It’s not every day we get to explore a game world as rich as that of Nier’s. The recently released Nier: Automata introduces a wealth of lore for both newcomers and fans of the original to get acquainted with.
As pointed out in yesterday’s tips guide, you don’t have to play the previous instalment to enjoy Automata’s bot-on-bot brawling. But players venturing into this weird and wonderful universe may find themselves asking a few questions. Questions like: “Where have all the humans gone?” “Why is Earth ruled by machines?” and “Who gave this blindfolded goth-loli a sword?”
To answer these — and add some context to the game’s post-apocalypse — you’ll need to take a look at the wider timeline of Nier. But to save you the trouble, we’ve poured through guidebooks, light novellas, and even a Yoko Taro penned stage play (Yes, really) to collect some of the most significant in-game events leading to Automata’s opening act.
Fair warning before we begin — spoilers for both the original Nier and Drakengard (we’ll explain in a moment) ahead.
Nier started as an alternate ending for an entirely different fantasy adventure.
First, let’s step back in time to the year 2003 (both in Nier’s universe and our own).
Even amongst series fans, it’s a little known fact that Nier’s world is a spin-off from the PS2 game Drakengard. The game featured multiple endings, and it’s the fifth of these which resulted in the timeline of Nier.
It was in this scenario that Drakengard’s giant Queen Beast antagonist was teleported through time to modern-day Tokyo — where she was promptly dispatched by the game’s fire-breathing hero. This turned out to be pretty poor move for us humans however, as the giant’s death unleashed a rather nasty disease on mankind.
That ending transported a fantasy beast to modern day Tokyo, unleashing a killer virus.
From its origin in downtown Shinjuku, the disease “White Chlorination Syndrome” spread with devastating effect. Most that contracted it were gradually turned into salt, whereas some turned violently insane. By 2009 the country had become a warzone between uninfected humans and a mad unstoppable horde called “Legion.”
With the Japanese government unable to contain the outbreak, the epidemic became a pandemic, and since the world’s scientists could find no cure, an ambitious workaround was conceived.
Androids are built to monitor the production of new human bodies for those infected.
Project Gestalt was established, in which human souls would be transferred safely out of their infected bodies, to one day be placed into healthy clones. Naturally, this process would take some time to perfect, so development began on android AIs which would oversee the operation.
Sure enough, hundreds of years passed before the disease began to die out. Human clones known as Replicants had been successfully grown, but unexpectedly (and unfortunately for their originals) had also developed their own sentience.
Thousands of years later, the events of Nier occur, and doom humanity to extinction.
The world was now entirely populated by these engineered doppelgangers, each with new personalities and souls, and it’s here (around the year 3361) that the events of Nier occurred.
Like Drakengard before it, there were four possible endings to the story and it’s the fourth of these (Ending D) which Automata follows on from. In this, protagonist Nier threw a wrench in the gears of Project Gestalt and effectively doomed humanity to extinction.
This marked the beginning of mankind’s inevitable decline, but in parts of the world where the android AIs were still in control, a handful of Replicants continued to survive.
Eight thousand years later, Earth’s invaded by alien machines, and humanity fights back.
Fast forward another eight thousand years and things still weren’t exactly looking up. As if to add to its troubles, Earth had been invaded by “machine life forms” and what remained of the human race finally felt that they’d had enough. They disappeared off to the relative safety of the moon, from where they could dispatch teams of combat androids to fight back the invasion.
The android teams fighting the invaders include you, and so Nier: Automata begins.
This brings us back up to date, to the year 11,945. One such android team (designated “YoRHa”) is being shipped off to Earth, and amongst its members are NieR: Automata’s two protagonists: Unit 2 Type B and Unit 9 Type S (affectionately known as 2B and 9S.) We join them en route to their latest objective — to kick some “machine life form” butt and reclaim our planet.
And there you have it! A whistle-stop tour of the world of Nier: Automata. For the next slice of the story… you’ll just have to pick up the game.