That's the only thing running through my mind as I mindlessly slay through hundreds, if not thousands, of these monsters that appear before me. Shades, they are called by the people, are these dangerous black figures that roams the land we inhabit. I, on the other hand, just call them enemies that will die by my hand if they continue to stand in my way. Playing as the father of Yonah, I set out to rescue my daughter from the clutches of the dreaded Shadowlord who had taken her away from me for who knows what purpose. Determined to do whatever it takes to save her, I would've paid any price to have Yonah back in my arms.
If only I knew what that price was...
Note: This blog contains spoilers for the video game Nier. Proceed with caution.
Throughout my adventures in the video game Nier
, I was taught to hate Shades: they are nothing but mindless monsters that'll attack anything around them. Whenever I took a trip to the Northern Plains, be it to fetch mutton for a woman's dinner or to head on down to the Junk Heap to upgrade my shiny new sword, I always see those accursed things attacking the animals around them. It doesn't let up from there either as, years later, the Shades grow more and more aggressive, attacking the nearby villagers and travellers just for the hell of it (as evident by their drops of kitchen knives and coloring books).
People are dying in this world, and if isn't the Shades that's killing them, then it's the damn Black Scrawl that's doing it. The Black Scrawl is a sickly disease that's proven to be quite terminal, with no known cure at that... And, unforunately, as luck would have it, my daughter Yonah had contracted it. Not one to sit back and do nothing, as I am a man of action, I set out to do the impossible: I will cure Yonah of her disease. Any father who sees their child coughing up a storm and falling over weakly would be in distraught, and no doubt was I: I just used that to push myself even harder.
The game wants me to care about Yonah and succeed it does: playing as the father of Yonah already makes you feel like you're obligated to look out for her, especially when you see the character (who, since you can name yourself, will be referred to by Decker in this case because it feels more personal to me) does everything he can to make her feel better, be it from taking on odd jobs to risking his life in battle against giant Shades. The thing that really gets me though, the thing that really makes my heart ache for her, are the little snippets of her diary that you get whenever the game goes into a loading screen: each of them feels personal, and some of them are so wistful that even gets to me.
My favorite one in particular? "The snow won't stop falling, so Dad said he'd stay here with me until it stops. He'll probably leave again when it does, so I kinda hope it snows forever.
That's when I knew that I cared about Yonah. That's when I knew I had to save her, no matter what.
"Reaching Out to the Truth"
So, naturally, to save Yonah I was going to have to find this "Shadowlord" and strike down any of those who stand in my way. At first, this wasn't exactly a problem: I had no problem cutting down evil robots and bloodthristy wolves and I especially had no sympathy for the countless number Shades I had to kill to even get to them. Heck, since they spawned in the same locations in the same formation, it feels routine to slaughter them in the systematic way I came up with to get through the herd faster. However, near the end of the game, I get into a boss encounter against those that I hadn't expected to fight at all: a pair of twins, named Devola and Popola, who helped supported me throughout my adventure.
What I definitely didn't expect, even more so, was the bombshell they drop on me: they reveal themselves to be overseers of Project Gestalt, which is the process of making replicant bodies for humans to use after extracting their souls out of their original, infected-with-a-deadly-disease body. As with most stories involving replicants, like Tales of the Abyss
, it's no surprise that you and every other "human" are just sentient replicants... But what was
an actual shock is the fact that the Shades I've been killing this whole time aren't just random monsters, oh no, but the manifestation of the humans' souls: in essence, I was a murderer all along. But before I could get a chance to have that fully sink in, I had to face the twins in a battle to the death.
After I killed Devola and saw how much pain I caused Popola did I start to feel guilty about what I've done. I mean, killing a human in a video game is nothing new... Hell, with lots of M rated games nowadays it's something to be expected... But after playing through a game where you barely, if never, had to kill a human before now, the effects of doing so is much greater with the added emphasis, especially when you killed said someone in front of her grief-strickened sister. But, then again, I guess I've been killing humans this whole time, haven't I?
I just didn't know it at the time.
What are wolves doing in the desert anyway?
Suddenly some of the game makes sense now... Take, for instance, the random drops that the Shades give out when they die, like the rusty kitchen knife, thick dictionary, and used coloring books. These are probably not just things the game designers decided to have them drop on a whim, or even things that the Shades picked up in their murderous rampage: those items are probably remnants of who they were, like a mother who goes through the trouble to cook a home-cooked meal every night, a student with an insatisable thrist for knowledge... or even a little child who had no trouble coloring within the lines.
But if that's too subtle to feel, because to be honest it's a bit of a stretch to ask the normal gamer to do, then perhaps playing through the game a second time will change your tune: when you complete the game and reload your completed save, you can run through the game again. This time, however, you, the player and not the character, can understand what the Shades are saying now. This opens up a bunch of new scenes that shows off the background story of some of the bosses you fought, and some of them even has you feeling sorry for the boss you once slaughtered with malice.
For example, when you first see the scene when the Shade Wolf kills the Princess of Facade on her wedding day, after hearing that she lived a life of poverty and never knowing happiness, you team up with the Prince to hunt down the Wolf in retaliation: the Prince wanted to kill the wolf for what he's done and you weren't going to sit out on a battle that became personal. However, once you see the Wolf's side of the story, where he once tried to make peace with the people before having most of his pack slaughtered by them, you start to sympathize with the wolf this time around (especially when he tries to save a young pup by pulling a spear out of him only to die right in front of him).
Unforunately, you can't choose to side with the wolf though: just like the first time around, Decker's going to slay him down in cold blood and you, the player, can only help him do that.
Well, you and that big ass sword of his...
[The Price I Pay]
And that's how it goes throughout the second playthrough: you may start to feel for the enemy, but unless you stop playing the game, you're still going to kill them. See, even though you, the player, hear the enemies plead for you to stop and turn back, Decker, who doesn't know what the enemies are saying, will still yell out for their heads to roll as he charges forward. Then again, I suppose that, even if he does know what they're saying, that probably wasn't going to stop him anyway: after all, Yonah is still kidnapped by the Shadowlord and he's determined to get her back. However, to me at least, I start to see what the price of saving Yonah really means: back then, killing Shades was just business as usual; now, everytime a Shade falls to my sword, I realize that I was killing someone, and usually dozens of them at once at that.
You ever hear of that moral problem with the train? You know, the one where a train's heading to a fork in the track, and if it goes one way then it'll kill one person, and that if it goes the other way then it'll run over five people, and that you can switch it to a track of your choosing? I would assume a good amount of you would choose, if you had to, to sacrifice the one person to save the five... But in this case, in the game Nier
, I am essentially doing the opposite: I killed many to save one. Sure, maybe you can't help the Shades revert back to human, and maybe they did
kill off a lot of innocent people (maybe even those whose bodies were meant for them), but some of the ones you kill are still sentient enough to plead for you to stop as you heartlessly slay them.
The game wanted me to care about Yonah, and I did. The game wanted me to rescue Yonah and I did. The game wanted me to feel sorry for the Shades and I did.
But the Shades wanted me to stop... and I didn't. And the guilt of killing them without mercy is the price I pay for saving her.
I wonder what Yonah would say had she knew...