NieR: Reincarnation – what is it?

I’ve been trying to write up an exegesis on NieR: Reincarnation, a mobile f2p gacha that’s part 2D walking simulator, part 3D walking simulator, and part turn-based RPG. The analysis may have grown beyond my grasp, but I will post some thoughts rather than continue agonizing about it.

After several weird games with compelling stories (Drakengard series, NieR: Gestalt/Replicant), Yoko Taro struck platinum (terrible pun there) with NieR: Automata. I feel like he had finally said what he wanted to say and got his message out to people, and from here on he’s trying new things and having fun. SINoAlice debuted a year and a half ago, and NieR: Replicant got remastered for modern consoles. NieR: Reincarnation followed this year, and Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars will be available on PC and console 28 October.

I have played the stuffing out of NieR: Reincarnation through Chapter 12, and I’m still not sure how it relates to the other NieR games. The different methods of gameplay have been used in previous NieR games and the aesthetic is the same (crumbling ruins, muted tones, soulful music), but that’s all I’ve been able to glean.

For the first few stages, the player controls a sad girl who walks around in a giant floating tower-structure called The Cage. While there, she attempts to restore stories. So The Cage is the frame story. I think. Each story-within-the-Cage is associated with a weapon, a call-out to most of Yoko’s older work: when the player upgrades a weapon in a NieR or Drakengard game, they get a macabre story about the weapon’s wielder. In NieR: Reincarnation, that mechanic is core gameplay, and the story isn’t just text.

The weapon stories are explored with a 2D walking simulator instead. In each story, the player controls the weapon’s wielder and learns flashes of their history by walking through stylized diorama scenes and interacting with objects that have exclamation points over them. The stage always ends with an ATB RPG battle: the conceit being that the black birds are making the story go awry, and you have to fix it. I still don’t know how the weapons ended up in The Cage, or whether they are relevant to the world of the frame story. Tutorial text suggests that they are dreams from other realities.

Only parts of this game are VN-like, but I stopped to analyze it because the game does some things with story that I like. Most of the chapters are vignettes about important moments in the character’s life. The short stories contrast with the expansive environments. Often, the story we are told is the climax of a much bigger story. The settings of each story are spare, and there’s enough left unsaid that they could conceivably be all set in the same world at different times. Genres change from late nineteenth-century tech level to space robots.

Additional content allows the player/reader to unlock other vignettes of the characters presented in the weapon stories. These flesh out the characters some more with backstory or continued story, shedding light on the events of their weapon stories.

I have finished the main arc of the story, and I’ll be satisfied whether the game makes a new arc or not. I bought the soundtrack, but didn’t spend any money on this game otherwise. I think I would have paid $20 for it. I found this game inspiring because I am very interested in stories that are told out of order, and I think that conceit works very well in a digital format where the reader can easily cross-reference clues and events. It makes me think about the story and ask questions of it continuously.

Taisho x Alice thoughts

Taisho x Alice (or Taisho Alice) is made as several games: Episodes 1-3 and an Epilogue. Episodes 1-3 each have two routes, and the Epilogue has one. Each route features a love interest who is a twist on a fairytale character. I’ll let you read the summary elsewhere.

taisho alice box art
Box art for the full Japanese Vita version.
English version is on Steam only as of 8/2021.

Do I recommend this game? Depends on who you are. I enjoyed it, but there are plenty of caveats in there. Don’t treat this game as an otome, and you will be the happier for it. Several of the later chapters deviate sharply from genre expectations. The main character is unique in a way that doesn’t go over well with everyone.

HOLY TOAST CONTENT WARNING: mental illness, self-harm, suicidal ideation, sexual assault (not by any LI), body dysmorphia, eating disorders, violence, depictions of blood, and mild sexual language. It’s a lot. Episode 1 is pretty light but then things get hyper dark. The Kaguya route is especially heavy, and then there’s a bunch of creeping dread in Snow White’s.

Does she look maniacal here or is it just me?

The storycraft is the game’s strength. Each episode has details in it that reward you if you pay attention. If you skim the story, you will still understand it, but it will lose many of its “oh wow” moments. Something feels not quite right? Don’t discount your instincts. When I went back to replay some scenes, I said to myself, “This important story element was right in front of me, and I somehow didn’t pick up on it the first time, nicely done.” So this game is definitely worth replaying and reinterpreting if you enjoyed your first playthrough.

There are quite a few choices per route, and some routes are minefields full of bad ends. I’m looking at you, Kaguya.

The game takes on many mental health issues. I don’t know what the Japanese treatments or diagnoses are for many of the symptoms presented. In the US, I believe they would be handled differently. But it’s not something I’ve seen in a Japanese VN before. Primula is a smaller studio than Idea Factory, so they may be willing to take more risks.

episode 2
Okay this seems like the dudes are a bit more sinister, which I guess checks out for the chapter

The heroine, Yurika, is not a normal person. Keep that in mind and you’re more likely to get a good ending. She’s a lot of fun to watch, but she also does several questionable things that made me think she needs some psychiatric help and therapy before she gets involved with anyone. The heroes also tend to have deep trauma, and I’m not sure that any of these relationships are healthy or could be without a lot of intervention. Bottom line: these kids need a lot of therapy. The adult figures in the story all let the leads down at several points.

Does it end happily? As well as it can. But the reader should come in prepared for plenty of pain and issues that get handled in a way that may have non-Japanese audiences scratching their heads. The frame story is a love story, but later the chapters handle more of a mystery plotline with less romance. If this sounds like it’s your cup of tea, then yes, I recommend it. Otherwise, I’d do more research if you’re not sure you’re in the mood for some dark themes.

Cafe Enchante thoughts

I finished playing Cafe Enchante for Switch a while ago, but my sister-in-law just blitzed through it. Also I found this article half-written and thought I’d better just force something out.

First note: Aksys advertises this as “the Hallmark movie of otome games.” Someone on a Discord server, I can’t remember who, said this was only true if in the Hallmark movie the Christmas trees ate people. The advertising and the trailer are happy lighthearted things, and due to other VNs, readers are conditioned to think of cafes as places of deep navel gazing and inner truths.

And there is some of that here, but there’s also far more action than I was anticipating. Also tragedy. I went through a lot of tissues reading this, and I didn’t even get to any bad endings. I’ll put the marketing miscalculation on both Aksys and Otomate- the opening movie is far too cute.

the box art

The good news for those who enjoyed Code: Realize is that this game has the same writer and narrative structure. There’s a long common route with lots of clues in it (eight chapters), and each character route has 4-6 chapters. I’ll let you read synopses elsewhere. If you don’t like long common routes, this may not be for you. Each route has a good ending and one or more bad endings, and the bad endings don’t add anything to the story. So I would skip them, you’ll get plenty of sadness anyway.

Unfortunately, the translation is not good. There are typos everywhere. If that bothers you but you want a similar experience, I’d play Code: Realize instead.

What stood out to me in this game is the heroine, Kotone. She’s feminine, with a quiet but unshakeable strength, which is something I don’t see a ton of in otome. She understands her shortcomings and the role she can play in each story. She doesn’t go rushing into danger. If you’re looking for an action girl, she is not it. But she pulls off something in the common route that is every office drone’s fantasy, and she does some brave emotional deeds for her love in each route.

The love interests are all good men, and I do adore that. The side characters all get to be plenty involved. I do wish there was more than one other female character Kotone really got to talk to. It felt a bit harem-y otherwise. There is also Vennia, who Kotone calls he but is nonbinary. I would have liked it if the team had stuck with “they” pronouns. Also, we have adorable mascot critters: a narwhal demon beast thing, and a clay doll.

shady assistant
I am sure there is nothing shady going on with this side character.

I loved all the routes. They managed to make a tsun I liked. Rindo’s route emotionally affected me in a way that VNs rarely do, because I have asked a lot of the same questions of my future as he did. The final route goes places I did not expect. The story in general goes some pretty dark places. No sexual assault or anything like that. But there’s plenty of existential despair, loneliness, and real danger for those who like to have their heart stomped on by their VNs. The final ending was not strictly happy. The couple ends up together, but the circumstances are not convenient for them. They have to pay for their happy ending.

these side characters, on the other hand, are probably the real heroes of the story

For me, the game was a fantasy that was just real enough that it holds a special place in my heart. I hear this game can feel slow-paced to some readers, especially with its long common route. If that’s usually a concern from you, I might pass. There’s also nothing too spicy that will make your grandmother clutch her pearls here, besides a tongue-kiss CG. If that doesn’t dissuade you, then I’d recommend Cafe Enchante.