Note: This post will involve a lot of spoilers for any game with “NieR” in the title. It’s unfortunately inevitable, and if you’d like to go into the franchise “clean”, I would recommend avoiding this article. Or don’t, and realize why you should play all NieR. Regardless, you’ve been warned.
Let’s settle this right now: which is better, Papa Nier or Brother Nier?
I don’t consider myself to be an expert on much (absolute lie), but I do consider myself to be an expert on the subject of all things NieR(s). I even occasionally remember to capitalize that R at the end! But, to be clear, I am not an expert on NieR because I somehow dedicated myself wholly to the game in an effort to make that one video on Youtube with all the glaring errors…
No, I consider myself an expert on NieR because NieR makes you play the game way too much. You have to complete like half the game four times to get the initial four endings?! And now there’s another one that requires even more playing of the same content? Dammit! I don’t know how your memory works, but I can safely say that after playing the same scenes over and over again, I’m pretty sure I’ve got half the script memorized (or at least everything Kainé says. I’m afraid of her calling me a little bitch for not listening). And now NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… has got me playing it all again! A bunch of times! Bah! I’m going to start waving around a phoenix spear if I have to gather those memory alloys one more time.
But there is a significant difference between the NieR I played in 2010 and the remake released eleven years later: Nier is different. Nier was originally conceived of as a brother to a doting sister, but was remade into a Sad Dad for his visit stateside. This meant that “Papa Nier” became the Nier most familiar to American (and Goggle Bob) audiences, while “Brother Nier” was a wholly Japan-based creature. Now Brother Nier is here in the spotlight, and Papa Nier is seemingly erased from history (again). And that can mean only one thing: it is time for them to fight!
So which Nier fits the world of NieR better? Let’s go head-to-head with Brother and Papa variants!
The Book of Legend
The plot of NieR (and, arguably, the greatest tragedy of the whole NieR universe) starts with Nier making the rash decision to beat a book until it don’t know words no more. This ultimately is the cause of a lot of issues in Nier’s life, and it theoretically could have been avoided if the big dummy did not decide the answer to every missing persons case is a sword (or, later, maybe a bigger sword).
And this kind of characterization works great for Papa. Papa is a meathead, end of story, and his life would be a lot better if he was not such a clod. And that contrasts well with the object of the rampage (well, this specific rampage), Grimoire Weiss, who is the brains of the operation. Nier is dumb, book is smart. And you could be forgiven for assuming that Brother is just an idiot like all teenagers. But Papa? Papa is a full-grown adult who has only ever approached his problems with violence. He likes rioting, because it has worked for him in the past. And that is essential to the NieR narrative, and what will happen to the world thanks to that overactive testosterone pump.
At his introduction, you can imagine that Bro can be better. But Papa is established as broken from the start, and that is indispensable for what is to come.
Winner: Papa Nier
The Village Handyman
Actually, minor inconsistency here: NieR does not begin with freeing/brain-damaging Grimoire Weiss. The first we see our hero in action involves him hunting for mutton. Regardless of age, Nier appears to be the village gofer, and every odd task around town falls on Nier’s shoulders. This is justified by Nier doing absolutely anything if it means earning a few more gold pieces for Yonah’s healthcare costs (you know, so Nier can make a big purchase at the closest…uh… doctor store?), and serves the basic narrative function of giving this deadbeat a steady job before becoming a JRPG protagonist.
Now, this is a situation where Brother could easily win out. After all, he is “just a kid” looking after his sister, and it makes perfect sense for the locals to show pity and/or kindness to the squirt that is obviously just trying to do his best with the tools (swords) available. But that interpretation works equally well for the widow that is quasi-employed for his daughter. So what is the difference between these two Niers in this situation? Obviously, it is the fact that you would expect Papa to actually survive half of these chores. A few tasks are as simple as slaying sheep, but they quickly graduate to full-blown rampaging mutant boar hunts. And what kind of monster is sending a child to tackle those tasks? No, you send Papa, the old man that looks like he has wrestled with a few pig monsters in his life. And never mind that nearly every other task involves venturing into areas just lousy with regular monsters…
In a Papa’s Village, the townsfolk are trying to help a single dad. In Brother’s Village, they are sadists that are seeing how quickly they can get some real estate to open up over by the library.
Winner: Papa Nier
The Material Hunter
But if we are talking about sidequests, there is one section where Brother comes out on top: material collecting. Papa is a man on a mission, and that mission is to do anything it takes to see his daughter safe and healthy. And Brother is much in the same boat… but it is easy to see how he has JRPG-onset ADD. I have to save my sister! … But let me strip the meat out of this goat first. And there’s something shiny over there on the ground! Oh! It’s a flower seed! I’m going to cultivate plants over at my garden! And maybe I’ll go fishing! And there are rewards for catching more fish? Oh man! I can use those rewards to trade for materials for a new water wheel over at the desert town! And I’ll deliver a package on the way! And… uh… crap… why did we start this quest again? Hey, floating book, help a brother out.
It is weird to see a Papa that is concerned about his daughter yet still taking seventeen hours to get home, because he decided it was time to collect boar tusks. Brother, though, has all the lack of attention that is afforded to the young. No wonder it took him five years to find his sister like thirty feet over at the only spooky castle in town…
Winner: Brother Nier
A Five Year Release
Speaking of that time skip, let us take note of the difference in Niers during the story’s pivotal halfway point. In both timelines, an attack on the village ends poorly for everyone involved, with Kainé pertrified, Emil wallowing in self-loathing, the library partially destroyed, and, oh yeah, Yonah kidnapped by the Shadowlord. Nier barely survives the battle, too, as he has to sit around and be impaled while his world collapses around him. Presumably after taking a long time to recover and train, the game resumes with a Nier that is five years older. In this time, he has mastered two new weapons, and has become something of a legendary warrior in the village and surrounding area. He is the scourge of Shades, and will commit a literal genocide to see his sister returned safely.
Of course, this makes perfect sense for Brother Nier. When NieR begins, he is but a child, but he has time to grow up in the five years that he spends separated from his friends and family. And five years is a long time for a teenager! In the “real world”, that’s the whole length of high school plus an extra year to figure out how to do a keg stand properly. I am sure I am not alone in saying that myself at 19 would barely recognize my 14 year old self, and the same metamorphosis occurs with our dear Brother. He is a new man post time-skip, with a heavy emphasis on the “man” part of that equation.
Papa got an eyepatch. It is, like, the worst eyepatch. Other than that, he is still the same grizzled old man as before, just slightly grizzled-ier. Papa is just Papa, and five years is no big deal.
You want to see five years go by? Focus on a teenager.
Winner: Brother Nier
The Once and Final King
If we are addressing him wrecking up the place, we may as well take a more focused look at NieR’s big bad, Shadowlord. As is pretty obvious to even a neophyte player, Shadowlord is clearly an “evil twin” of Nier. You might not know exactly why there is a walking shadow that looks exactly like the protagonist for a few more hours, but it is apparent from his first appearance that Shadowlord effectively is Nier. And, in case you cannot look at that picture there, this is not some goofy, Wario-esque evil twin, this is the kind of doppelganger with glowing, malevolent eyes and a propensity toward generating wicked cape-wings. The Shadowlord is the ultimate antagonist for Nier, and he is commanding your respect through a terrifying appearance.
Well, except when Brother is involved. When Shadowlord is aping a teenager, he still kind of looks like a dork. Papa is a brick gestalthouse, Brother is still waiting for his balls to drop. And a Shadowlord that looks like he is just on the cusp of puberty loses a certain je ne sais quoi that is all but required when a demon is destroying everything you ever loved. Yes, it makes a certain amount of sense that Shadowlord’s true personality is that of a moody teenager, but I do not have to be reminded of that fact by his gangly shadow body. Papa Shadowlord at least presents as somebody you could believe has been leading hordes of monstrosities for centuries…
Winner: Papa Nier
Boss of the Junk Heap
So Nier’s age is variable, and Shadowlord’s (relative) age will always match that. And Nier/Shadowlord is always going to be the most important person the NieR planet. And this is relevant, because practically every other corner of Nier’s world is ruled by children. Façade had an adult king, but he died shortly before the game started, and now a boy prince is ruling the roost. The Junk Heap had parents in charge, but mom died about a week ago, so now a teenage son is running the place. Whoops, he aged out of the position/life, so his even littler brother has to work the counter. Emil is the “young master” of the only house with a decent kitchen for miles. And, while Devola and Popola are the ageless queens of Nier’s Village, they both seem to present as generally competent older teens thanks to their various activities and vices. Or am I just assuming that women that hang around the library and quad singing and drinking are supposed to resemble college students?
Regardless, this gives the distinct impression that Nier’s immediate surroundings are a sort of “kid world”, with children or teenagers filling all the important roles. And, while that may make it sound like NieR is some kind of “kid-friendly” or shonen universe, it more just speaks to a significant theme of NieR: nobody knows what they are doing. The extinction of humanity in the NieR world is basically a series of dominos falling all thanks to people thinking they are doing the right thing, even though that “right thing” is often proven to be simply the most “feels good in the moment” thing. A person wants to save a family member. An android wants to fulfill her purpose. A scientist wants to save people. These are all noble goals, but the methods involved cascade and collapse on each other until, whoops, genocide all over the place.
And that is pretty much how we expect teenagers to act. This is a world of “kids” not just because the adults have keeled over, but because even the ostensible grownups are making “kid” decisions. So it may as well seem like teenagers are in power all over the world, because, basically, they are.
That said, it is in this special environment that Papa actually excels. Papa may be just as teenaged in his decision making process (see shade? kill shade.), but he does have the experience that comes with age that allows him to approach others as a father, and not a peer. Brother understands the Junk Heap brothers that only have each other to rely on after they lose their parents, but Papa can approach this scenario as a father that compares the boys to his own daughter. Emil is a baby that was damaged by other adults, but can be helped by one caring Papa. And when the new King of Façade becomes the newest Widower of Façade, Papa can relay advice from a perspective that Brother will literally never understand.
In a world of orphans, a father is an exceptional rarity.
Winner: Papa Nier
But if we are talking about parental figures, we are going to have to address Devola & Popola. Yes, these two do seem to straddle a maturity line. Popola is indisputably the most important person in Nier’s hometown, and, despite the fact that she barely ever leaves her office, she does seem to be an authority figure to everyone within the city limits. And Devola… uh… provides the background music? That’s an important job! Look, she is a bard, and Nier’s Village is sorely lacking in entertainment options. Not like you can spend all day watching boars drift racing.
And, oh yeah, they are androids overseeing Project Gestalt, and are effectively the immortal caretakers of every person you see.
In a way, this makes Devola & Popola the ultimate parents of the NieR world. Long after every scientist has gone to that great Junk Heap in the sky, the twins have been puttering about, keeping track of every new generation of meat puppets that are born and die waiting for their soul reunions. And this means that, despite their carefree attitudes, these two proud mamas are effectively infinitely responsible for their charges, and have not had a day off in a millennia or so. That has to suck! No wonder Popola randomly gets drunk and demolishes tavern walls!
And this “eternal parent” thing is important to Brother. After all, it is Popola who distinctly gives Nier his most important quests, and Devola who sings songs that inspire Nier to his rampages. Popola is being direct, Devola is being subtle, but they are both working the same con. They are working as Brother’s mom & dad! And that is great for a coming-of-age story, as it gives Brother an excuse to object and ultimately rebel against the “previous generation”. Brother is not only fighting for his fellow whatever-counts-as-humans, but also against his own wannabe parents. Tale as old as time!
But Papa has a slightly different scenario. While it may be a lie, Papa appears to be older than the twins, so that natural parentage concept is right out. Why does Papa listen to them, then? Well, when you’re a parent, you’ll understand: they are the only decent babysitters in the whole town! And that is huge for a dad that is out on monster-slaying business more often than not. Papa can undertake this quest at all because he trusts the person he loves most, Yonah, with Devola & Popola. Of course he listens to their advice and/or machinations, because he follows the twins implicitly. And when they betray him, it is horrendous, because they knew Yonah’s ultimate fate all along. Obviously, they were working this con from the very beginning, and, in Papa’s limited understanding of this entire situation, he just discovers that he trusted the exact wrong people for Yonah’s entire life. Devola & Popola did not have to be authority figures in Papa’s life, he gave them that position, and he nearly lost his daughter for it.
So who is the winner here? Both. Neither. Papa and Brother alike get their souls crushed by Devola & Popola, even if it is for different reasons.
Fighting’s Not My Thing
If we are looking at androids anyway, let’s look to Nier’s future. As everyone knows, the only reason we got a NieR Remake at all was because NieR Automata was a surprise hit. And, while we future people of 2021 already know Automata sold more copies than your average Drakengard, no one that worked on that game had any way of knowing that would be the case before release. About the only thing anyone could confirm about NieR Automata was that it would, as a sequel, likely attract more than a few fans of the original. And how do you appeal to that audience? By confirming that their main character that has been dead for thousands of years is still around.
Just look at the kid! There is definitely a connection there. In fact, it could easily be argued that 9-S, the boy wonder of NieR Automata, is supposed to be something of a “trick” for fans of NieR. Young Brother is a valiant and optimistic protagonist that might make a few mistakes, but is consistently a good person. 9-S… uh… certainly wants to think that about himself! But, upon initial introductions, you would expect 9-S to be an “echo” of Brother in the same way that A2 deliberately evokes Kainé. And, while this is eventually revealed to be something of a false assumption (spoilers: 9-S is not invited to my birthday party for any reason), it is something of an “easter egg” for anyone that already spent a few years trying to properly pronounce the franchise’s title.
But this was completely lost on American audiences, because the only Nier we ever knew would look terrible in short shorts. If there was an intentional echo here, only knowing a burly dude that is more abs than man means we missed it.
Winner: Brother Nier
A True Friend
We are not here to look at the complicated, vaguely rapey relationships between androids, though. We are here for Nier and his friends. And who is the most important NieR character that we have barely addressed? Kainé. And why is she so important? Well, aside from hanging around the story for nearly the entire experience, Kainé is also the woman that can inspire Nier to sacrifice everything. While Nier has cared for Yonah for literally hundreds of years, Kainé is someone he meets randomly while puttering about the countryside. And she quickly goes from acquaintance to friend to one of the most important people in Nier’s world in short order. Nier is a man that is fighting constantly, and Kainé is someone that fights with him through thick and thin. She sacrifices herself in grand, JRPG-appropriate ways (like through being a “statue seal” for a solid five years), but also through more subtle, human methods. While her decisions may be partially prompted by self-loathing, little sacrifices like sleeping outside so as not to disturb the locals at Nier’s Village are just as important to Nier as repeatedly slashing shades. And speaking of those “monsters”, Kainé knows the horrible secret of Nier’s enemies all through this adventure, and only uses this information to protect her friends (she’s a shade detector), and not darken their days with some psychic damage that would surely impact Emil’s sunny disposition. Without even trying, Kainé does a lot for Nier.
And then, at journey’s end, Nier has the option of erasing his own existence to save Kainé. And damned if it doesn’t make sense that Nier would make that choice.
In both cases, there is evidence that Nier would sacrifice himself for his companion. In Brother’s universe, he has spent much of his life palling around with Kainé, and literally would not have been able to get as far as he did without her. In a situation wherein he just watched nearly all of his allies die, it is easy to imagine him making the choice to save just one of friends, even if it means Yonah would be without a brother. Meanwhile, while it is difficult to imagine proud Papa choosing to orphan his daughter in exchange for saving “the hussy”, it makes sense when you consider the generational divide involved across the rest of Nier’s world. Papa has seen firsthand that the next generation needs something different, as so many of the “child rulers” of the world are either muttering about robot-revenge or goose-gored. The world needs new heroes, and, having rescued Yonah, Papa has achieved his purpose. He is an old soul (not soul) that did what he set out to do. He is not meant to lead this new generation. Kainé can take that spot, because, through the whole of Nier, she has proven that she is a reliable, passionate ally. Yonah would be in good hands with Nier, but she would also be in good hands with Kainé, who can additionally see a world beyond Yonah. Nier could be a father that, knowing his daughter is safe, leaves her with not a parent, but a contemporary that could help her grow (and swear).
And, ultimately, that is the reason Nier works with a father or brother in the main role. There may be differences between the characters, but, in the end, what is important is the relationship between them. NieR stars a bunch of weirdos with varying degrees of magical powers and body dysmorphia, but they care for each other. They love each other. And it doesn’t matter if Nier is a boy experiencing his own hero’s journey or a father attempting to carve out a better world for his daughter, he is still a person that has friends that he trusts unreservedly. No matter his age, Nier is Nier, and nothing about that ever changes for Emil, Kainé, and everyone else that they touch in his forsaken world.
Well, except Papa Nier does win, though. I mean, dude, nobody wants to play another videogame starring some white-haired twink. This is America, dammit.
Winner: Anyone that remembers Nier is something special
FGC #581 NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…
- System: Apparently your choices are Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Kind of a shame there isn’t a Switch version, as some of those sidequests would go down a lot more smooth on a portable system. … Not that you should be bothering with the sidequests, though…
- Number of players: This remake did not find a way to shoehorn an arena mode into the proceedings, so we’re sticking to one playable Nier.
- Remake Additions: NieR RemakE feels like how you remember NieR feels. Don’t actually go back and play the original version, though. That was clunky as hell! Please believe in this glorious new version where it doesn’t take Nier an entire presidential term to swing a great sword. Or maybe this is another difference between a child protagonist and an old man…
- So what’s new? Replicant Revision offers a brand new scenario involving a haunted ship, a mermaid, and a postman that rings all sorts of times. It is pretty fun, but you can almost feel the “this was originally a short story, and did not have to involve gameplay” nature of this addition. Also, never ask Kainé personal questions if you want her to deliver your mail.
- How about that DLC: Hey, you can play The World of the Recycled Vessel again, and it’s still a bunch of room recolors focusing on combat. And that’s the one part of NieR nobody ever claims was the best part of NieR! Play only if you absolutely need to transform all magic bullets into Emil heads.
- What’s in a name: I have only now, after over a decade, realized that Emil, Test Subject Seven, is part of Project Snow White. Damn you, Taro, now you have to tell me which dwarf Emil is supposed to be.
- What’s the difference between NieR and Drakengard, anyway? It’s been four years since I said it, so, to reiterate: In Drakengard, every character, protagonists included, is worthy of death. In NieR, every character, villains included, is worthy of life. Simple distinction.
- An End: Ending E is an incredibly cathartic glut of emotional fanservice. It is amazing, and everything I could have ever hoped for. However, it also vaguely invalidates the initial “point” of Ending D, so I have a hard time saying it is a complete improvement over the original. My poor, never-to-be-recovered Xbox 360 NieR save is sad up there in Save Heaven.
- Did you know? Apparently “White” used colloquially is a common name for house pets in Japan. So, in NieR’s original language script, references to Grimoire Weiss not being addressed by his full title are an effort by the sentient book to stave off being seen as little more than a house cat. Granted, nobody wants to see a common cat with full access to the sealed verses…
- Would I play again: Last time, I claimed it would be another seven years before I played NieR again. Now, it has only been a little over three years, and I would be willing to play it again in another three years. That number keeps getting smaller!
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Game & Watch Gallery for the Nintendo Gameboy! Playing one portable system on another, different portable system? Why not! Please look forward to it!