Hello, and welcome to 12 Days of Anime 2017! Leading up to the holidays, we on this site will be writing (eventually???) twelve pieces about things we thought were cool this year. Keep in mind that while this is the 12 Days of Anime, anime can be many things. A movie. A comic. A state of mind.
First, let’s talk about a scene from Nier Automata. Warning: this piece will contain huge spoilers for the final few routes in the game! If you care about those things, please wait to read this piece until you play until at least ending C or D yourself. Thank you.
How do you judge a roleplaying game? Fans of Japanese RPGs often grade by the style of the story or the soundtrack; others by the complexity of the battle systems. Fans of Western RPGs look at the amount of choice and consequence represented, the number of battles that serve no purpose but filler, the way each branching path fits together. One test I’ve found that serves me well (though not in every case) is how horrible the game allows you to be. The Witcher 3 baits you into ruining the lives of ordinary people by not giving you all the information about each hunt. Fallout: New Vegas lets you sacrifice your party members to appease a society of cannibals. Planescape Torment, one of the best RPGs of all time, allows you to give a superweapon to a bad guy and ensure the eventual heat death of the universe. Yoko Taro’s games have their share of horrific scenes in which the player are complicit. But Nier Automata takes things a step further in that one of the worst things you can do to its most sympathetic character is optional. This is your last warning.
Pascal’s one of my favorite characters in Automata alongside 9S. The leader of the village of peaceful machines, he spends his time reading books and carving out a place for machines to be safe and happy together. Maybe in another game he’d turn out to be the ultimate villain, but instead Pascal becomes something akin to Automata’s moral compass. In a side quest where you have the choice to offer Pascal the method of creating a nuclear bomb, Pascal turns it down; his vision for the future does not include weapons. He expresses remorse for the deaths of both humans and machines, and has the back of your main characters even though he has no combat capability at all.
But in Route C of Automata, Pascal breaks. His village is set ablaze by maddened machines, which slaughter most of the population. Sent into a rage, he betrays his code and pilots a giant robot to protect the machine children surviving under his care. But when he returns to them, he finds that each of them has committed suicide out of fear. So overcome is he with pain that he asks of A2, our heroine, a choice: to either erase his memories and personality, or to kill him.
There are a few ways this can play out. You can choose to kill him, which relieves his pain. You can leave him alone, which is technically possible but he despises you for. Or you can hack into his memories and erase them. It’s a long and heartrending process, and at the end of it he thanks you.
But if you return to the village afterward, you will find Pascal selling the pieces of those machines that died under his care. He does not know what they are, and feels nothing towards them. If you so choose, you can buy from Pascal the cores of the child machines who killed themselves because they were afraid. They are expensive, but Pascal will gladly sell them to you. They serve no other purpose in the game other than to inflict a cruel joke on a broken machine out of spite.
Maybe games are art!