Spoilers follow for NieR Automata.
Everything that lives is designed to end. We are perpetually trapped in a never ending spiral of life and death. Is this a curse? Or some kind of punishment? I often think about the god who blessed us with this cryptic puzzle… and wonder if we’ll ever get the chance to kill him.
Through the records of known history, you’d be hard pressed to find a time where religion in a broad sense wasn’t as muted as it is today. More people than ever identify as either atheist or as non-believing in a God of some description. This has served to popularize the ideas presented in existential philosophy in many forms, and sets the basis for what NieR Automata explores and questions.
As an opening statement, 2B’s monologue waxes fairly philosophical. From the jump, if you have ever thought on why we exist, why we live and die or what is the actual point to living, Automata sets a connection up with you at a foundational level from the outset. Questioning our existence, the very simple why, is both something we fundamentally do as curious human beings and is something that is returned to again and again throughout your time with this game.
On a superficial level, Automata’s characters do have physical Gods that they follow and worship that were the genesis of their creation. Androids were designed specifically in the image of and to protect humans ("a God worth fighting for") while the machine lifeforms were created as a weapon by invading aliens (their core directive: "destroy the enemy"). Following literally thousands of years of nothing but fighting and destruction, it is natural for individuals to question the nature of that creation; and from that, harbour some resentment for the creators themselves.
While questioning the nature of creation is ephemeral and doesn’t really pose any way to find a true answer, the very physical action of “kill him” is something recognized by 2B as both something achievable and straightforward, as well as something familiar to her as a character created solely for, and because of, war. Even in a meta-physical sense, channeling her frustrations toward some hypothetical “him” lines up with her character and helps connect us as a player to her very human thought process.
When taken physically, this opening statement - particularly the last sentence - sets up an important question in the players mind. When 2B ponders, who exactly is she referring to? In his fantastic 4 part analysis of NieR Automata, YouTube critic Clemps theorizes that 2B has a very specific “him” in mind for whom she wonders if she’ll get the chance to kill. Superimposed with 2B’s first lines, 9S’s are striking:
“Better make sure he’s actually dead next time. That was dangerous, ma’am."
When beginning the game for the first time, this line seems very literal - 2B did just nearly get crushed by a giant buzz-saw arm - those playing a second time might see something a bit more insidious beneath the surface. After the words are spoken, the camera lingers on 9S for just a little longer than you would expect from an introduction to a character. This is particularly telling, specifically given 9S’s potential for already knowing his past with 2B.
Far be it from being specific to 9S however, the meaning gets murkier the more you dig into the lore behind the game and characters. Without getting too deep down the rabbit hole, the characters of 2B and 9S are androids based on the personalities of prototype Number 2 and Number 9 respectively, androids that were the original genesis of the creation of Project YoRHa alongside their creator Zinnia. In short, this Number 9 android is responsible for the creation of the backdoor in the YoRHa server, and by extension the very need for 2B to kill 9S over and over again - in a never ending spiral of life and death. Though they don’t know it, 2B and 9S were doomed to this cycle from the beginning, by the prototype android 9S is base on.
On a broader note, this opening statement has another underlying meaning seperate from the characters itself, and more toward the meta context explored by Ending E. 2B is not just an android built to fight for humanity in this game, but also a construct created to be guided through this inevitably tragic story by players worldwide. For her, this never ending cycle is repeated ad nauseam, for the amusement of millions. A cryptic puzzle beyond the grasp of her programming, yet seen as a curse, felt as punishment.
The “him” 2B wants the chance to kill in this case is none other than Yoko Taro himself. The creative mind behind the game, the misery she and her fellow characters are inflicted with would not have come to pass were it not for him. While the game itself was the creation of many more people and not just a single man, if it wasn’t for his creations in the DrakenNier franchise, none of this would exist. His very specific form of telling stories through the suffering of his characters is a distinct design flourish employed by the Japanese game director. A NieR Automata created by another could potentially leave these characters with a happy ending after facing a few hardships - but not under Taro.
Through Ending E, 2B ultimately is able to find an answer to her ponderings - through one of her newest friends, the player. As you rebel and reject the function of the stories end being that all of your friends die, you get the opportunity to fight against and destroy the credits themselves.
The very first name to appear on screen, as you begin taking on the entire team and dismantling the creation of this world, is game Director Yoko Taro.
Some games take several hours to set up before laying their cards on the table, giving you a glimpse at what it might be about, is trying to say, is attempting to communicate. Others do so in minutes.
This article is part of a larger project. If you’re a fan of NieR Automata, please stay tuned for more!