Spoiler Warning for ALL of NieR: Automata
NieR: Automata‘s many endings define the game. One of the first things I heard about the game was just how many joke endings there are. There are 21 to be exact, although joke might be a bit of a misnomer. NieR: Automata gives each of it’s endings a letter A through Z with endings F-Z being the joke ones. Joke is a bit of a misnomer though. Often time people refer to them as “bad endings” which I find to be even worse. If you read the text from the “[L]one wolf” end (I’ll post all of it later don’t worry), you’ll see that the ending is definitely not bad, but the ending does josh around a bit. The game does treat the endings differently than the others. Endings A and B play the credits like you expect, and endings C and D play the credits scrolling the opposite direction to foreshadow that ending E has the credits act as a shoot ’em up. Endings F-Z play through part of the credits at lightning speed and then return you to your prior save just with your ending achieved. NieR: Automata‘s multiple endings aren’t just there for laughs, they’re crucial to the themes of the game.
Ending E adds details that turn “[L]one wolf” (ending L) and other endings into the good endings. Ending E deserves a whole novel written about it, but I’ll just go over the key points. Ending E acts as the “true” final ending to the game. You need to play the game three times at least to get the ending, and you need to replay the ending of the last chapter once more to attempt it. I’ve heard all Yoko Taro games are kinda cyclical. Unfortunately I haven’t played the Drakengaurd series, NieR RepliCant, or NieR Gestalt yet, so I’m only going to go off of NieR: Automata. The timeline for NieR: Automata is kinda strange since you basically play the beginning twice and they kinda merge together. Then, you play endings C and D and those kind of merge together to form ending E. I know people will say that ending E canonically comes after ending D because that’s the only way it makes sense, but I kind of like to think the ending E canonically comes after both endings. The game is all about cycles it makes sense that the whole game just happens twice. The cycle of 2B killing 9S and to a greater extent the cycle of 2 killing 9 is a huge motif in NieR: Automata and what I’ve read about it’s companion work (there’s even 2P killing 9S in Final Fantasy XIV if I’m not mistaken). The machine’s mimicry of humanity shows the cycle of growth and failure. Eve and 9S show love and loss. The android and machine war is a manufactured conflict on both sides which is an endless cycle of both sides trying to almost win. Heck, playing the game is a cycle of playing and replaying the game. Ending E talks about this extremely on the nose citing life is all about the struggle in the cycle of “life and death.”
Ending E revives all the main characters and restores their memories. This lets them continue their story, and while the events of the game definitely happen, Pod 152 questions if nothing will change. Will 2B still kill 9S again? If 2B dies, would 9S not just go on another murderous rampage? It seems extremely likely that the cycles destine our cast to the fate they’ve lived out so many times. Pod 042 states that “a possibility of a different future also exists. A future is not given to you. It is something you must take for yourself.” This is a great ending as it leads the players with a sense of hope that things will get better because we believe in our characters. The game also didn’t need to give us this ending to give us this ending. Throughout the game, the players constantly break the cycle to achieve new futures, and that’s what endings F-Z are.
Endings F-Z let players break the cycle of the game and take their future into their own hands. Plenty of endings in endings F-Z aren’t happy at all. In “head[Y] battle,” a bunch of Emil clones succumb to nihilism and send the remains of earth through an “uncaring” universe. This definitely is not happy. That’s what happens when you take the future into your own hands. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and it’s all your fault. There’s plenty of other satisfying endings to chose from. In “break ti[M]e,” A2 finally gets “a sense of peace and fulfillment” which I love for her. Machines do destroy Pascal’s village from her lack of help, but we know this was result no matter what. I will say that choosing to spare Pascal rather than erase his memories or kill him shortly after does amount to a better ending assuming Pascal dies in ending M, but you don’t know for sure that he does. I can pick apart every single one of endings F-Z, but let’s focus on the happiest one.
“Fed up, 2B left the camp to its fate and decided to…go fishing? Yeah that’s it! Fishing! With a smile on her face, she packed up and headed for the coast. Ten years later, 2B would find herself hunted by both machine lifeforms and YoRHa assassins—a life she seemed to enjoy more than her previous one.” While some people might notice the lack of 9S in this ending as a bad one, I think that’s really missing the point entirely. Why wouldn’t 2B be much happier with a life where she’s not forced to constantly kill 9S. I would love to see 9S, 2B, and A2 all live happily ever after as bestest of friends too, but I also don’t think that being a real ending would feel satisfying at all. The open ended nature of ending E perfectly lets me live out this fantasy in a satisfying way, while ending L actually gives me a more nuanced happy ending to appreciate. I like to not that 10 years in the future, YoRHa is still around. Obviously this seems impossible as the organization is created to fail from the start and is gone halfway through the game, so how did this happen? I imagine 9S managed to save everyone since he wasn’t critically focused on 2B after her abandonment. Obviously I don’t like YoRHa, it’s very clearly fascist and the game utilizes it’s existence well to criticize fascism. I think the existence of YoRHa already moves it away since it can’t exist 10 years in the future and still be fascist. The truth about YoRHa is reveal and a new future must’ve been grabbed for itself, one that isn’t fascist (because that’s why it was self destructive int he first place). Instead of YoRHa as an organization, It’s likely that 9S specifically is hunting down 2B. YoRHa actively avoids hunting down A2, so it doesn’t make much sense that they’d do it for 2B. There is a sidequest where you hunt down some YoRHa deserters, but I think this is only because 2B is seen as capable enough, and she had nothing more pressing. It’s nice to imagine that 6O and 21O could go onto fulfill their desires in this ending. 9S and 2B playing cat and mouse to make both of their lives happier breaks their cycle and gives them new purpose. Maybe they’d even get to make up one day; maybe 9S just wants her home. 2B, 9S, and the resistance all know of Pascal and hopefully can work on ending the cycle of growth and failure of machines since Pascal can learn from his mistakes. “[L]one wolf” also features fishing. Who doesn’t love fishing? 2B deserves to smile. “[L]one wolf” breaks the cycle that defines the main game, confirms the happiness of 2B, and leaves open ended hope for the other characters.
Okay so I should go into the conclusion here, but, like, let’s talk about ending K. Perhaps “aji wo [K]uta” is NieR: Automata‘s most infamous ending. It’s really the only one that you get told to do in the game. You eat the mackerel, just like you’re told, and then you die. Having consumed the mackerel, it didn’t take long for the android’s bodily fluids to congeal. Muscle rigidity and paralysis soon followed.” “It was good, thought,” the android thought as consciousness faded. “Exquisite even. No wonder humans used to eat them…” NieR: Automata builds it’s themes from nihilism. A lot of people die meaninglessly, feeling horrible for nothing. It’s really refreshing that you can let the main character die having the best experience of their life. It’s definitely not the happiest ending there is, but it’s far from the unhappiest.
Endings F-Z perfectly exemplify NieR: Automata‘s theme of seizing hold of your own destiny. The player can break free from the cycle of the game at many points throughout the narrative to achieve endings of wild variations. There’s many ways for our cast to achieve happiness through their own actions. I have faith that they did after ending E.