“Thinking Outside the Box” — Sakurai’s Famitsu Column Vol. 526

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Since the end of last year, there’s been a slew of really intense games being released. I’m having trouble keeping up, but another very fun game has popped up– this time, it’s NieR: Automata.

Games like NieR are a complete 180° from the type of games I make, but I personally like them. I’ve beaten NieR:Replicant and NieR:Gestalt. I’ve played every game in the Drakengard series as well. I always look forward to seeing unique mechanics and quirks that are in these games you won’t see in others.

In Automata, the action is crisp and responsive, and it feels great. ‘As expected of Platinum,’ is a phrase I’m sure many people thought or said. It’s fast and responsive, but has feels like attacks and moves have actual heft and weight behind them. The way enemies explode and the sound effects they make are satisfying too. I did feel that attacking from range was a little bit too safe, but at the same time I realize that the lock-on feature was to help beginners and people who are unfamiliar with action games. I’m assuming that the game was designed around manual aim, so with that in mind, I fully understand.

This held true for the previous game in the series, but the vocals-heavy soundtrack is great as well. No matter how hard I tried to describe, I don’t think I would be doing an adequate job, so I’ll skimp on the details, but I especially love how seamlessly different tracks fade in and out in correspondence with the gameplay.

When I reached the first ending, I thought the game wasn’t anywhere close to being done, so my first reaction was “Wow, that was short.” I think it’s fair game to say this, but this is really just the beginning. I don’t know how many endings there are, including the “bad endings,” but I played through to every story-relevant ending.

The further along you go in the story, the more fourth-wall breaking, meta elements there are to the game, and it keeps drawing you in more and more. I can’t post spoilers so there won’t be much elaboration, but there’s one instance where during a loading screen, two computers have a chat conversation (text-only). I was astonished and startled by some of the effects of hacking towards the conclusion of the game.

Way back in the day, a common visual storytelling technique employed by the masters Tezuka-sensei and Akatsuka-sensei were panels where characters would tear through the boundaries of the panel. Someone who was shocked would jump up and through the “ceiling” of the panel, for example. This style of comedic gag manga isn’t very common these days. I think nowadays it would feel a bit dated. In manga, the panels are the boundaries, the silent rules of the genre. Like kuroko in stage plays, their role is to be forgotten. They should be unnoticed, or at least outside the conscious perception, of the audience. But you are allowed to break the rules! I think that the methods you use to express your story should be more creative and varied.

One thing I love about the NieR series is that they try to step outside their game or genre-defined “boundaries” to shock the audience. Just that element itself is enough for me to want to play these games.

Some people might disapprove or dismiss these kinds of things as just “meta” posturing. But for me, I judge these things based on if I find them enjoyable, fresh, or genuinely surprising. I’m not a fan of these jokes if it becomes too much like an inside joke, and having the controller (metaphorically) ripped out of your hands might be initially unpleasant. But I want to enjoy the feeling of suddenly being forced to step outside of the boundary, that unexpected feeling of unease and confusion.

I think it’s always important to question if we should simply keep reusing and adhering to the old standards and existing systems. Sometimes you do end up going with what’s established, and that’s fine, but there’s no drawback to trying to think outside the box.

I’m not saying people should deliberately try to be weird, and make unconventional games. But in the case of NieR, everything about the game is done with intent and purpose, and choices like the one to make the main character an android feel like one part of a defined greater vision.

The experience of feeling something you wouldn’t normally feel. I think that feeling of “trying something for the first time” is very important.


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Soma

Soma

Translation Team Leader at Source Gaming
I translate things, with the occasional written article here or there. My main game is Melee, so I’m pretty out of the loop when it comes to Smash 4 speculation and such.
Soma
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2 comments

  1. 2B would be a A1 character! (German: 2B wäre ein 1A Charakter).
    No, not really! Please not!

    K. Rool
    Rayman
    Bomberman
    Inkling

    etc.
    but hey, nobody knows what might happen!

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