It’s time to begin on NieR proper. (This post will be updated later with videos and images, but I presently don’t have time to fill them in.)
A quick recap
The year is 3361, and the last survivors of humanity have had their souls removed from their bodies, living now as disembodied ‘gestalts’, all to escape a deadly magic disease called White Chlorination Syndrome.
The souls are kept stable by means of a special ‘stable’ form of the magic particle, maso (魔素), provided by the ‘Original’, a boy (RepliCant) or man (Gestalt) named Nier. Nier’s daughter Yonah also became a gestalt, but she is on the verge of ‘relapsing’ and becoming a mindless Shade, so she’s being kept in a state of suspended animation. To keep him in line, Nier has been given a promise by the authorities running the Gestalt project: after 1000 years have passed, Yonah will be revived. But this is a lie, and there is no known means to save Yonah.
Created from Nier, Yonah and the other Gestalts are ‘Replicants’, soulless human vessels. Unexpectedly, over the 1300 year gap, these vessels have gained sapience and self-awareness, and now form their own communities. The plan had been to restore the Gestalts to their corresponding Replicants when the world was safe, but the Replicants are resisting having their consciousness overwritten, viewing the Gestalts as monsters. This is not helped by the fact that many Gestalts have begun relapsing and attacking Replicants, despite the stablising maso provided by Nier. Worse, the Original has seen through the game, and is going rogue, seeking to restore Yonah to her Replicant himself.
Devola and Popola, two androids who play a role in running the Gestalt/Replicant system, have a plan: they will use the combined power of the Grimoires Noir and Weiss to instantly restore all Gestalts to their Replicants at once. These Grimoires are human souls bound into books, but Grimoire Weiss is incomplete, and before the plan can be put into effect, Weiss needs a series of ‘Sealed Verses’.
So Devola and Popola arrange for replicant!Nier to come into contact with Grimoire Weiss, and tell him that if he completes Grimoire Weiss, he may be able to save replicant!Yonah from her mysterious ‘black scrawl’ affliction (in truth, an uncurable result of the state of her gestalt). Weiss is proud and sarcastic, but quickly forms a bond with Nier, and together they go out into the world, killing Shades to protect the Replicants while looking for the Sealed verses…
A few words about the game
NieR went through a variety of forms over the course of its development, including a turn-based JRPG, but eventually settled on an action-RPG inspired mainly by God of War. Compared to cavia’s preceding two Drag-on Dragoon games, the combat is a bit more complex insofar as each weapon type has more than one moveset, although in the end you will probably end up spamming the stinger a lot. You have a dodge roll with iframes, and most enemies telegraph their attacks pretty well so you can get decent at dodging.
You also have quite flashy spells, broadly on the theme of summoning dark spears and blades made out of Celestial Alphabet. Moreover, you can fire a constant stream of magic bullets from Grimoire Weiss, which is helpful for crowd control, chip damage and stopping enemy projectiles. The game at times resembles a shmup as much as an action game.
Unlike the DoD games, which presented the game in chapters on different maps with objectives to complete, NieR takes place in an open world, where you wonder around the different plot locations, free to take a break for sidequests or even fishing or gardening. The game experiments enthusiastically with genres: in one area you might be exploring a fixed-camera, greyscale mansion inspired by Resident Evil, another might have you navigating branching prose and solving reading comprehension puzzles, a boss might turn into something resembling a 3D bullet hell shooter…
There is a fairly rudimentary upgrade system, consisting of attaching magical ‘words’ to your weapons, and a variety of weapons to collect and upgrade. The weapon stories are unfortunately relegated to Grimoire NieR.
Unlike DoD, the plot does not really branch until near the end—but after you get the first ‘ending’, you get to witness the same events in a very different light. The game resumes about halfway through the plot; first, you receive Kainé’s backstory (one of the best moments in the game to me), and from then on you can hear the voices of the Shades (thanks to Tyrann). This reframes many of your previous actions, and nets you ‘ending’ B. For the final pair of endings, you must collect all the weapons, and play through this segment again, and here you do get a choice… one we’ll discuss later, since it’s a heavy one.
The game’s English dub is actually extremely good, especially Liam O’Brien’s performance as Grimoire Weiss and Laura Bailey’s as Kainé. (It’s sometimes alleged that certain elements of the game, like Kainé’s intersex status, were censored in the localisation, but I’ve been advised by Rekka that this basically isn’t true and there are very few differences between the English and Japanese, or between Gestalt and Replicant. Rather, Kainé’s intersex status and brother Nier’s history doing sex work are only discussed in Grimoire NieR.)
Unlike the DoD games, NieR is not fully voiced: voice acting is mostly reserved for cutscenes on the main story, and certain conversations while wandering about the map. The sprawling array of sidequests are encountered mostly as text; alongside them you have optional minigames around fishing and gardening (which is based on real world time, and can be cheated using the system clock). Most of the sidequests are pretty banal, though a few have moments of poignance.
A ‘version up’ (‘somewhere between a remaster and a remake’) of RepliCant developed by Toylogic has recently been announced, titled Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… (the square root of 1.5). As yet, very little is known about it beyond the involvement of Taura Takahisa of PlatinumGames (along with the usual gang—Yoko Taro, Okabe Keiichi and Saito Yosuke). At the time of writing, all we know is that the new version will be fully voiced, it will feature new Okabe Keiichi music, and some of the Japanese voice actors from Automata will return in unknown roles. There will also be some plot changes including an unknown new character. Beyond that, who knows? Once it comes out, I’ll update this article.
You may notice at a few points references to fairy tales and other famous childrens’ books like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. This is a vestige of an earlier concept of NieR, planned as a world of fairy-tale characters structured by words. Yoko Taro later returned to this concept with the mobile gacha game SINoALICE, which isn’t immediately part of the DoD/NieR canon beyond fan speculation at this point. In the final version of NieR, the only thing that’s really left of this idea is the character and boss names printed in Grimoire NieR.
The Grimoire Nier fan translation is available here, and has some interesting interviews in addition to the stories we discuss below.
If you want a somewhat more detailed video lets play of this game, I can highly recommend the Tumblr Something Very Special. The author has also provided a better translation of one of the stories in Grimoire Nier, and has quite a good collection of development art and some broadly solid character meta.
Meeting Kainé (yesssss)
Determined to stop at nothing to save Yonah, [replicant ]Nier sets out to acquire the Sealed Verses. Popola directs him to first travel to the Aerie, a village built on a series of rickety platforms above a gigantic chasm. The people of the Aerie are sealed in their houses when Nier arrives, and strangely hostile to visitors. A number of Shades manifest in the middle of the village, but Nier and Weiss make short work of them.
On the way back, he passes the shell of a caravan, with an awning outside of it—Kainé’s home. Inside, he spots a necklance of Lunar Tears. Kainé interrupts his musing, telling him to keep his hands off the flowers—and Nier perceives the signs of magic around the arm possessed by Tyrann, and starts suspecting she’s a Shade. So they end up fighting.
Kainé, it soon emerges, has pretty strong magic of her own. Nier seems to be getting the upper hand, but their battle is interrupted by the appearance of the big multi-Gestalt shade Hook. Kainé stops worrying about Nier, and both go after Hook. Ultimately, moments after saving Nier from a hefty blow, Kainé hits Hook with a hefty magic bullet and passes out. Fortunately, this is enough of a pummelling for Hook to retreat.
Weiss discerns that Kainé is possessed by a Shade, but nevertheless at least half-human, and this is enough to mollify Nier. He tends to her wounds, and when she wakes up the two part ways on relatively amicable terms. Weiss ruminates that Hook most likely contains a sealed verse, but Nier can tell he’s not yet strong enough to beat it.
Seafront: surprisingly okay, all things considered
Yonah’s condition is getting worse, so Popola directs Nier to buy medicine in Seafront, which is pretty much what you’d expect from the name: a quiet, pseudo-mediterranean fishing town, with the ruins of a broken railway bridge just off the coast. Seafront is home to a post office which is surprisingly reliable, given the world is overrun by monsters!This was a bit of a stumbling block
There, you can begin one of the game’s more substantial sidequest chains, featuring the old lighthouse keeper (named Ursula in Grimoire NieR). Although she’s introduced as someone most people regard as a demanding jerk, you can discover that, led by the postman (named Hans in Grimoire NieR), most of the townsfolk are engaged in an elaborate conspiracy to write letters in the role of her dead lover. This has been taking place for years prior to the game. The player can choose whether to break the news before the lighthouse-keeper dies. Should you tell her, she asks you not to let on to the rest of the townspeople the game is up, and thanks you for confirming what she secretly suspected.
Seafront is also where the game introduces its somewhat infamous fishing minigame. This was a bit of a stumbling block at the time of the game’s release, since some players didn’t realise that you have to walk to a different part of the map in order to catch the one fish needed to progress the plot. Nier can optionally do a whole series of joke quests to become better at fishing, spending progressively longer out at sea each time with the old fisherman who teaches him.
While there, Nier receives a letter to Popola from Seafront’s mayor, warning that contact is being lost with the Aerie coinciding with a lot more Shades appearing. But first, Nier could do with a better weapon… First, however, there’s a chance to drop by the bar and find a slightly drunk Devola. This sets up another sidequest, where you can later get both sisters to sing the Song of the Ancients together.
The Junk Heap: there can be too many robots
As we read in The Magic Mountain, the Junk Heap is the site of an old military base built by the Japanese government during the war with the Legion. There, robots are manufactured, and apparently the factory can operate pretty well without any humans left to run it.
Nier and Weiss arrive just in time to save Jakob and Gideon from starvation. Abandoned by their mother a week prior, they have no materials to forge weapons to sell at the Junk Heap shop. Jakob asks Nier to go into the junk heap and gather the necessary bits.
The Junk Heap itself is a series of more or less identical rooms containing a whole lot of identical robots. Nier returns with the alloys the kids need after fighting some P-33 humanoid robots, but Jakob asks him to go back in, deeper into the Heap, in the hopes of finding their mother Blue. This time, Nier finds himself fighting a gigantic robot in an enormous round chamber, which is named as Geppetto (Pinocchio’s creator) in Grimoire NieR. After destroying this robot, Nier finds the body of Blue and the lover she was attempting to elope with.
Nier returns, and the player can decide whether to tell the children the truth of what happened. Gideon, the younger brother, takes it especially badly.
The return to the Aerie: crying for Kainé
Now better armed, Nier heads back to the Aerie. Outside, he meets Kainé fighting off a group of Shades. She tells him that they have overrun the village, and together they storm in, killing every Shade they see.
Before long, Hook arrives on the scene, now scarred by Kainé’s earlier attack. The pair engage, and smack Hook around, inflicting some collateral damage. The villagers, hiding in their houses, are viciously hostile to Kainé, shouting out accusations that she’s the one who brought the Shades.
Over the course of the fight, Nier and Kainé start to establish a rapport, working together to corner Hook. Finally, Hook roars, and attempts to imitate Kainé’s grandmother’s voice. In her voice, Hook attempts to persuade Kainé to give up and die. Kainé is absolutely incensed,
You’re going to stop talking now. And then I’m going to walk over to you, and very carefully, extend my hand, reach into your chest, and pull out your fucking heart!
My grandmother would never say that! She’d never tell me to give up on life! Never! I’ve spent my entire life searching for a way to avenge her death! She gave me the strength to deal with this goddamn mutant body!
Do you know how long I’ve been like this!? How much I loathe myself?
Kainé and Nier make good on the threat. Ultimately, Nier smashes Hook right through the platform they’re fighting on, impaling it on the pillar underneath. Kainé lies down, her revenge complete, but Nier resolves to save her, chastisting Weiss for suggesting that it would be more comfort to let her die.
With Nier’s encouragement, Kainé opens her eyes. Between Weiss’s prattle about what a true warrior would do, and Nier’s sincere entreaty to join the group as a friend, she decides to get up and come along…
Façade, where ‘rules exist so that we may know our freedoms’
Kainé mentions that she knows a guy who also has the Black Scrawl: the King of Façade. And his kingdom might just have found a cure. So the gang pack up for the desert area.
On the way across the desert, they’re attacked by groups of wolves. A mysterious Shade wolf howls in the distance.
The player at this point does not have reason to see the wolves as anything other than enemies, but since this is a chronological presentation, let’s summarise what’s been happening in Façade. As the city has expanded, the humans of Façade have been killing the wolves; to the wolves, then, attacking the people is a matter of tit-for-tat revenge. Their leader is Roc, a dog who underwent the Gestalt process in lieu of its owner back when normal humans were still around! It’s tried to live in peace with the people of Façade, but with no ability to communicate, the fight goes on…
As we read in A Little Princess, Façade is a city ruled by thousands of strangely specific rules, governing everything from architecture to the right way to do a birthday party. They also uniquely speak a different language to the rest of the people of the Replicant world, presented in the voice acting as rearranged, ungrammatical Japanese syllables.
Kainé is welcome, thanks to having saved Fyra from a pack of wolves at some point in the past. However, she’s still reluctant to go too far in, and waits by the entrance. Nier and Weiss wander around for a while, but they’re barred entrance to the King’s manor, and return to the gate—where they bump into Fyra.
Fyra, forbidden from speaking by the rules since she does not own land, instead communicates by a sign language which Weiss is able to follow. As the rules dictate, Fyra insists on giving the group a tour of Façade, using the improbable quicksand river circling the central pit. This gives Weiss enough of a corpus to start interpreting the language.
As they regroup at the entrance, a group of Masked People suddenly interrupt. The Prince has gone missing in the ‘Barren Temple’. Per Rule 83,348, they must immediately search for him. But per rule 50,527, only nobility can enter the temple! The contradiction can thankfully be resolved by sending outsiders, who are not bound by Façade’s rules, and so Nier et al. are sent off to rescue the Prince.
The Barren Temple
The Barren Temple consists of a series of puzzle rooms where you are subject to some kind of restriction (e.g. not jumping, standing still or using magic attacks). There are a large number of stone cubes which shoot out magic projectiles, recognisably the same Gargoyle Cubes as we saw in the DoD world. Where the people of Façade found the resources to build this elaborate temple complex and fill it with magic puzzles remains an open question! Grimoire NieR names the ‘entity’ residing in the temple as Shariyar, after the cruel king from the Arabian Nights. It is presumably a Gestalt, but even the Grimoire’s description is tentative!
Before long, they briefly encounter the Prince, who shouts at them to leave the temple. However, he soon gets grabbed by a magic cube (for standing still). A few rooms later, Kainé makes the mistake of breaking a no-magic rule, and also gets grabbed.
Eventually, Nier passes to the other end of the temple, and finds the Prince— but he’s surrounded by a swarm of Gargoyle Cubes which start flying in geometric patterns, including at one point a large humanoid. Kainé joins him, and together they dismantle the big cube… golem… thing… and the Prince crawls out of the pit. Apparently he came to obtain a wooden mask.
It turns out that the King they were looking for has died, and this mask is the key for the Prince ascending the throne and becoming King himself. In return for the timely rescue, the King offers Nier a favour—and lacking a personal favour to ask, he decides to request a Rule Zero be added, which allows the population to vote to change the other rules.
Nier finally gets a chance to ask about the Black Scrawl. As you’d expect from the King being dead, the efforts of Façade were in vain. Still, Nier promises to come back to visit some time later. (Much later, it will turn out.)
The Forest of Myth: getting entwined
Returning to Yonah, Nier stays the night—and dreams of a silver-haired boy spelling out that a Sealed Verse is to be found in the ‘Forest of Myth’ along with the word ‘dream’. Surprisingly, on waking, it turns out Yonah has had the same dream. And Popola has received a letter from the Mayor of said Forest, which slowly devolves into just the word ‘dream’ over and over.
Nier heads off to investigate. He finds the Mayor sitting outside in the Forest, saying something cryptic about contagious words.
Abruptly, the game’s dialogue box is taken over by prose. It spreads to fill the screen: we’ve found the first visual novel section! (Though it might be more apt to call it a CYOA section, since there are no visuals.)
Along with the boss names, the Forest of Myth is probably the only remnant of an earlier incarnation of NieR’s premise, which was a world of words and fairy-tale characters. Yoko Taro would eventually come back to revisit this premise in his gacha game SINoALICE. The game does not give a lot of hints as to what’s really going on in the Forest; more is revealed in a post-game story in Grimoire NieR, but for now, let’s discuss how it appears in the game.
Weiss and Nier appear to be able to perceive the narration, and semi-break the fourth wall to directly argue with its descriptions. It turns out a mysterious disease named the ‘deathdream’ has caught up everyone in the Forest of Myth in a series of illusory worlds. Each of the three villagers has a different story to explore, though only the Mayor’s is necessary to continue the story.
The Mayor’s dream
Nier and Weiss encounter the Mayor, who has been obsessively researching the Deathdream in his sleep. They discern that the transmission vector may be the phrase ‘those who dream’, and Weiss concludes that, if the Mayor is capable of imagining an exit, it must be possible to leave the dream.
The next segment sees Nier and Weiss walking through a forest. Nier has to take a rest, and abruptly the forest insects make a cacophony of noise, diminishing into something which can be recognised as a series of riddles. Weiss asks Nier (controlled by the player) to solve the riddles. The last riddle, the famous Riddle of the Sphinx, issued by a forest spring and finally an old man in a house… who appears to be just the Mayor again. In fact, it is the Forest’s control system, assuming his identity. It cryptically tells Nier about having met his Gestalt, a long time ago.
They return to the Mayor, and the narration forces them to go to sleep. The game’s graphics fade back into view as the narration describes them coming to.
At the centre of the village is a ‘Holy Tree’. The Mayor reveals that the tree contains a Sealed Verse, but many of the villagers remain trapped in the dream.
The gothic horror story
This story is narrated in first person. The narrator is trapped in some sort of prison in a gothic castle, filling with water from a storm outside. As the player, in the role of the dreamer, explores the maze of the castle, they see all sorts of grim sights: piles of burned corpses, a banquet of maggot-filled corpses on spiky chairs that impaled their victims, a hall of paintings with corpses of the depicted people behind them, wine casks filled with blood.
You’re actually on a timer here, and if you take too many moves to escape the castle, you drown and get an actual game-over screen.
When you do escape the castle, it burns down behind you and all the many corpses inside turn into Shades. (This makes no sense, but hey, it’s a dream.)
The post-apocalyptic story
This time we’re in third-person, past tense. Nier and Weiss are walking through a searing desert on a ruined asphalt road, with a city of skyscrapers in the distance. Weiss explains that they’re going to the ‘City of Art’. Nier sees a mirage and hallucinates water, chasing after it for an hour.
The City of Art turns out to be merely a modern city of tall skyscrapers, described in a defamiliarising way. Eventually, they find three statues labelled alpha, beta and gamma. A bird lands on it and speaks a riddle—a variant of the classic liar puzzle.
After the Deathdream
Once you’ve finished all three stories, you can talk to the villagers again. They catch you in long rambling conversations, presented in the same way as the dreams. The mayor talks about a festival. The gothic villager is having traumatised flashbacks all the time. The one in the city idolises Nier and goes on a ramble about travel and then starts going on about the need for a proper dictator to take over.
What’s really going on
In Grimoire NieR, a little more is revealed about the Forest of Myth. The tree at the centre is in truth a huge maso-powered computer network called Sleeping Beauty, maintaining a store of memories. We’ll learn a little more about it later…
A letter from Emil
Returning to the village, Nier optionally gets a chance to ‘enjoy’ Yonah’s cooking. He discovers that Yonah has been corresponding with a boy called Emil, who lives in a mansion which you pass on the way to Seafront. The mansion and its outskirts are rendered in greyscale—only the protagonists are coloured. This could be seen as a consequence of Emil’s petrification power, but it can also be read along with other greyscale sections as a symbol of death.
Outside the mansion, Nier meets Emil’s mysterious butler, Sebastian. “We’ve been waiting for you,” Sebastian says, but leaves them waiting for an uncomfortably long period. They decide to go looking, and fight their way through some Shades in the mansions. Mysterious voices come from various other rooms. When they return to the starting room, Kainé disappears.
Eventually, they find Emil, who is blindfolded and sitting at a piano. Emil, it turns out, didn’t write the letter - it was Sebastian acting on his own devices. Emil is afraid to accidentally petrify Nier and Weiss, but gives them a key so they can go catch up with Sebastian.
Sebastian, it turns out, is basically inanimate when Emil isn’t in the room. He is presumably some sort of android or other magical creation. He is the author of a letter intended for Nier, which Yonah accidentally intercepted. As it turns out, Sebastian claims, there is a cure for Emil’s condition somewhere in the mansion, but protected by a large group of Shades.
Emil joins the party as they make their way through the mansion, eventually arriving in a library where they are attacked by Grimoire Rubrum. Rubrum must be a child soldier of the Hamelin Organisation, gestaltised and placed inside a book, but unlike the other Grimoires Weiss and Noir, Rubrum does not speak, merely cackling and flying about while launching various magical attacks in the form of large pages. Kainé rejoins the party about halfway through.
Finally Grimoire Rubrum pops into a cloud of pages. One of them turns out to discuss annulling a petrification curse, but it’s written in an incomprehensible code. Sebastian declares his intent to decode it.
Before the party leaves, Kainé gives Emil a few words…
You’re eyes are not a sin. They’re nothing to be ashamed of. They’re part of you. A vital part of you. Do you understand?
She places Emil’s hand on her Shade-arm. She tells him how Nier recruited her. She promises Emil there’s a reason for it all—and asks him, in a whisper to petrify her if the Shade should ever take over her body.
With the defeat of Rubrum, all the Sealed Verses have been collected.
Part 1 Sidequests
I’m not going to cover sidequests in detail, since the vast majority are minor errands to buy items or obtain something. Nier just loves to volunteer himself to help out anybody and everybody, and Weiss gets increasingly frustrated.
The most useful sidequest has you fight a boar (boars in the NieR world being much bigger, with a wide platypus-like tail!) and then you have the option of riding a boar between locations. The boar runs extremely fast and, incredibly, the main way to stear on the boar is to go into a drift.
A couple are notable (apart from the lighthouse-keeper story covered above): you can obtain the ingredients for a particularly foul-sounding drink, in order that Popola can get drunk and sing the Song of the Ancients together with Devola.
One quest involves a runaway child who you chase across much of the map. Ultimately you track him down and he promises to return home (after a wolf attack), but then when you return you find that his parents were thieves and skipped town with him. Big whoops.
You can help a merchant build up stock for a shipping expedition; he eventually turns out to be seasick. Someone in Seafront wants a letter delivered to his lover in the Aerie, but she turns out to be missing, and a Shade has the flower that she once held. You can track down a couple of missing children. There’s a very annoying questline involving delivering fragile items without taking any damage.
The Dark Colossus Destroys All
The title of this section is the title of a track from the soundtrack. We’ll soon see why!
Nier tends to Yonah, promising that he’s close to saving her. Yonah asks him not to hate her. He rushes to Popola to get more medicine, and she directs him to obtain some ingredients. As he does so, Emil suddenly arrives at the gate. He can feel some vast buildup of… something. Shades are coming.
An enormous Shade aggregating many Gestalts, named the Knave of Hearts in Grimoire NieR, attacks the village along with a small army of smaller Shades. In the game, it comes across as a mindless tentacled, semihumanoid monster, and this isn’t too far from the truth—but it remembers one thing, its ‘given duty’ to take Yonah’s Replicant to Gestalt NieR.
NieR, Weiss and Kainé engage, fighting a desperate battle to slow the Shade’s advance as the villagers retreat towards the library. By the time Nier gets there, the Knave is greatly reduced, but still formidable. Emil joins them, insisting that he can’t sit by while they fight—if his eyes truly have value, he’s determined use them to protect the people here.
The remaining parts of the Knave burst into the room, now more of a little squid than a humanoid. It regenerates too fast for the party to fully subdue it, and so they come up with a new plan: seal it in the basement.
The Shadowlord: getting hypnotised like a little bitch
But then, a dark spike suddenly pierces replicant Nier. Gestalt Nier (aka the ‘Shadowlord’) manifests in the room, along with Grimoire Noir and an unconscious Yonah. He looks like a paler, thinner version of Nier, with dark hair, with his body mostly made of Celestial writing. Alongside him, more Shades start to rise from the floor.
His sudden arrival wasn’t part of Devola and Popola’s big plan, but it suits it: if Grimoires Weiss and Noir work together, all the Gestalts will be returned to their Replicants, and Project Gestalt’s mission will have been fulfilled.
Grimoire Noir opens, and Grimoire Weiss is suddenly pulled into a white void. The two books argue—and Noir manages, somehow, to sound even more smug than Weiss. Noir reminds Weiss of the truth: that their purpose is to fuse and ‘set free Shades to the world’. He manages to make Gestalt Nier sound like a totally standard JRPG villain.
Kainé, desperately holding the Knave inside the basement, cuts in with the famous words from the game’s opening:
Weiss, you dumbass! Start making sense, you rotten book, or you’re gonna be sorry! Maybe I’ll rip your pages out, one-by-one! Or maybe I’ll put you in the goddamned furnace! How can someone with such a big smart brain get hypnotised like a little bitch, huh? “Oh Shadowlord, I love you Shadowlord, come over here and give Weiss a big sloppy kiss, Shadowlord…” Now pull your head out of your goddamn ass and START FUCKING HELPING US!
Emil intervenes as well, swearing to remember Grimoire Weiss forever.
I’ll chase you to the end of time, and bring you back to us!
Between Kainé’s rant and Emil’s desperate entreaties, Weiss snaps out of his hypnotic haze. He gives a short speech and joins Nier in a boss fight against Grimoire Noir, as Gestalt Nier floats out of reach. The player’s magic powers are temporarily removed, stolen by grimoire Noir, but as the fight progresses, you get each one back. The roof starts to collapse, and just as it seems that Noir is beaten, Emil takes another dark spike through the chest. He can only watch as his Gestalt flies away with Yonah.
The rampaging Knave is still present, and Kainé resorts to the only strategy she can see: having Emil petrify her in front of the door, trapping the Shade inside. The player is forced to ‘choose’ between petrifying Kainé or being annihilated.
An instrumental version of Ashes of Dreams plays as Nier begs Kainé and Yonah to wait.
During the timeskip
Later in the game, we’ll see a cutscene set about one year into the time skip. A Gestalt mother is caring for her child (named Kalil in the localisation, but Grimoire NieR says this was originally supposed to be Cleo, after a goldfish in Pinocchio). Outside the room, we hear shouting voices; some Replicants are fighting through the Junk Heap, hunting Shades. The mother tells the child to run, while she challenges the interlopers.
A P-33 robot enters the room and sees Kalil sitting on the floor. It threatens to eliminate Kalil, but stops when he starts crying. After talking (apparently a P-33 can understand the Shade voices), the robot decides it has a new purpose: it will not permit the ‘humans’ to kill Kalil. Kalil, delighted, dubs his new protector P-chan (or in the localisation, ‘Beepy’, but I prefer P-chan!).
We cut to Jakob/Jiminy and Gideon exploring the junk heap (in the first playthrough, this is all you see). P-chan happens to be wandering nearby. Gideon accidentally dislodges a supporting structure, causing the ceiling to collapse; Jakob dashes in to save him, but in the process he is crushed. He sees P-chan watching nearby, and leaps to the conclusion that it’s the robot’s fault.
P-chan dispassionately observes to Kalil that one of the two ‘intruders’ has died, due to their own carelessness. To Kalil, though, they seemed nice…
5 years? You call that a timeskip?
The game resumes five years later. In Replicant, Nier is now noticeably older; in Gestalt he still looks like a foot, but now he wears a kind of half-blindfold mask. The cutscene opens in media res, with Nier cutting down Shades in his village.
Nier notices that Popola has inexplicably not changed at all in this period. She brushes it off, and distracts with a letter from Emil: he thinks he’s close to find a cure for Kainé’s condition.
The end of Halua
Emil presents Nier with an ancient document from ‘Plan Snow White’, detailing an ancient archival room with information on all forms of magic. The entrance is hidden underneath the stairs in the mansion’s courtyard. There’s a warning, declaring the chamber sealed.
The rooms beneath Emil’s mansion consist of a series of dungeons viewed from a Diablo-like top-down view. Nier hacks his way dozens of Shades (presumably, the former staff of the laboratory?) through as Emil struggles with strange headaches. As you explore, you find reports on Plan Snow White, which transformed the ‘donor bodies’ Emil and Halua into weapons (No. 6 and No. 7 respectively).
Finally, they reach a gigantic circular chamber. Nailed and chained to the wall in a pseudo-crucifix pose is a semi-skeletal figure with a giant, round head locked into a strange smile, and red eyes.
It’s Halua. Emil finally remembers how Halua became the ‘perfect’ weapon—and how, once they lost control, he was created to petrify her and seal her away. And Emil realises that her magic could save Kainé, and everyone else. He tells Nier that if he should lose control, Nier should kill him… just as Halua drops from the wall onto all floors and swallows him whole.
The player fights Halua, Nier hoping to free Emil from inside. To protect Emil, you can only use magic; for her part, sprays out out hundreds of magic bullets in bullet-hell style patterns and climbing about on the wall of the chamber. At last, Nier pins Halua to the wall and smashes her head with a huge dark lance.
In a white space, Emil sees a vision of her original form. He exchanges a few words, and thanks her… and then it all fades to white. Outside the vision, Emil is surrounded by an enormous magic orb… and as it fades away, he is in a new body: like Halua, his head is a huge grinning orb, and his body is a skeleton. But Nier promises he’ll be there, no matter what…
It’s from here that subsequent playthroughs start; from the second playthrough onwards, this is also where we hear Kainé’s backstory, which we discussed in the previous article. From that point on, we get to hear the voices of shades thanks to Tyranna interpreting. Witholding information like this creates a deliberate contrast: on your first playthrough, you think your mission is straightforwardly heroic, but you find out that it’s a whole lot more complicated.
In any case, as soon as Kainé is unpetrified, the Knave wastes no time in bursting out of the cellar. But this time, Nier is a lot stronger, and before long has it throttled in a swarm of dark hands.
Kainé opens her eyes, coming out of her memories, to see Emil—who she doesn’t recognise for a second, but pretends otherwise, saying she recognised him instantly, transformed or not.
This scene is actually slightly different between Gestalt and Replicant. Something Very Special, a Nier fan blog, describes the differences in some detail here.
Their reunification is interrupted by Popola, who presents a ridiculously cruel demand from the villagers to sleep outside the village. Nier is furious, but Emil and Kainé accept it—after all, they both have a lot of internalised shame and Kainé especially is used to this kind of treatment. Still, Nier has a whole go at himself. The next morning, he goes to apologise to Devola and Popola for solely blaming them, and for the next little bit he’s extremely guilty about the way he’s let the other two be treated.
Grimoire NieR: Strait is the Gate
This is also the broad period where a couple of stories from Grimoire NieR take place. It’s a little tricky to place these stories. In the game, the player travels to the Lost Shrine the morning after Kainé is unpetrified, and hears Shades speak while they are there. However, Strait is the Gate portrays the first time Kainé hears a Shade speak, and yet takes place during a festival when Kainé and Emil’s exile is already well-established. My only guess is that it’s an accidental oversight. I’m going to place Strait is the Gate here, and A Little Mermaid somewhat later.
The title of this story is an allusion to a 1909 French novel La Porte Étroite by André Gide, which was a Freudian epistolary novel about the relationship between two cousins. The NieR story has been translated by Defade here and bears no resemblance to the Gide novel beyond the title!
We meet Kainé and Emil outside the gate to Nier’s village. Popola demands that Kainé and Emil ‘guard the gate’ during a festival thrown in the village, in a way that everyone understands as ‘fuck off and don’t come in’. Not long after, Nier comes out, not hugely enthused, and innocently suggests inviting Kainé and Emil, putting them in the awkward position of having to refuse without saying why.
Emil falls asleep, but Kainé can’t. Nier briefly appears to give her some food, but soon gets pulled back in. Her night is interrupted by a Shade—and this turns out to be the first time Kainé hears Shades speak.
The Shade attempts to reach out to Kainé, even explain the real nature of Gestalts. But she can’t listen, flashing back to the death of her grandmother, not to mention Nier’s hatred of Shades. She cuts the Shade down, cuts the corpse to pieces, but she can’t help but hear the truth: gestalts are the ‘true’ humans.
As the Emil wakes to the village launching fireworks, Kainé resolves to keep this terrible secret, even as it isolates her even further…
Returning to the Shrine
Popola reveals some ‘new’ information: the Shadowlord is based in the same Lost Shrine where Nier found Grimoire Weiss in the first place. Of course, Popola knew this all along: telling Nier must be a desperate plan B to get Grimoires Weiss and Noir back together and kick off the restoration of the Gestalts into their respective Replicants.
As Nier arrives at the shrine, we see a series of scenes of Gretel, one of the two armoured Shades who Nier fought when he first retrieved Grimoire Weiss. At first, Gretel mourns Hansel. A number of smaller Shades arrive, and Gretel furiously dismisses them as defective.
Nier and Weiss storm the Shrine, destroying what Tyrann calls ‘defective’, improperly formed Shades who reside there. All but Kainé are completely oblivious to their cries of fear. Nier talks about how he’s going to try and do something about the way Emil and Kainé are constantly left outside.
By the time Nier arrives in her chamber, Gretel has come to accept the small Shades a lot more. She starts to find a new purpose in caring for these flawed Shades. When Nier reaches Grimoire Weiss’s old chamber, Gretel enters, furiously trying to defend the Shades, but Nier is completely oblivious and massacres them along with Gretel. After all, it’s just another boss… and it’s standing between him and Yonah. Kainé, at least, able to hear the voices thanks to Tyrann, is starting to have her doubts.
Gretel deflects a blow, sending her lance straight into Kainé’s chest. “Oh, you’re kidding me!” says Tyrann, as Kainé collapses. Gretel is stuck, unable to move her arm, but she talks about how—though she is mocked, abused, hated—her friends keep her strong.
Still oblivious, Nier steps up and runs her through. Gretel falls, and Nier and Emil rush to Kainé’s side.
Kainé loses control
Tyrann cackles: he’s finally going to get to run around in Kainé’s body. Celestial characters run over her skin. She transforms into a Shade—the same patterns of black writing in the shape of a body. Moving oddly, she attacks, as Emil begs the true Kainé to return.
In the wake of the battle, Kainé comes to. She starts to suggest that she is too dangerous, and she should leave the group—but Emil interrupts with an impassioned plea.
We’re always going to be together, Kainé. If you transform again, we’ll just stop it again, as many times as it takes! I don’t care how tough it is, we’re gonna get you back!
I like sleeping outside because I’m with you, Kainé! I’m able to ignore my appearance and keep going because of you! I’m weak, and sad, and lonely, but somehow you make me strong! You’re my friend and I need you, so you can’t go away!
Thankfully, the Shade regeneration means Kainé suffered no permanent injury. Picking themselves up, the group make their way to the magic seal at the end of the room, and discover a stone fragment that appears to be a piece of a pentagonal device.
The five keys
Back at the village, Popola reveals that the piece they’ve found is one of five, each one associated with a short phrase. (I have no idea what the logic of this is diagetically, but practically it’s a reason to send you back to all the locations from the first half of the game.) Each piece is ultimately received after defeating a boss:
- The Stone Guardian (Gretel)
- The Law of Robotics (the robot P-chan/Beepy)
- Sacrifice (‘Wendy’, in the Aerie)
- The Memory Tree (the tree in the Forest of Myth)
- Loyal Cerberus (the wolf leader, Roc)
The player has some choice as to which order they approach these segments.
Grimoire NieR: The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid is translated by Defade here. Its events are mentioned by a few townsfolk in Seafront in a way that suggests it happened some time ago during the timeskip, but Kainé and Emil are both up and about in this story and have clearly been travelling together for some time, so it’s a little unclear when exactly to place it.
We meet Hans, the main postman of Seafront, who discovers a strange little girl in a wrecked ship. Nier and Weiss are in town, investigating a string of disappearances, and Kainé and Emil are sleeping outside.
The postman cares for the strange girl, giving up his own bread. At one point, the girl bites his finger; she’s afraid of light. She appeared about when the disappearances started, but the postman does not draw the connection.
Nier and the gang are directed towards the wrecked ship, just as a storm starts to roll in. The postman is trying to teach the girl to sing. He invites her to come and stay with him… and then finally notices a dead body on the floor.
We get a segment from the perspective of the Gestalt girl. She’s become convinced that she can be accepted by the postman if she stays human… which she can accomplish by eating other humans. Through sheer force of will, she’s keeping her body in a human form. But she can only speak in the Shade language.
Finally, Nier and Kainé enter the ship. Kainé quickly realises that this Shade girl is powerful like the agglomerations of multiple Gestalts they fought elsewhere—but even stronger, strong enough to compress herself into this human body.
The postman returns and the Shade girl attacks in a swarm of black lances. They just about get the postman out, and watch as the Shade girl envelops the ship. She’s even able to resist sunlight. An egg-like shape forms, and a winged body emerges—sounding very much like the Eggs of Resurrection, and the transformation of Furiae! The girl takes the postman in her hand and sings the song that he taught her.
Nier’s group start fighting, and inflict damage, but the Shade girl continues to regenerate. Kainé and Emil both suffer severe injuries, and the girl prepares to eat Nier, only to be interrupted by the postman calling her a monster and begging her to stop. In the face of his rejection, the only person who cared for her, she completely gives in and allows Kainé to cut off her head.
As they recover under the postman’s care, Kainé finds a crude note from the dead Shade girl. It simply says ‘thank you’.
The Law of Robotics
Nier and the gang arrive in the Junk Heap, and meet Gideon, who’s now lost his entire family. He’s determined to hunt down P-chan, convinced the robot is responsible for Jakob’s death. Gideon comes up with a not-particularly subtle plan to get Nier to help: he offers him a powerful sword Iron Will, which he can repair only with some memory alloy from the lower part of the Junk Heap.
As Nier and co trash a whole pile of robots, we see a few glimpses of P-chan and Kalil. Kalil is telling P-chan all about the world outside, as the robot rests on its back in a large round chamber.
At this point, the player is sent to deal with one of the other segments while Gideon works on the sword.
After doing any of the other quests, the player returns to the Junk Heap and gets the sword Iron Will. Gideon asks Nier to go and avenge his brother—his project as a weapon-making for the last few years. The mention of a Shade is plenty to motivate Nier to go in and hunt it down.
At the centre of the Junkheap, Nier arrives in a large round chamber. Kalil is sitting on top of P-chan’s head. P-chan has a lot more attack patterns than the other P-33 robots you’ve fought, and a lot more health.
As you fight, Kalil begs P-chan to stop fighting, and not leave him alone. But P-chan’s ‘mission’ is to defend Kalil. Kainé, able to understand Kalil’s voice, is increasingly disturbed.
Abruptly, metal detritus rises into the air and attaches itself to P-chan. The robot grows large junk wings like an angel, and rises into the air. (This, we’ll see later, is only a precursor to P-chan’s ability to grow and transform!) P-chan starts talking about escaping, to go see the world, but first, it will defeat Nier. And as Kalil begs his only friend to stop, Nier smashes P-chan’s wings and cuts Kalil down. P-chan shuts down, and Kalil apologises as he finally dies.
Gideon enters, and starts hitting the defeated machine in a final act of spite. He breaks down into laughter, talking about how he’ll now explore the whole mountain and build ‘killing machines’.
Good job, Nier!
The Memory Tree
Nier et al. return to the Forest of Myth, not particularly thrilled by the prospect after the whole time in the Deathdream. They approach the Mayor, who advises them that there is a strange ‘presence’ around the sacred tree at the centre of the village. By tradition, nobody is supposed to go near the tree.
If you talk to the villagers at this point, you just get long strings of ellipses interspersed with connectives.
Approaching the tree, Nier hears a strange voice. It identifies itself as “the trees, the grass, the woods”—and it is the magical computer system that’s running the store of memories, named Sleeping Beauty in the Grimoire. The narration tells how the computer functions on words and feelings. You can read a full transcript of this story here.
The tree shows Nier and Weiss a series of treasured memories. This is actually the setup for a puzzle: each time you play through the sequence, a certain number, colour, etc. mentioned in the story will be different, and later on you’ll be asked reading comprehension questions.
The first memory, ‘Envy’, concerns a terminally ill boy, and his simultaneous comfort and resentment towards a girl who cares for him.
The second memory, ‘Loss’, concerns a soldier who fights a red-eyed member of the Legion. As each enemy dies, and turns to salt, others rise, and her companions fall. The Legion destroys the town which contains her daughter.
The third memory is incomplete, but begins with the arrival of Angelus in the Nier world.
Over time, the tree has been losing memories. It struggles to process the loss. When Nier arrives, all that’s left is ‘a few crystals’. A small Shade appears, apparently eating the tree’s memories, and Nier cuts open its belly, freeing many of the memories. But, if I’m parsing the story right, this ‘Shade’ actually is actually the mind of the tree itself; it tries to talk to Nier as Nier continues to cut it apart. It touches him, and feels things it hasn’t in centuries in its nascent, rudimentary soul. The world of words starts to fall apart and time slows down. At the end, it asks one question: what is the most important thing in the world? You can only answer “Yonah”.
The tree’s ‘identity dissolves’, and we return to the game, having found the ‘Memory Tree’ key. I’m honestly not fully sure of the larger significance of this sequence.
This segment concerns Façade. We finally get to see the wolves’ side of the conflict. Roc says that the people of Façade have destroyed their forests, yet knows that the wolves cannot defeat them in battle. Roc insists that the humans will eventually live alongside others—remembering his own master.
Meanwhile, Nier receives an invitation to the King of Façade’s wedding! The bride is of course none other than Fyra! She’s dressed in a much more elaborate bridal robe with lots of decorations. The King eagerly welcomes them, and invites them to stay overnight as guests.
We see another scene of the wolves. In preparation for the King’s wedding, some of Façade’s soldiers have gone out hunting wolves, killing dozens of them in a large pit.
We get a few scenes before the wedding. Kainé wonders whether she should even be present at the celebration. Weiss heckles her as ever. Emil eagerly asks Father Nier about his own wedding (in RepliCant, he instead asks whether Nier might like to ever get married, and even suggests he might be interested, though Weiss hurriedly closes the conversation). Finally, Nier chats politics with the King on the roof, where he explains he’s throwing the wedding to give his people something to celebrate in the harsh times.
Roc sees the bloodstained bodies of the slain wolves, pierced with Façade’s spears. He tries to save one young wolf, but the wolf dies before he can extract the spear. He decides he’s waited long enough: the humans have to pay.
The wedding starts out well, and as rule 904 dictates, Fyra and the King go to seal the wedding with a kiss. Abruptly, an injured guard stumbles in… and the wolves attack. Roc grabs Fyra in his jaws and kills her. Furiously, Roc lists the crimes of humanity, but of course only Kainé can understand what he says. Nier and the gang fight him off, and Roc calls a rapid retreat.
The King cries of Fyra’s body. Now she is married, she can speak… and she thanks him for the care he’s given before finally passing away in his arms. Furiously, he calls for revenge on the wolves, vowing to go personally… The advisor intervenes, reminding him of his royal duty. But he will not ultimately be deterred. Nier and Weiss agree to join the King on his campaign for revenge.
Before the King leaves, the Advisor appears with a group of soldiers. He reminds the King that going out alone is a violation of the rules. The King is prepared to break the rules, for Fyra’s sake—but the advisor reminds him that this is the job of the Men of the Mask. He gives a short speech, and reveals he’s talked to every citizen and obtained consensus before going to war. The King is humbled, and thanks his ‘foolish people’ for being willing to follow ‘an idiot like himself’.
Roc also gives a speech, affirming the intention of the wolves to die with honour. Yes, this is basically Mononoke-hime, isn’t it?
Nier and the Men of the Mask attack the wolves, and the battle begins. Dozens of wolves come in, but quickly die to Façade’s spears. “There shall never be peace between us!” Roc cries; Nier, meanwhile, declares that even one Shade is reason enough to kill every wolf here.
At last, Nier inflicts a severe injury. There is a final exchange between the two leaders:
King of Façade: Horrid beast! Die! We cannot know peace as long as you draw breath!
Roc: Those were my very words, human!
The King runs Roc through, and he dies, asking why he deserved such a fate. The last we see of him is rejoining his master in the white void of death, the final moments where Roc’s master chose for him to become a Gestalt. The player receives the Loyal Cerberus key.
The player goes to Façade’s graveyard, and the King delivers a final eulogy for Fyra. Weiss assures the King that Fyra was surely content with the life she had, and asks him to honour her memory. He asks them to leave before he cries, as the rules dictate.
Grimoire Weiss: Is that another infernal rule?
King of Façade: The People of the Mask live and die by our rules. And sometimes we even break them. Isn’t that right, Fyra?
After the player has done one of the other sections, Popola receives a letter from the Chief of the Aerie. Bizarrely, the people of the deeply hostile town have thrown open their doors and invited all and sundry to visit their new shop. They claim they might be able to assist with the ‘Sacrifice’ key.
Deeply skeptical, Nier and the gang set out back to the Aerie. On the way, Tyrann needles Kainé about all her horrible memories there.
As the player arrives, we see a black screen. “We do not desire needless conflict.” says a nameless villager in a strangely slow voice. But they’re afraid: ‘that man’ will come, and kill everyone.
Nier enters the village,
Nier reaches the chief, and is surprised to find he has no memory of the letter. Nor does anyone else he asks: the people in the houses seem varying degrees of terrified, while the people outside in an open market seem quite cheerful.
Eventually, Nier speaks to a guard at the edge of the market. The guard is vague about the letter, but asks Nier if he’s here to hunt Shades. Sure, says Nier, every last one. The guard starts to panic, and a bunch of the villagers at the market lose their humanoid forms and transform.
What’s going on? It seems the Replicants of the Aerie have been attempting to live in peace with the Gestalts. Nier, oblivious to the difference between a relapsed Gestalt and one that’s in control, starts killing all the ‘Shades’ in sight.
Kainé also enters the village, and Nier catches up with her as she attacks a woman who she claims is a Shade. The woman’s brother tries to defend her, but Kainé was right, the woman either was a Gestalt in humanoid form, or a Gestalt possessing a Replicant. Either way, the brother’s challenge to Kainé makes her hesitate long enough for the sister to cut her down.
As Nier and Emil fight off a large group of Gestalts, Tyrann eagerly awaits the moment when he can take control of her body. The Shades’ blood is sucked off to the side and starts forming into a large orb in the centre of the valley. As Nier cuts down the last of the shades, the swirling blood transforms into a sphere with flower-petal like shapes around it.
This aggregate is named as Wendy in Grimoire NieR, which notes that it has absorbed not just the Gestalts in the village, but also the consciousness of the Replicants! THis comes at the cost of its reason and identity, a ‘lump of hatred’.
As it forms, Wendy starts questioning, what, where and who it is. Wendy sents out swarms of orbs from its large central ‘eye’, and Nier and the gang retaliate with their own magic. As they fight, Emil panics, able to tell that there are ‘people’ in the aggregate.
At last, Nier runs the Shade through with a gigantic dark lance. Emil joins in with a magic beam. Wendy bursts, leaking spikes and clouds of blood. But Emil has lost control. An enormous white orb manifests, rapidly swallowing up the buildings of the Aerie.
Emil and Kainé come to at the edge of the pit, and see Emil floating at the centre of vast, completely empty spherical space. He cries, and Emil tries to comfort him. “Don’t look back.” he says, and the player receives the “Sacrifice” key.
Part 2 sidequests
As in the first part, there are a lot of sidequests of varying levels of interest.
One of them has you look into records of Emil’s childhood. Ultimately, you find an encrypted letter from a researcher feeling immense guilt over his transformation, which has been held for a long, long time by a Replicant family.
One of them has you looking for cargo from a shipwreck. If you look inside, it turns out to be a smuggling operation.
One has you look to help a sick child, who turns out to have eaten poison berries; the whole party tries them and Nier immediately collapses with sickness, while Kainé loves them.
One of them has you tracking down a man who has treated women badly in a number of different towns across the land. You remember how Jakob and Gideon’s mother Blue ran away, abandoning them, in part 1? It turns out it was with this man Carlo, and so he died alongside her.
Storming the Shadowlord’s castle
The key is complete, and Nier can finally climb the Lost Shrine. Devola and Popola almost challenge him… but ultimately give him their apparent blessing. This seems odd, given their motivation—but at this point, he’s far stronger than he was ever supposed to get, and they’re still not sure how to get him back under control.
Nier et al. climb the Lost Shrine, and open the seal which Hansel and Gretel once defended. According to Yoko Taro, behind the seal is a lift leading to a long underground tunnel.
At the other end, they emerge into a lush, well-maintained garden. At the end of the garden is a small bird-feeder with two birds sitting on it. When Nier approaches it, they starts reciting a cryptic call for a passphrase. Luckily, Weiss is able to answer. (In each case, you are also offered a wrong answer. If you pick it, you teleport to the start of the area.)
Bird: To whom does the true voice speak? Two whom does the true form show itself? You must answer.
Bird: I ask: why did humans disappear from the world?
Grimoire Weiss: I answer: Because of a black disease.
Bird: I ask: How can humans extend their lives?
Grimoire Weiss: I answer: By separating body from soul.
Bird: I ask: What is the destination of souls?
Grimoire Weiss: I answer: they are placed in their corresponding shells.
Bird: Very well. You are acknowledge as master. You may enter!
The door unlocks. In the next room are… Devola and Popola!
Battle against Devola and Popola
Nier asks them what they’re doing here. They make a rather desultory attempt to get him to turn back—the player can actually turn back, in which case you just reappear in the village and have to redo the climb up the Shadowlord’s castle!
But of course, the canonical course is to press on. The two twins regretfully raise their staffs. “We didn’t want to fight you.” They wanted to put it off to the next generation of Replicants—but Nier got too strong. They cast a spell which copies the Sealed Verses from Weiss—power which came from them in the first place, and they ‘loaned’ to Grimoire Weiss.
Eventually, they retreat further into the castle. They tell Nier that the answers lie with the Shadowlord, and fly away. Weiss, affected by the twins’ magic, starts to develop a speech impediment…
The Gestalt ballroom
Nier and the rest emerge in a ballroom. Translucent phantoms are dancing a gentle waltz. One of them transforms… “They’re all Shades!” Nier declares. As he kills them, more and more Gestalts start to transform—determined to protect the ‘sanctuary’. Kainé works on the door as Neir and Emil kill the Gestalts in the room.
Finally, Kainé kicks the door open. A bunch of strange Shade orbs roll into the room. These are young, not-fully-formed Gestalts, and they cry out like children.
The mother Gestalt looking after the children calls for them to merge with her. Together, they transform into a boar, named Goose (Mother Goose) in Grimoire NieR. Unlike other aggregates, since the component Gestalts have not relapsed, Goose fully retains her mind. She denounces Nier for all the killing he’s done, though as ever only Kainé can understand.
Tyrann abruptly interrupts. Something has changed in Kainé’s heart, displacing the usual ‘hatred’ and ‘sadness’.
The boar is defeated, but each time she falls down, she swiftly recovers, somehow gaining armour in the process, and emitting a noxious fog. Nier and the gang can’t hope to defeat her alone, and sprint away up a spiral concrete staircase, the boar in close pursuit.
They reach another large room, but this time the door is sealed. The boar charges in behind.
As they fight, Tyrann taunts Kainé, comparing her to the boar. Kainé retorts by psychoanalysing him:
Kainé: Like you’re any different.
Kainé: Hate is just another crutch for you.
Tyrann: Hey now—
Kainé: You’re in pain. You’re lonely. No-one likes you. So you try to dull it all with violence and hate.
Tyrann: I’m not like that at all.
Kainé: It’s okay.
Tyrann: …It is?
Kainé: Look, I’m the same way. But just realising that isn’t going to help. It’s too late for us now. It’s too late for everything. We’re too far gone, you and I. That’s why we—
But she’s interrupted by the battle.
Nier manages to bring the boar down one more time. It once again starts to attempt to release the noxious fog, and the party collapse. The boar prepares to charge and crush them…
…and a swarm of spears fly in. The People of the Mask, led by the King of Façade and the Advisor, have arrived, surrounding the boar. Together, they’re able to push the door open. The King explains how he swore to defend people from shades, on Fyra’s grave, and opens the way. Nier refuses to go, but the People of the Mask push him through the door.
King of Façade: Say, how many rules are there about what to shout before dying in battle?
Advisor: Eighty-eight, my liege.
King of Façade: Amazing. How do you remember all these things?
Nier pounds on the door, trying to go back to help. Kainé slaps him, and reminds him what they’re fighting for.
Devola and Popola, again
Nier advances into the last room before the Shadowlord himself. There is a covered bridge between two large buildings, but in front of it is a wooden stage with two chairs, on which Devola and Popola are sat.
Popola decides to briefly explain the background of Project Gestalt to Grimoire Weiss. A series of documents flash briefly on the screen, and finally Weiss remembers. He realises that Devola and Popola are androids, and that the Gestalts are the ‘true’ humans. And now, it’s their duty to take Nier’s shell, and return it to its owner—he’s been waiting a very, very long time.
Popola: You have your own motives, your own desires…
Devola: And we have ours. I fear it really is just that simple.
The Song of the Ancients plays as Nier engages the twins. Popola hangs back on the stage, while Devola goes down to fight hand to hand, teleporting to and fro. But eventually, Devola falls.
Devola: Hey Popola, you crying?
Popola: No! Don’t die!
Devola: You know, I understand now why we’re twins. It’s because…because we were born without souls.
Popola: Devola, I can’t stop the bleeding. Oh god, I can’t stop it!
Devola: This world is too lonely for one without a soul. There’s too much…emptiness.
Devola: Our souls are missing, but our tears still work. That’s kinda weird.
Devola: Sorry, Sis. …I love you.
Popola screams as Devola passes away. Nier attempts to end the fight peacefully…
Nier: Popola… let’s stop this now.
Popola: Stop? Stop? You want me to stop?
Popola: You think I have the luxury to stop?
Popola: You cut down my sister like an animal and you tell me to stop!?
Emil: Popola, wait! It doesn’t have to—
Popola: No one stops! It’s way too late to stop! No one stops!
She screams furiously and releases an enormous cloud of magic bullets. Reluctantly, Nier has to keep fighting.
At last, Popola gives in and summons an enormous magic orb, surrounded in chains of the Celestial Alphabet, destroying the bridge in the process. Emil creates a bubble around himself, Kainé and Nier, but Popola starts to draw it in with a magic tendril.
Emil: You know, when I was young, I hated my eyes.
Emil: And now, I hate what my body has become.
Emil: But there’s something else there now. Something like…pride. You know? I mean, without all this…
Emil: I couldn’t have become your friend.
Emil: Good-bye my friends. Thank you for everything!
Emil: For so long, all I could do was destroy. But now, I have the chance to save something.
Emil splits the magic bubble, allowing himself to be drawn towards Popola while Kainé and Nier are sent forwards to the other side. He sinks into the dark void around Popola. The bubble around him cracks, and Emil curls into a foetal ball in the darkness, quietly saying he doesn’t want to die. And then the ‘ultimate weapon’ detonates, leaving a perfectly spherical hole in the structure of the building, before collapsing to a tiny black orb. Emil’s staff falls down.
The King’s end
We cut to a bloodstained King of Façade, surrounded by the bodies of his people. The boar charges, and he raises his spear, bracing it against the wall. He drives the spear into the boar’s head, and she dies for the last time. The King slumps against the wall, and whispers Fyra’s name as he passes away.
We see Gestalt Nier, standing over Yonah. He’s waiting for his body to arrive, so they can be together.
Kainé and Emil collapse in the hallway, shaken and out of breath. Kainé starts kicking and punching Nier, holding him against the wall, but she backs off. Per Yoko Taro, this scene is intended to have something of a romantic overtone, at least with Brother Nier. (Everyone’s horny for Nier.)
At last, they reach the Shadowlord.
The Shadowlord’s chamber
The shadowlord is in a long, brightly lit room with a projector screen at the back, and windows along each side. Replicant!Nier runs towards Yonah’s bed, but Gestalt!Nier rises up on magic wings in front of him.
First, the player must beat Grimoire Noir a second time; then, Gestalt!Nier drops down to join in. Weiss’s speech impediment grows as the fight progresses. He’s not just stuttering, but having trouble thinking, and seemingly in pain.
Tyrann comments: there’s ‘something weird’ going on in Kainé’s heart. Her hate and sadness has been replaced with ‘white light’.
Kainé: Don’t you get it, Tyrann? You’re not the only voice in my life anymore. I’ve spent time with others. I’m a curse. A freak. I know that, and he knows that too. But guess what? He still accepts me. He still forgives me.
Tyrann: Oh come on. You’re doing this for him?
Kainé: I’m tired of this world and everybody in it. I’ll become his sword one last time!
Replicant!Nier overwhelms Gestalt!Nier, but before he can deliver the final blow, Yonah interrupts: “Wait!” There’s a fantastic shot where Replicant!Nier and Yonah appear to walk towards each other… but in fact she’s going to Gestalt!Nier, as Nier turns in befuddled surprise.
Because of course, the Yonah piloting the body here is the Gestalt, not the Replicant. “I don’t want this anymore.” she says. “I don’t need someone else’s body.” She can feel “another girl” crying inside her—the other Yonah, who loves her dad/brother just as much.
Gestalt!Yonah faces the window, as Gestalt!Nier, lying on the floor, begs her not to disappear. And then, she vacates the Replicant body and disappears into the bright light outside the window.
Furious, Gestalt!Nier gets back up and attacks again. Replicant!Nier affirms his determination to protect Yonah, and his friends, avoiding waves of magic. As the two Niers fight, Weiss loses even more control. Suddenly he loses the power of flight, and starts pulling himself along by his cover. He’s gone ‘beyond his limits’. With a final bit of sarcasm, he sets out to do a final task.
Nier: You can’t! I swore to fight by your side!
Grimoire Weiss: Bah! You are an exceedingly stubborn man. You know that, don’t you? Perhaps that’s why I’ve so enjoyed our time together. But I fear this is where our journey ends.
Grimoire Weiss: Oh, and remember what I told you about using my full name?
Weiss: Well forget it! I’ve grown rather fond of ‘Weiss’.
Nier: Weiss… I knew you’d come around.
Weiss: Don’t let it go to your head now.
From this point on, Weiss has no powers and loses his physical form. You must push through a final bullet hell pattern to land the last few hits on Gestalt!Nier. At last, the Replicant strikes the killing blow, and Gestalt!Nier explodes into a ball of black spikes before fading out as ash.
Nier approaches Yonah, seemingly dead…
The ‘endings’ in Nier are mostly not distinct timeline branches as in DoD, but instead different perspectives on the same event.
In ending A, Weiss’s disembodied voice advises Nier not to give in, but to call Yonah back with the memories they’ve shared, which show their lives have meaning. Yonah asks some rhetorical questions about her favourite things, ending with ‘who do I love more than anyone?’, at which point the player must type in the name they set on the save file.
Yonah opens her eyes, and sees Nier. She’s back in her body, and to her the prior five years passed as if she was in a sleep.
Kainé walks away, and Nier invites her to stay with them. She holds tight to her arm. She has ‘personal shit’ to take care of… before Nier can inquire further, Yonah calls his attention to the bright sky outside.
We cut to some time later, a sunny day in the village. Nier and Yonah are sitting outside, Nier having now discarded his mask. Nier passes her a Lunar Tear and lays back in the grass.
As the credits song Ashes of Dreams begins to play, we fade to the white void, where Gestalt Nier stands hand in hand with Yonah.
This ending shows Gestalt Nier’s side of things. After Nier strikes him down, he sits alone in the void, lamenting his failure to save Yonah and all the pain he’s brought her. The game loads the scene from the very beginning, with Nier and Yonah in the store, and Yonah passing him a cookie. He tries to let her have it all, but she persuades him to take half.
The screen fades to white, and he continues to cry. The images of all the game’s bosses appear briefly in the background. And then Yonah’s voice cuts in. She appears just as she did in that first day in the shop, and thanks Nier for always being there for her, before presenting him with his half of the cookie.
We abruptly cut to a desert. A black dot resolves itself into Emil’s head moving at tremendous speed. He bounces twice, and manages to start himself rolling. But first, he’s gotta find a body and some legs.
I sure hope Kainé and Weiss haven’t killed each other yet. I swear, you leave them alone for one minute!
Ending C/D: the choice
Kainé stands some distance away, watching Nier reunite with Yonah. Her body is covered in black Celestial letters—the Black Scrawl. She walks away. Tyrann talks about what a rush it’s been, all the killing. Kainé staggers, holding tight to her arm. Tyrann starts to realise that being a pantomime villain isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…
Tyrann: But goddman, we had some fun, huh? Killing and killing and more killing… what a rush!
Kainé: Yeah? Ngh…
Tyrann: Wait, no. No, no, no! It wasn’t fun at all! I turned you into a killing machine! I spread evil and chaos around the world! But it all feels so empty now! Why? I don’t understand?
Kainé: Sorry, ‘sunshine’. Maybe I’m just nicer than you thought.
Tyrann starts to realise that he’s about to swallow up Kainé’s consciousness—but he doesn’t really want that anymore. Kainé warns Nier of what’s about to happen. With Emil gone, no-one can hope to stop her. She begs Nier to kill her before the transformation starts, her voice taking on a Shade-like edge. An orb appears around her, and she rises into the air in full Shade form, surrounded by magic circles.
Kainé starts to saturation-bomb the room with complex 3D bullet-hell patterns, still begging Nier to kill her. He swears to kill her, but Tyrann cuts in. He promises to pin Kainé down, and that if Nier stabs her through the heart at that exact moment, he might be able to save her.
Kainé falls down, and we enter the familiar white void. Tyrann explains that there are two ways to save her from living as a relapsed Shade: to kill her, or for Nier to ‘exchange his own life for hers’, allowing her to be restored to human form rather than being possessed. But the cost is that Nier will be erased from history.
This is the only storyline branch. For Eishima Jun, in interview, her opinion is that Father Nier chooses to kill Kainé and live on with Yonah; Brother Nier chooses to sacrifice himself for her. But ultimately the ‘canon’ is vague on which is the ‘true’ ending which leads on to NieR: Automata.
If the player chooses to kill Kainé, Nier kisses her, and her body fades away. “Kainé, let’s go home.” Nier says. But Tyrann has some final words. He talks about his years in Kainé’s body, the pain she felt. He promises Nier that Kainé is free—that she’s been ‘forgiven’, and ‘saved’. And she had a final message: thank you.
If the player chooses to sacrifice themselves for Kainé, they are warned that they will disappear from this world; that everyone will forget that Nier existed. The player is warned that all of their save data will be deleted, and given several chances to back out. Then, they must type their character name. The game pages through the menus, showing all the player’s items, quests, weapons, words, fishing records, documents, stats and the five keys disappearing.
Then, they get to watch a brief cutscene. Kainé comes to, back in human form. She stares at her hands… Yonah approaches, and asks if she’s all right. “Are you… are you the one who helped me?” Yonah says. The room is otherwise empty. Kainé stares about, bewildered, as Yonah thanks her, getting brief visions of Nier. “But you don’t look happy?” Yonah says.
Yonah sees a Lunar Tear fall from Kainé’s hair. She passes it back, and Kainé cries quietly, unable to say why. Side by side, they stare out at the sky.
It’s like… I just found something special. Something very special.
In all endings, the credits roll to a version of Ashes of Dreams.
The failure of Project Gestalt
It is not stated explicitly in the game, but Replicant Nier’s victory has doomed the Gestalts. Without Gestalt Nier providing a steady supply of ‘stable’ maso, or a replacement, all surviving Gestalts will relapse. The Replicants will then develop the Black Scrawl, and even if they didn’t, they’re unable to reproduce without Gestalts as a source. One way or another, humanity—Gestalt and Replicant alike—is doomed. This is discussed in NieR Automata: Project Gestalt report 11.
Not that it would have done much good if Gestalt Nier had had his way. If he’d returned to his Replicant body and become a ‘normal’ human once again, he would no longer be able to provide a source of stable maso. Only Devola and Popola’s plan to use the Grimoires Noir and Weiss together would have saved the Gestalts, but it would imply the complete genocide of the Replicants.
After the endings: Grimoire NieR and the Drama CD
This is where the game ends, but not the story. The last two stories in Grimoire NieR are set after the endings.
Grimoire NieR: Around the World in Eighty Days
This story concerns Emil, as a head, having a cute adventure in the wake of ending B. It has been translated here by way of Chinese forums. It leaves the choice at the end of the game ambiguous.
Emil rolls about, struggling wtih getting stuck in sand. He makes his way into a rocky area, and attempts to build a body out of rocks. But it’s too heavy.
On day 17, he reaches a less desolate area, and chases some waterfowl for feathers. But he only ends up plunging into a lake.
By day 26, he’s had little success. He’s harassed by a wolf. A few days later, a big cat plays with him. He finally figures out he can fly, and decides to gather materials for a new body.
A month later he’s gathered a large supply of materials. He’s fought a giant spider on the way.
On Day 66, he reaches Seafront. But a large flock of seagulls attacks. He falls in the sea and a Dunkleosteus (one of the rarest fish in the game) harasess him.
Finally, on day 80, he starts assembling a mechanical body. But in the process he blows himself up and ends up flying back to the desert.
Drama CD: disc 2, track 2: Lust
The final (non-high school AU!) track on the Drama CD concerns Kainé, three months after ending D.
She’s back to the work of killing Shades, earning the admiration of the people at a village. But it’s far from fulfilling. Though no longer possessed by Tyrann, nor quite so hated by the villagers, she still isolates herself far from other people. Each night, she’s bedevilled by a recurring dream.
She’s woken by Shades, and soon learns that they’re attacking the village as well. She rapidly destroys the Shades. Entering the house, she finds that one of the villagers—an unnamed boy—has died. To the horror of the rest of the family, she attacks the corpse, crying because no matter what she does, people still die.
Kainé flees the village, alternately crying and laughing. Falling by the side of the road, she finds a Lunar Tear. She doesn’t know why she’s still crying…
Grimoire NieR: The Lost World
This story concerns Kainé, in the aftermath of ending D; I’ve heard (but can’t confirm) that it was originally intended as a playable segment after ending D is chosen. It’s often considered to be effectively an ‘ending E’.
There is a rather awkward, un-idiomatic translation from Chinese forums on the wiki, and a rewrite into more idiomatic English on something-very-special which I’d recommend reading instead. I’d love to find an original, idiomatic translation from the source, but haven’t been able to find one. SVS’s version reads pretty well though!
Kainé has been struggling with memory loss. She can remember parts of what happened at the Shadowlord’s castle, but none of the actual confrontation. She happens to wander by the Forest of Myth.
There, the Divine Tree approaches her and attempts to speak. She destroys its first spokesman figure, but it swiftly makes another. The forest no longer resembles a forest, but a bio-mechanical mess. Far more chatty than the last visit, it tells her how it monitors the maso taken from Gestalt Nier, the lives and deaths of Gestalts and Replicants. But now, it’s in the process of shutting down.
Robots emerge from the forest, the same as the Junk Heap. Kainé is once again almost reminded of Nier. The Forest offers to tell her the truth, if she can defeat a robot double of her which it creates.
Luckily for Kainé, Emil arrives at this point. Now he has four arms, but he’s otherwise a skeleton much as before. They turn the tracks on the centre of the tree, which finds the whole thing quite ‘amazing’. Kainé’s attack takes her to a white void.
And there, she finds the memory she’s missing: Nier. He tries to push her away, make the sacrifice stick. Kainé chases, furiously demanding the right to decide what she does with her life.
Emerging from the void, Kainé sees that the forest has turned into an enormous flower—a Lunar Tear. At the centre, Kainé finally retrieves a sleeping Nier, now younger, and her memories. At last, she’s reunited. She briefly remembers the voice of Grimoire Weiss, pushing them together.
And that’s the last we hear of her.
The next game, NieR Automata, takes place after another, far greater timeskip. But as ever, there are some side materials to help fill the gap, including some very unexpected turns like P-chan’s ascension, and a totally left-field alien invasion. We’ll cover that in the next article, which will focus on the last remaining track of the Drama CD (titled The Space War), the story The Fire of Prometheus, the YoRHa and Shounen YoRHa stage plays, and a selection of Automata novellas.
The blame for the failure of the Gestalt program is laid on Devola and Popola. But rather than simply disposing of all Devola and Popola models, the android powers that be program the survivors with an overwhelming guilt, and mark them for hatred and discrimination.
As far as what happens to Nier, Kainé and Emil… we don’t really know. Before long, however, Nier and Kainé will die out with the other Replicants, leaving only Emil. Emil will persist down the thousands of years… but that’s a story for the next post.