I love Nier: Automata, but I’ve never talked about it here. At least, I don’t remember doing so… But now that two more titles have surfaced: Nier: Replicant and Nier: Reincarnation, I finally have a chance to. Now, mind you, I haven’t opted to not talk about Nier because it’s a few years old. That shouldn’t stop anyone as a few other bloggers have noted. The reason I didn’t is because I don’t have anything to add to the conversation. There are so many great analyses that I’m in awe from which have continuously enhanced my appreciation for the series. That begs the question, what do I have to say now? Replicant and Reincarnation aren’t even out. There’s nothing story related I can pursue in earnest. For Reincarnation though, I can talk about gameplay on a fundamental level.
If you didn’t know already, Reincarnation isn’t built for consoles or PC. It’ll be released on smartphones only and some people are angry. They claim phones aren’t the place for serious gaming experiences and there are a few good points. I mean, phones don’t have proper controllers like consoles. Even PCs, with their keyboards and mice, technically do have “controllers” and even then, you could hook one up. But, at the end of the day, phones aren’t built for gaming specifically. Another potential problem is the screen size. What will the graphical fidelity be on a screen that’s supposed to fit in your pocket? There’s no way the experience will be comparable to consoles and PCs. That’s the fact of the matter and there’s no getting around that. But so what? That in no way means Reincarnation or any other mobile gaming in the making can’t provide a serious gaming experience.
From the small gameplay trailer of Reincarnation, we see a digital analogue stick. A lot of games on mobile use this. It’s nothing new nor remarkable and, in all honesty, does deserve critique. I’m not just referring to the quality of analogue sticks from mobile game to mobile game. All digital analogue sticks aren’t great. They’re flat, foreign, and fake. Of course they are. You can’t get around that. Their entire purpose is to emulate a physical analogue on a touchscreen. And that’s wrong. There’s no way the experience will be comparable to consoles and PCs. We should be trying to implement new ways to move in accordance to new systems. Right now? We’re putting square pegs in a round hole.
Graphical fidelity… Phones aren’t meant to play games. At least, it’s not their priority. They weren’t built for that purpose. First are foremost, they are a means to communicate. Has their hardware improved exponentially since their inception? Of course. But are they comparable to modern consoles and PCs? No. They shouldn’t strive to be comparable either. A phone is a phone. A console is a console. And a PC? Well, to what extent can you compare to PC graphics? They are the frontier of technology that can have parts changed regularly. At the end of the day, there’s no way the experience will be comparable to consoles and PCs.
Again though: so what? The reverse is true as well. Phones are able to provide a unique gaming experience that consoles and PCs can’t. Does that sound absurd? Yes. It really does, and to what extent is unknown, but it’s true. Look at the app Blackbox. It’s a puzzle game in which you have to use the systems of the phone to, well, solve puzzles. Rotate your phone, use the cameras, change the volume, brightness, toggle airplane mode, etc. You can’t do that on consoles or PCs; not to the same extent. In my mind, the closest games on consoles have gotten is PS4’s late P.T which held an obscure puzzle based on what you spoke into a microphone. I consider this different from Dead Rising 3’s voice commands since P.T. never tells you what to do. You’re left to figure it out yourself and the result is something you can’t obtain normally, separating it from a simple gimmick.
PC games on the other hand are much more capable of playing with the system than consoles. Even in 2012, the indie horror game Imscared was pulling tricks. In the visual novel scene, everyone knows of Doki Doki Literature Club. There’s also the more obscure game: Tomorrow Don’t Come from 2018, which implemented a puzzle solution related to changing the volume on your computer.
[Fun Fact: Tomorrow Don’t Come didn’t launch with that solution. Patrick Seibert, the developer, did intend for that but couldn’t quite manage it at first. It was only after he read a review of his game (which expressed disappointment because the solution wasn’t system related) that he went back to try and program it in. Can you guess who wrote that review? Yep, me!]
Saying all that, it sure sounds like PCs can do what phones can and more. Technically speaking, yes. But let’s consider the social context. Most people know a phone’s systems better than a computer’s. Now, it’s not in-depth knowledge, but it’s plenty to play around with and that’s key. The physical aspect, of flipping, rotating and spinning your phone, is also important. That isn’t the crappy motion controls we hate. It’s sophisticated accelerometers that are appropriately responsive.
What does this have to do with Reincarnation? It uses digital analogues which will always feel weird to use. It probably won’t have system-related gameplay either. So will it be good? Will it be a serious gaming experience? Yes.
Yoko Taro, no matter what you feel about his games, is always pushing the boundary of what games are. He believes there’s so much unexplored territory we haven’t yet gotten to and he’s right. Video games are in their infancy and he wants to do more than create what people think of as a good game. That’s why whether Reincarnation is a complete flop or success, I guarantee it will be a serious gaming experience. Will it be recognizable or comparable to our conception of what a serious gaming experience entails? No. And that’s the beauty. Please watch Yoko Taro’s talk, Making Weird Games for Weird People, from 2015. There, you’ll hear his philosophy on game creation. I encourage everyone to listen to it since, at its core, the message of exploring beyond the boundary is applicable to every venture.
The next time someone rags on a mobile game for not being a real game, think to yourself what that means. What is a real game? What is a serious gaming experience? To the players and developers of VNs, are they real games? In just launching a mobile-only title, Yoko Taro has already succeeded. Automata made players think about what being human meant. Reincarnation made players think about what being a game meant.