Talking To Yoko Taro, PlatinumGames' Takahisa Taura, And Composer Keiichi Okabe About Life, Death, And Opportunity
This interview with Nier: Automata director Yoko Taro and PlatinumGames' designer Takahisa Taura was first conducted in March of this year. Square Enix then offered us another chance to talk with Taro again, this time with Keiichi Okabe to speak more about the game's creation, music, and design philosophies and we are taking this opportunity to combine both until-now unpublished interviews together.
At the start of the first interview, Taro Yoko, whose pen name is appropriately Yoko Taro, was surprisingly quiet. He took a gulp from a bottle of Diet Pepsi and looked me straight in the eye to say something. I myself looked to the translator, who laughed at whatever Yoko said. She began "Yoko-san wants you to write about how expensive the food and drinks are here, if you can. He says it's way too much."
[The following interview contains some spoilers for Nier: Automata, including the game's final ending.]
With Nier: Automata, you guys won a Game Developer Conference award. How do you feel about that?
Yoko: We heard it was a user's choice award where the players themselves select the winners, so I'm just really happy that the players have selected our game for winning the award.
How did PlatinumGames and Yoko-san first meet on Nier? Why did you decide on that project versus something like another Drakengard or a new IP as a whole?
Taura: I loved the previous Nier title, I was actually went to Square Enix saying "Please let us create a Nier sequel, because you haven't done anything with it for a long time." At the same time, there was coincidentally Saito-san, the producer for Nier: Automata, talking with Yoko-san that they wanted to do something together. It just so happened that it was the right time, right place and we met for the first time when we started this project.
When you started working on the Automata, did you know what it was going to be? Did you have an idea in your head of what a Nier sequel would look like after the first game?
Yoko: Not at all, I had no ideas for a sequel in mind. When I first heard that we might do a collaboration with PlatinumGames, the image I had of them is that they only create Sci-Fi action games. When I thought of that, I thought of what part of the Nier storyline might fit in with that Sci-Fi action gaming sequence, I selected the themes for Automata because I felt it just fits in with the PlatinumGames style.
PlatinumGames has a reputation for fast, often-challenging action games, but Nier: Automata is a lot easier. Was that intentional to keep it closer to the first Nier or perhaps a consequence of trying to make PlatinumGames action more mainstream?
Taura: That's actually exactly the reason why. Saito-san from Square Enix told us when the project started that, since the original Nier has a lot of female fans and a lot of non-action gamer fans, to make the game as fun and accessible as possible to people who aren't accustomed to playing difficult action games. We always thought of making the game into something that's fun to play for newcomers to the action game field, but also to the more experienced players as well.
One of the usual tropes of PlatinumGames is that, as the game goes on, it tends to escalate more and more to an explosive finale. Nier: Automata kind of messes with that formula a little bit by Ending A being a little bit more subdued and low-key and then goes up again and again until it finishes with endings D and E. Is that something you had to work with Yoko-san about, where the escalation and pacing would best fit the gameplay?
Taura: In terms of like a climax or increasing the difficulty level toward the end, it's not that different from our other titles, or at least we didn't feel like it was that different. The one major difference was that this was the first game that I've at least worked that had the leveling up element in it. So as long as you level up your character, the boss would be easier to defeat, but if you don't, then some of the enemies toward the end of the game would be very difficult. For me, the balancing between the difficulty level of stages and bosses versus the levels the player might be was the difficult part in creating this game.
One thing that we really had it easy with in this game is that Yoko-san's scenario and Okabe-san's music, once it's mixed into the battle, makes a really menial and indifferent battle sequence suddenly becomes this dramatic and grandiose battle with everything at stake, so I felt like that really helped elevate our battle sequences as well. We did have an easy time thanks to that!
With Automata, you started appearing at press conferences and as part of the marketing of the game, whereas previously you never did that. When you appear in public, you have been wearing a mask of Emil from the first Nier title. Why Emil specifically?
Yoko: Hmm. One of the answers I can give is that, and I do have a little more that I want to elaborate on, is that for one Emil in the previous title is just a strong character on its own, so it's more like an iconic image or character for Nier as a series. Another part of the answer is that Emil actually holds a great secret of the part of the Nier world and it's not all revealed with the games I've created so far. I'm not sure if I'll have an opportunity to disclose that secret, but if I do, I might one day create a game that delves more into why it's Emil and why I continue to wear Emil's mask.
I don't know if either of you can speak to this, but the trailers for Nier: Automata were a little misleading. They showed A2, who you play as late in the game, but with short hair, so she looked like 2B. Was that something you decided, to show those scenes but not make it clear who it was?
Yoko: There were trailers like that?
There was one specifically showing A2 fighting Hegel like that.
Yoko: Ahh, yeah. There's no reason! We weren't trying to hide A2 or mislead anyone, it just happened to work out that way.
Taura: We made so many trailers at some point we kind of didn't care what we showed.
Oh, wow, that's going to shock a lot of fans in the Nier community. People really believed in the theory that you were hiding A2 in plain sight the marketing.
Yoko: Haha, but it might not be the correct answer. Like Taura-san said, we made so many trailers that we can't remember them all, so I'm definitely happy to take the credit without remembering why.
Taura: Yeah, let's say we intentionally did that. For the fans. It might be true.
Yoko: But I can say, in one of the trailers is A2 fighting one of the Engels, one of the big robots. She actually has long hair in the trailer, but in the actual game, it's after she cut her, so she would have had shorter hair. That one was actually intentional, because we did not reveal before the game that A2 would cut her hair, so we actually made a scene specifically with long-haired A2 to take that trailer. So that's that shot was kind of a lie.
In the Automata DLC, the CEO of Square Enix Yosuke Matsuda, as well as PlatinumGames boss Kenichi Sato, are boss fights. Where did that idea come from and how did you get them to approve it? How did they react when you asked them?
Yoko: Haha, oh yeah.
Taura: The development team went to Square Enix and said "Please let us use him in our game!" Their reaction was initially saying "Uhm, are you sure you want to?"
We were thinking for a while of what we could do with the DLC, because we didn't have a lot of time to develop it, so we wanted to do something fun with it. When we were thinking about it, we saw that Final Fantasy XV used a character model of president Matsuda in one of their marketing assets. When Yoko-san saw that, he reached out and asked if maybe we could use that in the game at Platinum. We said that, if we get the character models, we could definitely use them for something in the game. We reached out to Square Enix and they gave us the model and we were able to use that character model for a boss fight.
If it was just that you were able to fight the CEO of Square Enix, then it would have just been the same as what Final Fantasy XV did, so we had to think of ways to spice that up even more. So we had PlatinumGames' CEO Sato-san appear in the fight as well. We also included background music that arranged their voices, we included their voices in the music, just to add a little bit more and beat out Final Fantasy XV. That BGM track is Matsuda-san and Sato-san's debut single. We didn't even get permission from them, so it's an unofficial debut single, and those are much rarer.
Speaking of crossovers, did you know that Nier fans have been trying get Katsuhiro Harada of Bandai Namco to put 2B in Tekken? Is that something you guys would want to do? [Note: This interview was conducted before 2B was announced as a Soulcalibur guest character.]
Yoko: For us, if we were asked, we would gladly say yes to anything for money. We're open to any kind of opportunities for anything, ever. Even if it's Candy Crush, if they want to use 2B, we will say yes, please go ahead and use her.
Actually, speaking of doing anything for money, you've never created a direct story sequel before, they've all been loosely tied together and many years apart. Saito-san has already said there will be another Nier game, if the characters are popular enough, would you create a direct sequel to Automata or would you change the characters and location again?
Yoko: I haven't thought about it once! Taura-san, where would you want to create a new game?
Taura: Actually, when I brought my concept document to Square Enix about a Nier sequel, I wanted to write a story about that prologue portion in the first Nier game. You know the beginning of the game, where you're kind of in Tokyo, in an area that's more modern? I kind of want to delve into that storyline a little bit more. So if I'm allowed to create a new Nier title, that's what I want to create. But that's just me speaking as a fan of the series, so I don't think that will actually happen officially.
Yoko: When I actually heard about that idea from Taura-san when we first started this project, I felt that it would be very difficult to make a modern recreation of Tokyo because it's the city that we constantly see every day. You just notice differences in the lies that we put in there, so I felt it would be very difficult to do to recreate a city that we know and see so much. But now that I know that PlatinumGames is such a good studio that they most likely will have that power and talent to be able to create that kind of video game world, I think that might be an option. Whether or not we'll do that is a different question, but it is a viable option.
One of the things you said before the release of Drakengard 3 was that you wanted to call it Drakengard 4 and just let people figure out what the theoretical Drakengard 3 was supposed to be. That's similar to what you did with Automata where the game takes place 10,000 years after Nier and people who played the first game were more confused than new players. Was that an intentional idea or something you've wanted to do for a while?
Yoko: It's not that I brought over that idea to Nier: Automata, the greatest reasoning why I did this is because I wanted players who haven't played the original title to enjoy Nier: Automata so you can enjoy the game without knowing anything about the previous game. That's the biggest reason why we took a storyline that's so far in the future that it really didn't have anything to do with the previous title.
A common through-line for Yoko-san's games is flowers: the lunar tear in the Nier series, the flower in Zero's eye in Drakengard 3, is that symbolizing anything in your games or is it just visual imagery you like?
Yoko: Well, I do like flowers in general, but yes, there is a greater meaning to it that I have with these flowers. It's the same as Emil like I talked about earlier, I just haven't revealed it anywhere. There is a meaning, which is why they keep on coming back in my games, but I haven't revealed it anywhere yet.
With the last Nier game, you had said that you built the game on the concept of people being okay with murdering people who are different. With Nier: Automata, the games actually became more fun to play and control and touch, do you think there's a danger in giving people that sense of ease in killing enemies in the narrative?
Yoko: In the previous title, I actually feel like I overdid that a bit. I did want to portray that enemies have a reason to live and a reason to fight on their own as well, but I feel like I forced that idea that I had in my mind a little bit too much on the players. So for Nier: Automata, I did not want to focus on it, I didn't want to impose my feelings and thoughts. I actually feel that it's fine if some people feel it's fun to kill in our games. If that's all that they feel from the game, then it's fine, because its their freedom to feel what they want from the game. To answer your question, I think that it's fine to have that happen.
Taura: I actually have the same answer, too. I feel like if it's fun to fight, that's great as a game designer. But if you feel bad to kill these cute little robots, that's fine with me as well. I feel like different people will have different reactions to the game and they will feel differently when they play the game, so I'm actually happy to create a game that creates those kind of differences within the players as well.
Yoko: That's a really good question for us, because if players felt that it was way too fun to kill these enemies that it started making them feel guilty, that's something we didn't really aim to do. Just as we mentioned earlier, I'm really happy that players were able to take it on their own and experience it on their own, then we didn't just provide something for people to take it as-is on face value. I feel like it's great that the players are now taking the game and experiencing it on their own and trying to figure things out on their own.
There was a time after 2B was revealed that people were asking you about her design on Twitter and you answered that you just like sexy ladies. That quote has become pretty famous and attached to you and a lot of people are reading into it. Is that a thing you still believe, would you ever take the quote back, or would you have ever changed 2B's design?
Yoko: [laughs] Don't straight men like cute girls? Isn't that common knowledge? I didn't realize that was a quote.
A lot of people use you as an example as a developer that just says what is on their mind.
Yoko: Before we released the game, on Twitter, because so many people were sending me 2B fan art, I said that "Send me a zip file of all your erotic fan art!" When I tweeted that out, my number of Twitter followers jump from 20,000 to 60,000 just with that one Tweet. I actually think it's because I did something that's more of a taboo in the western world where I talked about sexuality or gender that openly on Twitter, but that's actually...so, I do know that what I said did not just creative positive buzz and there's some negative buzz around it as well, but I feel like it kind of has to do with the Japanese culture where we're not too strict about gender and sexuality and being more open about talking about those things.
I think it's the same thing as reading manga as an adult, it's a little bit different when you think about it because in Japan that's more common, it's not considered something weird or something outlandish. With that kind of feedback that I get from fans, I just feel like it's the difference in culture between Japan and the rest of the world.
That is something you tend to tackle fairly often. Drakengard 3 was partly about sex and sexuality treated casually within the game's universe, is that something you feel doesn't translate across all regions?
Yoko: I actually don't think [translating across regions] has a lot to do with sexuality. I don't think it would have sold more copies of Drakengard 3 if I took away aspects of sexuality or added more in there. I feel that Nier: Automata sold well because we worked with PlatinumGames, so I don't think that has anything to do with a sexual nature.
For the original Nier, there was a lot of information on the periphery of the game like books with background information and short stories that answer questions raised in the game. Automata even had a stage play predating the game. Do you think it's harder for western fans to grasp the whole stories of these games when there's Japanese-exclusive media about it expanding the lore?
Yoko: Of course we can't localize everything because we have limitations in budget, so it's really difficult to do all of that, but I actually think there really isn't a need to know everything, either. The meaning I have behind Emil's mask or the flowers you asked about, like I said it's not revealed in the game at all or anywhere else yet, but no one really needs to know that to enjoy the game or enjoy the world or enjoy the game. More than gaining knowledge, I want players to cherish the experience they have when playing the game. It's more about that instead of the knowledge they could have for every question. Of course the theatrical stage play was more of like a YoRHa spinoff, but you don't need to know that to enjoy the game. Every piece, like the books and the stage play, is made in a way so that you can enjoy it by yourself, so you don't need that extra knowledge to enjoy it.
It may add a little bit depth to the knowledge that you have, but you don't necessarily need to have it. I do understand the otaku mentality that you want to know everything, you want to have everything answered, you want to collect everything, but I don't see the value in knowing everything. For example, just in real life, you might not know everything about the politics that surrounds the world or even in your own country, and there's really no point in knowing everything that happens in the world. Maybe a lot things, but not everything, right? What's more important is how you interact with people around you, immediately around you, and I think that's the same with video games. You don't really need to know everything that happens in the world to enjoy it.
Of course I do respect the freedom that the players feel as well, so if you do get mad that we can't localize everything in America, or America never gets everything, that's also something to be respected and I do understand the frustrations surrounding that as well.
When Nier: Automata released, it did so in a three-month timeframe that several other big Japanese games came out in the U.S., like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Yakuza 0. A lot of people started heralding those games as a return of Japanese development in the west. What do you think about going from fairly niche games to what some people consider the tip of the spear of modern Japanese development?
Yoko: First and foremost, just to speak about having so many good titles in that timeframe, my thought was "Are you people trying to kill me with this?!" In Japan, Horizon came out first, then it was Nier, then Zelda, and I think in the west, it was Horizon, Zelda, then Nier in North America. So we're literally sandwiched between those two with a two-week window in between each and they were all very similar to us in the futuristic setting. Especially for Zelda, it was one of the titles we copied in the first place, so I really felt like they were trying to kill us at the time.
Personally, not even thinking about Nier: Automata during that time frame, I was running around excited about all the fun-looking games coming as a gamer myself.
Hideki Kamiya [PlatinumGames] has once said that Nier: Automata saved Platinum. Is that something you agree with and how has the relationship been between PlatinumGames and Square Enix?
Yoko: Speaking from my perspective, of course Taura-san will likely know more about it internally at PlatinumGames...Kamiya-san, he's very laid back on Twitter, but when you actually really talk to him, he's a very serious person and very sincere. I guess Nier: Automata did generate sales for them, because I received a direct letter of gratitude from him saying "Thank you very much for creating a great game." I don't even know if we saved them or not in that sense, but just receiving that kind of message from was just very heartwarming and I was just really happy that I was able to provide such a game for them.
Taura: You could make the headline of your article "Yoko Taro Saved PlatinumGames" and that's definitely true.
Yoko: It's a very true headline.
Why do both of you think that Nier: Automata was more successful than Yoko-san's previous games or most other PlatinumGames titles?
Taura: Mainly because PlatinumGames' sensibilities were much better than Yoko Taro's.
Yoko: I actually think it's the Square Enix brand, the name Square Enix gives a more reliable feeling to an otaku type of title. PlatinumGames' strong name being known for making really good action games and I think the combination of the two really helped. This time with Nier: Automata, we sold about 2.5 million copies and the previous title we sold around 500,000. For the last game, we weren't really in the red, but it wasn't exactly a success either. We have these passionate fans that really supported the time from announcement and the series as a whole. Of course for Automata, too, we had a very passionate fan base including the media and including yourself that gave impressions and articles that helped make the game into a success, so I'm just really grateful for the fans and media alike that really supported the title and were passionate about it.
[The remainder of this interview took place a few weeks later with Taro Yoko and Nier: Automata composer Keiichi Okabe. Okabe is also known for his work on both Nier titles, Drakengard 3, Tekken, and contributing some tracks to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Before we started recording, Yoko said it will be okay if I asked Okabe most of the questions and I remarked that I wouldn’t want to make him jealous. He paused for a moment and then said it doesn’t matter because he would get paid either way.]
You two have been working together for a long time, I was curious how much the music composition is tied in with the writing. One of the city themes in Nier: Automata uses similar composition to a track in Nier. Does that come from the writing or the musical identity of the series?
Okabe: Since Yoko-san is I feel the type of person that doesn't want to do the same thing over and over again, even if he did receive praise for what he did previously, I kept that in mind while I was composing music for Nier: Automata. I also wanted to have some kind of connection that you would feel as a player between the previous title and this one, so I used similar tones from previous titles or from the previous game. It might not be exactly the same, but I used some similar types of music lines from the previous title so that you might feel that kind of connection.
But we do have tracks that are arrangements of previous tracks from older titles, but that was mostly for fan service.
I kind of wanted to drill down a little bit this time and get to the core of your philosophy of why and how you make games. If you had to pick a reason to hold up and say "This is why I make video games," what would that be?
Yoko: I feel that video games, amongst all the different entertainment mediums, have the most freedom in what you can do as a creator. For example, in a film, if you are able to control movement, then that's no longer a film in my eyes. In video games, you could have film-like cutscenes and videos, you could have them going on forever as much as you would like as a creator. That kind of freedom to do that is what I really wanted to do and I feel like video games are what provide me that option, even if I never do it.
Is there any kind of message you use games for that you want to convey to your audience or anything you want them to hear from you? Or do you prefer to let them take whatever interpretation they get from your games?
Yoko: It's the latter. I would want our players to freely interpret what I've created just on their own, to grasp something for their own. I feel that's one of the interesting aspects of video games is that you are able to freely interpret what's being shown to you. I also feel like the players make the game whole by playing it. The action of playing the game I feel has meaning in itself and because of that I want the players to find something from the game, feel something from the game, for themselves.
Nier: Automata won a number of awards, Okabe-san you won best music at The Game Awards, Automata won the audience award at GDC. Is there any pressure to appeal a more mainstream audience with your next game?
Okabe: For a popular title that will be played by many, it doesn't really matter what kind of genre you put out musically. I will still be interested to compose music for those if possible. I would have to take a different approaches to those kind of mainline titles, whereas for Nier, I felt that the music can be more geared toward a core audience where only those who would understand the music would play it. But at the same time, once you understand, I want you to be deeply affected by it. That's what I aim for with Nier. If I am to work on a way more mainstream title next time, I will have to change that mindset I have as a composer, but that would be something I'd like to challenge myself more. To answer your question, yes, I'd like to try that, but I'd also do whatever kind of jobs I'm assigned to.
Yoko: For me, my games I actually think are really niche. How Nier: Automata was so successful was actually just a coincidence. To make a successful game is something that I can't really aim to do, so I think that I'll probably return to my small and dark corner, my niche corner, with my successive titles.
Who would you both consider your inspirations for writing and composing?
Okabe: For me, it's obviously more of a composer than a writer, but I don't really focus on one person. I tend to just try to get music here and there and have a wide net. I am greatly affected by people who I've listened to in my youth, like Japanese composer Ryuchi Sakamoto, Ennio Morricone who creates film music, and also pop music like Michael Jackson and Madonna. I am affected by those as well.
Yoko: I have received inspiration from a lot of things, but I think personally expressions in film or any like visual production is something I'm deeply affected by. For example, Neon Genesis Evangelion by Hideaki Anno, that was really a strong influence on me. Also, the drama series 24, the way that they incorporate speedy and complicated constructions of storylines was something that was very new at the time. Just throughout the timeline of visual production, I think there's a sudden burst of evolution, and I think that "that" moment in a title that does that just greatly affects me and becomes an inspiration for me. But I feel that can be said for the rest of the world.
Lately, anything that Christopher Nolan creates I think is very intriguing where he tries to include deep knowledge and thoughtfulness into what he creates. I'm very interested in this new wave of evolution.
Last year, with the release of Animal Crossing on mobile, you talked on social media about how it was your favorite game of the year because you created a narrative where the characters were all unwillingly imprisoned in the camp. Do you often create your own narratives for games?
Yoko: I do that for some games and I don't for others. Off and on, I guess. It's a lot easier to create my own storyline per se for a more primitive game. For example, in Zelda: Wind Waker, you start off with a grandma and your sister living on an island and it's really happy and joyful and there's really no reason for Link to get out of there and fight Ganondorf because you're already living happily. You don't need to get out of that happiness. As a gamer, I felt the kind of sadness to have to leave that happy island life.
In Dragon Quest [V], you have to choose who you want to wed, and I felt that I couldn't really get into liking either of the characters. I also couldn't find the point of having to decide who I want to marry, so I just at that instant I turned off the game and said "My journey ends here!" My mind narrated "The three of them went on the journey and lived happily ever after, the end." That was my ending for Dragon Quest V.
Around the release of Drakengard 3, you spoke about how it's not possible in this industry to make a six-minute game and sell it for $60, no matter how good those six minutes are. Is this something you still think?
Yoko: That analogy was given to explain that, no matter how much you try to make a game really good, there's a limit to what you can do. If you are to create a six-minute game, because you can't go through a lot of different stages, you would have to create one stage. Which means that you could really refine the quality of that one stage without having to put in a lot of money into it and a lot of manpower into it. Also, because it's only six minutes, you can't really have too many characters in it, so you could focus on one or two characters at max. By doing that, you could refine the quality of those two characters. But because you're time-limited, no matter how much you refine the quality of the world around you or the characters, if you're limited to six minutes there's just so much you could do that the game won't become good at all. That was an example for me to say that there's a limit to what you can do in video games.
Okabe-san, in the music for a lot of Yoko-san's game, you use constructed or uncommon languages, is there a specific reason for that?
Okabe: [laughs] Yeah, for one, because it is Nier: Automata, Replicant, and Gestalt, they all take place in a unique world, even though they're in the timeline of our current world, it's so much in the future that it should feel kind of foreign. That's one of the reasons why I went for language we can't understand, but another is that, in games in the past, game directors actually got mad at many occasions for including vocals into the soundtrack. They were saying that it would become too distracting from the gameplay and would distract the player. It was considered more of a taboo, so for Nier, I included vocals in there without a language you could understand more for the sound that you get from the words. It wasn't to convey any meaning of what was being said, but more for a sound impact.
Yoko-san, you tend to have very sad endings in your games, with the exception of Nier: Automata which is as happy an ending as you can get with most characters dying. Why do you tend to write toward more sad endings and do you feel like Automata's happy ending fit the game better?
Yoko: The reason why I created endings that end on a death is because, until now I was creating games where you would kill a lot of enemies, but I've always felt that it doesn't feel right when the protagonist has a happy after they've killed so many enemies during the course of their journey. That's why in Replicant and Gestalt, or my previous titles, the protagonist pretty much ended up dying because I didn't feel like it was right for them to have a happy ending. But for Nier: Automata, 2B and 9S, from the time that they were given life, they've been killing a lot of enemies, but they've also been killed by them many, many times, and regenerated many times. They've actually been killing each other, which you find out at the very end, many, many times as well. So I felt that kind of cleansed them of their sins for killing so many enemies, which made me feel that a happy ending was more fitting for those two.
Do you feel like that cycle of violence and death and the consequences of that are human nature?
Yoko: I think the reasons why we kill in video games do kind of shine light on what's kind of broken within humanity or humans in general. We want peace in the world, but we also enjoy killing others in video games, like shooting guns in video games. I think that's karma in a sense for humans, the way that video games grasp the true essence of humanity, whether or not that's what they were aiming to do.
Is there a series that you know, like Persona or Yakuza or anything like that, that either of you would want to work on?
Yoko: A series or anything?
It can be anything.
Yoko: Personally, it's not a Japanese title. I'd actually love to see how western titles are developed, because I have no insight into how they're made. There was a moment in time where I felt that it might be fun join a western development to see how things run. Of course there's the language barrier that would make it difficult for me to do that, but generally speaking I feel that western storytelling follows kind of a similar route for all the stories that western mediums create. I would feel it fascinating to find out why western games use certain flows and storyline arcs.
Okabe: I'm kind of a fanboy myself, so there is a part of me that wants to work on major titles like Dragon Quest. I feel that if I do work on those titles, the pressure of working such a known title would be just too big and because there is a part of me that really loves that series, I feel like I would try to skew my music in a way that would fit into that series instead of trying to create music that I think is good. I don't feel like I would be able to bring out the best quality in my music if I worked on those big titles, because of that pressure and because of the image I have of those titles in my mind. Currently, my want to work on those major titles and the part of me that's telling me I shouldn't do it are about equal.
Were either of you surprised by Nier: Automata's success?
Yoko: [in English] Oh yes.
Okabe: For me, I live in Tokyo and developer PlatinumGames live in Osaka, so we did have quite a distance in-between, like literal physical distance between us. From the moment that I created the music to when I was able to see it next, there was a big gap in time, so when I was able to hear my music in the game for the first time, the game was pretty close to finished, they were almost done with development. At that moment, I thought "Maybe this one might sell?" But at the same time, I didn't think it would become this big of a success, I always thought it might do better than the previous titles, but it was like a hunch that I didn't feel until this time in Yoko-san's titles. I did have some kind of a gut feeling that it might do well.
The last song of Automata, Weight of the World, had a chorus with the entire game's development staff at PlatinumGames and Square Enix singing along to encourage the player. Why did you decide on that for the final song of the game?
Okabe: I didn't remember this, I actually forgot about it for a while, but Yoko-san actually came to me telling me that he wanted a chorus at the end of the game pretty early on in the development process. I apparently made disgruntled face at him and did not remember why I even made that face or even that I made that face. After a while, I actually remember why I had such a reaction with the disgruntled face, because there's a couple of different types of choirs, but Yoko-san likes the more classical choir, so when he requested that he wanted a choir, I thought he wanted that classical type of choir at the last part of the game. At that moment, I thought "Well, that doesn't really fit in with the game plan, I don't really want to do that," which is why I had that expression on my face. After we talked about it, Yoko-san mentioned that wasn't really what he was going for, he said that because that last scene is all about all these different people helping you, he wanted everyone to sing, he wanted it to feel like everyone is singing there with you as you play.
When I thought about doing that, and I actually agreed that might be a good idea, because in Nier: Automata all the choir vocals that you hear in the game, it's actually recorded by a small group of singers, I just overlapped their voice so it sounds like a big choir. Because that last part of the game is more about you playing amongst a lot of people, I felt that taking that approach again of overlapping voices again would not really work. So I reached out to the dev teams because they were working on that part and I thought it would be a good idea to have them put themselves in the game as well. I also thought that they don't need to have a good voice, it's just to give that feeling that you're playing with all these developers.
Development teams from Square Enix, PlatinumGames, and also some composers from my company who didn't work on Nier: Automata are singing in it as well. There's also children of PlatinumGames developers and their family actually singing in it as well. That was the reasoning behind why we decided to do that at the end.
Has there ever been, in all your games you've made, an idea you had that you had to be talked out of?
Yoko: For the first Drakengard, I had an idea of [Japanese pop-star] Ayumi Hamasaki, like her character model, wearing all-silver spandex, like a giant version of her descending from the sky and you would fight against her by music. Everyone else on the staff shut it down. It does still leave that kind of music game essence kind of in there, but the part Ayumi Hamasaki comes out in silver spandex has been taken out.
Isn't that kind of similar to Drakengard 3's actual ending?
Yoko: Similar, but I actually wanted to go for something funny, or shockingly stupid. But no one would let me.
Nier: Automata Game of the YoRHa Edition releases on February 26 for PlayStation 4 and PC. The game was also made available on Xbox One as the Become As Gods edition in 2018.