.) At the time I worked at my family’s dairy farm as an ice cream maker, a job title that would widen the eyes of just about anyone I talked to. I could not bring myself to meet it with the same childlike wonder. While I waited for batches of ice cream to finish freezing, I’d sit down on an upside-down milk crate and read about video games.

I had already known for a long time that my future did not live at my family’s farm. I loved video games. Just after high school, I began to love game design. I gluttonously devoured any information I could about weird, forgotten games between scooping batches of partially frozen ice cream into family sized containers. One day, which I could later describe as “sorta fateful,” I came across an article about Nier. It interested me about as much as any article about, say, Umihara Kawase. That is to say that I thought it sounded kinda neat, that I might check it out someday, and then I forgot about it.

Some time later, the demo for that game’s sequel, Nier: Automata, was released. I do not remember Automata being announced. When I heard more than one person on Twitter talk about the demo, I remembered reading about the original game, and decided to give the demo a look later that tired evening.

It was really cool. I thought it was about as cool as, say, Alien Soldier, or Devil’s Crush. That is to say I enjoyed it enough to get excited about its eventual, full-versioned existence. The day before Automata came out, I had given that day’s me some of tomorrow’s workload. The day of, I rushed through a half-length shift and then ran to the store to pick it up. My clothes were still wet from work when I grabbed my copy.

I sat down and started playing Automata at about 4 PM that day. The next time I checked the time, it was 4 AM. So blistering was the speed with which the game had swept me up, I forgot about the outside world. I forgot about having to work in a few hours. I forgot time.

I completed the first route of Automata in one sitting. A message pops up after the credits, urging you to try replaying the game. I thought that maybe I’d poke around a little bit for one replay; I also thought that, knowing me, I’d probably lose interest at some point and never finish the second playthrough. I thought I’d move on. As it happened, I would never move on.

I trudged through work the next day, back-sore, eye-tired, and brain-heavy. I was miserable. This miserability was not the cry-myself-to-sleep kind: it was a slow, dull, unfeeling misery. I had spent the last two years of my life finding new and interesting ways to emotionally numb myself. I drank. I did somewhat bad things sometimes. I smoked the devil’s lettuce once or thrice and yes, I also cranked my nasty HOG every single night, sometimes for upwards of eight hours. I did all these things regardless of how good or bad I felt. They were automatic. I had a lot I wanted to do with my life. I could not dredge up the motivation to do any of those things. I wasted days, I wasted away. I became a machine-perfect generator of new and interesting ways to live a dead life; I was proficient at hating myself in a way that only I could hate myself.

That night, leg-sore, back-blasted and ass-flattened, I sat on my couch and booted up Automata with the intention of glimpsing a glance of the second playthrough. It was at this point that the game grabbed my jaw, putty-stretched it down, and Gorilla-Glued it to the floor. The “second playthrough” was actually a whole other side to the story. The game broke my skull again: The “third playthrough” was actually a continuation of the story. By the time I had experienced the final ending, roller-coaster throttled by each and every one of the game’s ludonarrative tricks, I knew that pieces of Automata would live in me forever. I knew it was an important work of art.

I sought out a copy of the original Nier, and after much technological wrestling, I managed to get it up and running on my wheezing Xbox 360. I was once again throttled into previously unknown circles of video game Heck-Heaven. Here, earlier iterations of almost all of Automata’s skull-busting ideas lived. They lived here, in a weightier, dirtier, jank-laden home, escalator miles removed from Automata’s swift, frictionless and silky smooth combat. By the time I trudged through enough playthroughs to witness the game’s true ending, all three of my eyes were wide open to the wild artistic potential sleeping within the medium of video games. I already knew I wanted to make a video game someday. Now, I knew it harder and louder.

I continued to do nothing. Despite yelling at myself every day to move, to pick up empty beer cans and wash stink-stained clothing, to take a shower, to make something of myself, I continued to live in a self-imposed brain jail made of worm dirt. I found even more new and creative ways to remind myself that I was on a treadmill behind bars. One day I would stop running in place, lie down, and the perpetual movement of the treadmill would grind my ragdoll body into dust. This was my one and only future.

This was 2017. I was twenty-one, an age I can still call “tender” with partial, but not total irony. I drank a lot. We were less than one full year into the presidency of Movie King Koopa’s real-life counterpart. It had been a long day at work. I scrolled through twitter while waiting for batches of ice cream to finish freezing. People were talking about climate change a lot because the president had just committed some act of climate foolishness. It all scared me. That night, which I could later describe as “fateful,” an article appeared on my Twitter timeline. It was damning. It gave us all a generous twenty years to live. It imprinted images of boiled oceans, dead friends and desert wastelands into my brain with laser precision and death-permanency. I can say with confidence, four years later, that I would never be the same.

My younger sibling was graduating high school around this time. I did my best to act normal even though I was constantly on the verge of having three panic attacks at once. I kept this hidden from everyone. If I told them I was doing poorly because I knew that we were all going to die miserable, that the heat-death of the planet would treadmill-grind our ragdoll bodies into dust, what good would that do? It would just create more people who were always on the verge of having three panic attacks at once.

I don’t know how I survived those weeks. I also don’t know how I got better. Eventually, my heart rate began to slow down and even out. I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t keep living a dead life if I knew we were all going to die in twenty years or less, that the rich and powerful would be playing golf on hillsides built from our corpses. Society had instilled in me one potential way to “make something of myself,” and that was college. I remembered Nier. I remembered the apocalypses in those games and thought about how the real-life apocalypse would never be so poetic and beautiful. I remembered the wild, untapped artistic potential sleeping in the medium of video games.

I went to college. I studied game design. Two years successfully rolled by. Then, somewhere, somehow, I blipped myself into living a dead life all over again. I began failing every class. I stopped showing up. I saw one future for me: ground to dust in a desert that used to be a forest. I decided to stop trying to help myself.

Some amount of time and some amount of global pandemic later, my most recent attempts to live a life resembling a life were thwarted by factors far beyond my control. I wanted to give up. Deep within the iceberg’s tip of this Animal-Crossing-medicated painful silence, a remake of the original Nier was announced. Trailers trickled out over the next year.

Here it was: the same as it was but brand new. The same as it was but more readily accessible. Maybe some of the janky edges have been softened and sandpapered away. Maybe, somewhere in there, was something new tacked on to an old story. Maybe we were getting the brotherly story in lieu of the fatherly one. It was coming regardless, the same but different, just as skull-crushingly beautiful as ever.

I looked at myself earlier today, two days away from the release of Nier Replicant ver.1.22, and a treadmill’s marathon removed from myself at age twenty-one. I looked at myself without a mirror. I can feel it: here I am, the same but different. Maybe some of the hog-cranking emptiness and depression drinking has been patched away. Maybe I have been reliving the same series of failures over and over with new coats of paint. I am new grief tacked on to old fear. Here I am, about to baseball-hurl myself into college again, a lifetime of failure behind me and wild, unknowable potential ahead. Everything I don’t know is sleeping. I don’t think about death and the end of the world as much as I used to; I could die any day. Regardless of any shortcomings I have or have had as a person, I am urged forward. Motion will never rest.

This is all to say that you should check out Nier Replicant ver.1.22 if you want. It’s a pretty cool game. And happy Earth Day. Below is a snapshot of myself on Earth Day 2017. Maybe some things don’t change.

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