Sometimes, they’re just too good.
Have you ever experienced something that was so good, its contemporaries paled in comparison? Few galactic films can compete with Star Wars, for example, and Harry Potter outshines its young adult novel rivals. And can any other restaurant compare to your all time favorite? The answer to a lot of these questions is no, though you can still enjoy yourself while consuming. Yet there’s something special – perhaps damning – about the video game industry that doesn’t always quite yield the same results. Yes, we’ve all played that one game that stands out to us and defines us as gamers (most likely, anyway). But what happens when you play that one game that dulls all others that come after?
Such is my predicament with Nier: Automata two months after its release. If you’ve read my review, you’ll see that I thoroughly enjoyed my time. There’s much to love about this action RPG from publisher Square-Enix, the long awaited sequel to one of the most underrated games of last generation (and one sequel that no one thought would ever see the light of day). Its smooth combat, peculiar but interesting characters, and beautiful soundtrack keep the game fresh and work to instill it within your memories; for me, it and the original Nier stay safely tucked away in the walls of nostalgia.
Few games are layered quite as much as Nier: Automata. In this particular game, each run through of the story opens up a new character and an incredible amount of new material. While you run through the same story line – the same missions, I suppose – the narrative continues to expand. After completing the basic, almost paltry, storytelling of 2B’s story (done so quite intentionally), you begin the game anew as 9S. Through his eyes and with his unique abilities (hacking, for one), 9S is able to open chests previously inaccessible to 2B – each containing archived information that expands on the narrative, new weapons, and quests. Additionally, 9S can hack enemy units or NPCs, allowing him (and the player) to enter the mind of the machine/android and understand more of those characters and driving forces. 9S is also prone to visions (at least the player is, anyway) that elucidate many of the questions left from 2B’s journey.
But the game doesn’t end when you finish 9S’ story. Once you finish his arc, you control 2A, which enables you to finish the narrative. You’re also able to choose which chapters and character you want to go back to explore, meaning you can clean up any missing collectibles (especially since areas are completely inaccessible late in the game) and learn the final missing pieces of your narrative arc. It’s an intuitive expository structure that allows for ultimate exploration and learning the story at your pace and preference.
But even if my claims were unjustifiable (I truly believe this game is special, so I believe them to be justified), there’s just something about the Nier franchise that I can’t help but love. And while the joy having found true love in the gaming industry is a joyous and wonderful thing indeed, it also severely impacts my ability to find things to like in other games. It’s something that I know will eventually pass – the same thing happened when I finished my Nier platinum – but it requires time to rectify.
For example, I’m still working on my Nier: Automata platinum. In the meantime, I change in various games (especially since I’m subscribed to Gamefly) from time-to-time. But these games never stick. Gamefly just sent me Prey, a game I had been on the fence about but was super excited to see being sent my way. Published by Bethesda, Prey has a beautiful aesthetic and is set in a horror/thriller sci-fi setting – something which, for me, has a huge potential to strike gold. The verdict? I can’t really force myself to play it. I’m not enjoying it. Likewise, I’m working on a review for Dragon Quest Heroes 2, a personally highly anticipated sequel to Dragon Quest Heroes from a couple years ago. The gameplay is fun, and the game has improved on much from the first, but I just can’t get into it. Hell, even Breath of the Wild paled in comparison to Nier: Automata for me.
And that’s what worries me. I know my time as a hardcore gamer is nearing its end. I’m married now, and I want children. My biological clock is ticking, and I know that my life is changing. And that’s great; I’m pumped. But I don’t want to lose the parts of me that make up me. I want to continue loving my games, enjoying the escape into some well constructed narratives and worlds. I want to continue having an outlet for my frustrations or a place to let my imagination run rampant. I don’t doubt that I’ll get back into that groove, so to speak, but it’s something – every time around – that begins to gnaw at my growing concerns.
Still, I suppose if I consider it all in the grand scheme of things – it’s a good problem to have. As Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously wrote in his poem “In Memoriam A.H.H.”:
“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Regardless of what I experience in the future, I know I’ll always have these memories to fall back upon, and the nostalgia will save the day.