Happy American Thanksgiving weekend, dear readers. Thanksgiving is a day of eating turkey, a bird whose meat is so god damn bone-dry when cooked that you are required to load it up with cranberry sauce and stuffing just to swallow it. It is also a day of announcing to a room full of relatives, most of whom you only see at Thanksgiving dinner, what you’re thankful for (most likely something generic you made up on the spot like family or your health.)
This year I’m thankful for owning a hard copy of NieR:Automata Original Soundtrack. It’s a triple album – a 3 disc set – and it’s still too short. The actual amount of music in NieR:Automata is something like seven hours if you include all the different versions of each track (versions that play during combat, 8-bit hacking versions, versions with and without vocals) which this album does not. That’s really my only complaint about this album: it should have been a boxset.
Are boxsets even a thing anymore? Am I showing my age? They were popular in the 90s, but now, I have no idea. You god damn kids and your social media. Your TikTok. What the fuck is TikTok even. I’m terrified for the future if this is the kind of weird shit the new generation is going to be into. America is finished.
Fine. Let me put down the cane and whiskey and keep gushing about this music and about how much of a genius composer Keiichi Okabe is. He also wrote the soundtrack to the original NieR, and that was amazing, and so is this. It’s mostly a mix of powerful orchestral pieces and ambient-ish background tracks, all of which both suit and enhance the feel of the game. It’s hard to write about this music without writing about the game itself, in fact, the music being meshed so completely into the game’s fabric. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy this album without playing NieR:Automata, but pieces like Copied City, Birth of a Wish, or The Tower won’t carry the same emotional weight if you haven’t. I still feel like I’m missing some of the impact of the original NieR OST for just that reason.
Did I say “emotional weight”? Yeah. I’m a very unromantic person in most ways, but the story and characters of NieR:Automata hit me in the feels, as they say (or used to say, anyway, a few years ago.) It’s a tragedy in the classical sense, and a good one, because it doesn’t use cheap tricks or ploys or plot devices to achieve its emotional effect – it makes it the hard way by making you care about its characters and its world. And just as Yoko Taro and his team had to work to write an emotionally resonant story, Okabe and his team had to work to write an emotionally resonant soundtrack. Music, like writing, shouldn’t resort to tired, cheap tricks (like the “moving” key change – the musical equivalent of killing the cute puppy in your story for the purpose of squeezing out tears. I could write a whole essay about how fucking lazy and bad the key change is as most songs use it.) Okabe and his co-composers clearly know that and have the skill to pull off truly powerful music.
The credit isn’t all with Okabe and co., though. Emi Evans returns to sing on several tracks. She’s not as prominently featured as she was on NieR Gestalt & Replicant, but her work on tracks like Voice of No Return and A Beautiful Song is… well, it’s beautiful. Joining her on vocals is one J’Nique Nicole, whose voice has a different quality that contrasts nicely with Evans’. And of course there’s a choir on the payroll as well along with the orchestra. Shit, this soundtrack had to be expensive to record.
That’s all I have to say about this album. It’s not that expensive for a triple album, and all the music is great, so it’s worth buying. As with Nocturne, though, I’d suggest you play Nier:Automata first if you haven’t already so you can get the emotional context of the music, and also because it didn’t win all those Game of the Year awards for no reason. You can consider this post to also be my review of the game, since I never got around to reviewing it last year. Nier:Automata is worth every minute spent on it.