Nier: Automata Has The Best Soundtrack Of All Time
One of the first projects I took on to keep myself occupied at the beginning of the pandemic was a mission to learn all the lyrics to Weight of the World from Nier: Automata – in Japanese. I know about ten Japanese words total, none of which are in the tune, so I thought this was going to take me ages. Instead, I managed to learn the whole song in about 20 minutes, because it turns out I’d heard it so often that all I had to do was learn how to properly pronounce the sounds I was already humming with near-perfect accuracy. It seems I didn’t quite realize how many hundreds of times I stuck this track on at a party despite the fact that nobody a) knew what it was or b) wanted to listen to it.
Weight of the World is a banger, but it’s not the only standout hit from Keiichi Okabe’s phenomenal Automata OST. When I checked my Spotify Wrapped for 2020, I was expecting Pearl Jam, Queens of the Stone Age, Elliott Smith, and Radiohead. Instead, City Ruins (Rays of Light) came out on top. Do you know the funny thing? A different version of City Ruins (Rays of Light) came in second place, meaning that across the potentially thousands of hours I listened to music last year, the same Nier: Automata tune was both my most listened to and second most listened to track. That’s pretty wild.
I could wax poetic about so many of the songs from this game. Amusement Park, A Beautiful Song, A Vague Hope… they’re all so perfectly evocative not just of the state of Automata’s apocalypse, but of the emotion and lack thereof within it. It’s the sonic manifestation of a strife for humanity in a world on the verge of losing it, solemnly beautiful to the point of eeriness. City Ruins is a great example of this – when you break down the melody of this track, it’s actually quite erratic, but the soft notes somewhat suppress that feeling. The vocals are gorgeous, but they’re wistful too, which is also paradoxically submerged beneath their power. It’s a masterclass in poignant beauty sung to a tune of hope in vain.
I love Nier: Automata as a whole – it’s one of my top five games ever – but I think the way the music and architecture come together to create a certain worldview is the primary reason for that. Before the OST was on Spotify, I’d occasionally just head to the Resistance Camp and let the music play in the background while I worked or read. It was a safe place where I didn’t have to do anything, and nobody would bother me if I just stood around for a bit, lingering, listening to the soft harmonies of tranquility in a world filled with noise. For all of Nier’s clanky machinery, there’s a lot of natural sublimity to its music too – the Forest Kingdom and Desert Ruins are excellent examples of this, as are some of the more overgrown parts of the main cityscape. My personal favourite, though, is the Flooded City, which the music blows up into a microcosmic world of its own, making its dilapidated ruins seem almost as natural as the vines that stretch across them like veins containing the beating heart of what once was.
I’ve already written about how Yakuza 0 has the best opening theme of all time, which isn’t mutually exclusive from this. Yakuza 0’s introductory sequence is phenomenal in a variety of ways, and I firmly believe it’s top of the pops – but in terms of an overall soundtrack, Automata’s got everything else beat. Halo 3 has a great soundtrack, as does Persona 5. There are some great indie OSTs too – Gareth Coker’s Ori soundtracks and everything Darren Korb does for Supergiant stand out as particularly strong examples. Ultimately, though, Automata is head and shoulders above every other game when it comes to evocation, cohesion, and sheer articulation of the world state it’s attempting to capture.
I was fortunate enough to see the Automata OST performed live by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London about a month before the first lockdown, and I’m still in awe. I couldn’t believe how powerful the songs were in real life, and I reckon City Ruins is going to be numbers one, two, and three on my Spotify Wrapped this year. There’s just something special about this OST, something completely timeless, that separates it from both other video game soundtracks and regular music. It’s more Nier: Automata than it is any specific genre or mode, and I think that’s part of what makes it so distinct. It’s utterly unique, completely detached from anything else, and is therefore incomparable to anything else. I love it, and if you haven’t listened to it yet, please do yourself a favour and download Nier: Automata immediately – just make sure you get it on Game Pass instead of Steam.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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