It’s called High Scores: A History of Video Games Music and is being hosted by the BBC’s Mark Savage. The first episode is currently available to listen to so far, and guest features persistent video game fanatic Charlie Brooker (yes, that Charlie Brooker) showcasing a selection of his favourite video game jams through the years, along with some nostalgic and amusing anecdotes to go along with them.
Though just a teaser for the series which begins properly on March 10th, this first episode is worth a listen for anyone interested in the history of games music, and has piqued my interest for what’s to come. Radio 6 has had excellent high-quality programming about video games music in the past and I expect this will be a continuation to that theme. I look forward to next week’s show!
High Scores: A History of Video Games Music is being broadcast live every Sunday at 13:00 on BBC Radio 6 with recordings available to listen to for 30 days after airing on Radio 6’s website. You can also listen to it using the BBC Sounds app. Click here for more information on how to listen to Radio 6.
In early April of this year (2018), I was aware of the game series called NieR, had heard of its popularity and acclaim but knew nothing else about it. Fast-forward to June and I am now a devout worshipper. There are probably many others who are currently in the same mind about it as I was two months ago (ie. never really thought about it), but who would love it as I do if they got into it. So, below I am going to try and list what exactly made me turn, in some sort of chronological order. How did I become a NieR convert?
1. I watched a playthrough of Drakengard
Drakengard is the game series that NieR is a spin-off of, and by pure chance I happened to watch a playthrough of the first game towards the end of April. It started off quite tame, if a little dark. However, once I had witnessed the final alternate ending (the one which is canon for the beginning of NieR), and had gotten over my flabbergastedness over it, I felt as though I had sampled something special and wanted more.
2. I familiarised myself with NieR: Replicant
Following on from Drakengard, I started watching a playthrough of the first NieR game, as I am a little late to the party and it is now very difficult to get a hold of a copy. There are two versions of this game (bear with me); Replicant, which is a Japan-only PS3 release, and Gestalt, which was released on Xbox 360 in Japan and released in the west as simply NieR, on both PS3 and Xbox 360. The two games are identical story-wise, apart from the main character of Replicant being a teenage boy/young man and in Gestalt he is a middle-aged man.
‘This all sounds very confusing!’ I hear you cry.
Again, bear with me. Because of the nature of how the narratives Drakengard and NieR are structured, they deal with multiple endings and simultaneous realities. Gestalt and Replicant are both equally valid in their interpretation of the main character of the game, because in my opinion they should be looked at as simultaneous, alternate realities of each other.
Brother Nier (from Nier:Replicant promotional material)
Papi Nier (from Nier: Gestalt promotional material)
The main character “Nier” in Replicant is the older brother of the young girl character called “Yonah”, whereas in Gestalt he is her father. This alters the relationship dynamic between them in subtle yet significant ways between the two versions, and also gives a different point of view to the player of certain story elements.
The main point I noted was in the tragedy of the main plot point; trying to save Yonah from the deadly disease she has. “Father” Nier gives the aura of being physically strong and capable of protecting the people he cares about, and obviously Yonah’s protector as her dad, yet is powerless against the disease that is attacking her from the inside. You can pretty much feel his failure, and it’s bloody painful.
“Brother” Nier is just a child himself in the beginning of the game, and is having to cope with the burden of finding ways to survive for both of them in the absence of parents, along with locating a cure for Yonah. In this manner, Brother Nier and Yonah have a more equal relationship, as even though Nier still plays a protective role it isn’t laid out as obviously to the player as it is with hulking Papa Nier. This results in the feeling of a different sort of tragedy, as young Nier’s powerlessness is like a constant barrage coming at him from all directions.
I chose to watch a playthrough of an unofficial translation of Replicant mainly because it is the version I would never be able to play—being in Japanese, a language I don’t speak, and never being released in the west. And if I ever do get a hold of Gestalt, it’ll at least be partly a new experience.
You can watch the playthrough I saw here. Note, however, that it is patched with the English script. It has been tweeked a bit, but you have to use your imagination in several places to change references of Yonah/Nier being daughter/father to sister/brother. A minor flaw compared to the rest of the experience, trust me!
3. I read Grimoire NieR
Another Japan-only release, Grimoire NieR was a book that detailed a lot of aspects from NieR that weren’t completely covered in the game itself. Backstories for characters, concept work, game guides, information on items; much like the Ultimania guides available for Square Enix titles. Too bad it was only ever published in Japanese.
As well as the extra story segments, often shocking (including a particularly sad one that alludes to a certain character prostituting himself to get by), the interviews with the creators give some very interesting insights into the thought processes behind the game. I’m even satisfied with the explanation behind why the tritagonist, Kainé, runs around in her knickers the whole time. Okay, maybe it is a little tongue in cheek. But that is what makes it great!
Not subtle enough? Okay 😛 I’m still trying to find the original credit for this image. Unfortunately I don’t recognise the artist’s signature!
4. I listened to the soundtrack
No, hang on. I lied. The final cog that locked me into the machine that is NieR was in fact the OST. It is beautiful. I was tempted to buy it on vinyl a little while ago, even though I don’t have a record player.
Here is one track I enjoy (out of many. MANY. This was a difficult decision to only put one, but I think it’s gotta be this one):
So there we go. After all this, I went on to inevitably purchase NieR: Automata. And it was the best darn game purchase I could have made at that point in time. Would I have enjoyed Automata if I hadn’t have done all of the above? Most likely. A huge chunk of the overall game sales are probably people who haven’t made this same journey, and I bet most of them love it all the same.
But am I glad I took this route? YES.
Part of what I enjoy about a series (any series, be that book/TV/film/game), is getting into the world around it, the characters, how everything works; the lore. If I had dived right in with Automata, I would have eventually gone back to research all of the above if I hadn’t already seen it, simply because it is part of my personality to want to know all I can about a series I’m interested in.
By becoming familiar with NieR beforehand, I was able to recognise references made to various aspects of the lore, be they subtle or not, in Automata. A piece of music here, an entry in the Weapons Data there, some rather odd-familiar-terrifying-looking giant spherical objects way out in the desert …
It might be a bit late for this, but long story short, experiencing what Automata was built upon helped me to enjoy it all the more. And if you haven’t yet looked into it but are at all interested, please do!
I was ecstatic that they gave Final Fantasy VIII lots of love this time around and, despite not utilising the massive pipe organ for any pieces this time, they still managed to blow me away with their rendition of the opera The Dream Oath / Maria and Draco from possibly my favourite of the series, Final Fantasy VI.
I’m certain I’m not the only one whose throat was pretty sore afterwards from when they got all 5000-odd of us to shout “Sephiroth!” during One Winged Angel!