NieR: Automata was released in 2017 to critical acclaim, not just for its unique story, well-crafted setting, and life-altering questions of human existence, but for its beautifully haunting and poetic soundtrack. While there are a plethora of games whose soundtracks are pleasant to listen to, lead NieR composer Keiichi Okabe goes the extra mile and makes every track as iconic as the last.
From the quiet moments of contemplation to the action-packed minutes where players believe they’re seconds from losing it all, NieR: Automata fills every space with stunning melodies. Whatever emotion is evoked through the music, audiences can be sure it’ll be strong.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
10 “Song Of The Ancients (Atonement)” Represents The Twin Androids
When Devola and Popola come to 9S’s aid, this is the song that plays as all three of them battle to get into The Tower. Beginning as a classic battle track with strong strings, the soft but competitive vocals that are brought in after twenty seconds shifts the tone.
The two gentle, opposing voices represent Devola and Popola, using the last of their strength to fight for the greater good, the passion of the vocals swelling with the music mirroring their drive and motivation. The twin androids are trying to repent for their sins, and this frantic battle theme is ideal for their final moments.
9 “Fortress Of Lies” Is All A Fallacy
The ambient music that plays when 2B spends time in the bunker, “Fortress of Lies” is crafted to lull the player into a false sense of security. With long, spaced-out notes, and incredibly quiet, intermittent vocals, it’s almost as if Okabe is attempting to send the player to sleep with this lullaby-sounding track.
The music becomes bittersweet on a second playthrough, as the gentle sounds that once brought peace and safety suddenly invoke a feeling of dread and bitterness. No longer is the bunker seen as a safety net, the music a strange lullaby, instead, it’s seen as a warning that’ll never be heard.
8 “Amusement Park” Is Terrifyingly Fun
Players would be hard-pressed to find a track that activates the imagination as much as “Amusement Park,” with the song being crafted to mimic the atmosphere of a long deserted funfair. The background noises reminisce of a lighter time, but the haunting vocals cut through and create a different vibe altogether.
When paired with the visuals of the amusement park in-game, and the sheer nonsensical nature of there being an amusement park full of docile machines in the middle of this abandoned world, players feel a sense of terror but, even more confusingly, a light sprinkling of fun.
7 “City Ruins (Rays Of Light)” Sets Up A Journey Of Hope
The two City Ruins tracks aren’t too different, but they do an incredible job at setting entirely different tones. “City Ruins (Rays Of Light)” appears in routes A and B of NieR: Automata, when 2B and 9S are at their most naive, able to enjoy the strange world they inhabit with little worry.
The track itself feels vast, akin to the first time the player takes control of 2B and begins exploring the bulk of the abandoned planet, and it certainly makes the player feel like there is an incredibly long and arduous journey ahead, but one that’s full of hope.
6 “City Ruins (Shade)” Feels Like Things Are Closing In
“City Ruins (Shade)” starts much faster and louder than its early-game counterpart, appearing in routes C, D, and E of NieR: Automata. The vocals are sharper, and though there’s still an element of softness, these lyrics are sung powerfully rather than the soft whisperings that were present in “City Ruins (Rays Of Light).”
These two tracks alone demonstrate the difference in the world after the player begins to piece together what’s really going on. Beginning to lose that hopeful naivete along with 2S and 9B, the world becomes more frantic and events begin to feel more claustrophobic as opposed to the openness routes A and B provided. Suddenly war has arrived, and the heroes are losing.
5 “Possessed By Disease” Ups The Tension
After heading to the abandoned factory with Pascal and discovering the previously docile, sentient machines there have turned into a cult of some kind, this is the track that plays as 2B and Pascal are forced to fight their way out.
The lone, powerful violin at the beginning that quickly merges with an almost grotesque vocal evokes feelings of pain, and the chorus of vocalizations that follows reflects the hivemind state of the affected machines. All of the overlapping layers almost cause a panic, much like the one the player suffers through when traveling through the factory, putting them on edge for what happens next.
4 “Peaceful Sleep” Is The Calm Before The Storm
Another track that serves to calm and relax the player in a world full of uncertainty, “Peaceful Sleep” plays as ambient music when the player is in the resistance camp, the first area of safety that 2B and 9S come across on the planet’s surface.
“Peaceful Sleep” evokes a sense of nostalgia for a version of NieR: Automata that doesn’t exist to the player anymore after a first playthrough. Even when the audience knows what will happen, it’s difficult to resist the dulcet tones of “Peaceful Sleep,” with it forever being a reminder of the calm before the storm.
3 “Copied City” Raises The Stakes
“Copied City” begins with what can only be described as a waterfall of notes, making the player feel as if they’re falling into this strange new environment. The Copied City itself is incredibly evocative, the all-white, artificial landscape a major juxtaposition to the natural, ruined city 2B spends their time in before this moment, and the music fits.
But there is a sense of calculation in the notes, much like Adam’s calculating nature, and the fast-paced track certainty instills a sense of urgency into the player as 2B to free 9S from Adam’s clutches.
2 “Weight Of The World / The End Of YoRHa” Closes Out A Haunting Game
Not counting any title card tracks, the game finishes its symphony of sound with “Weight Of The World / The End Of YoRHa.” Befitting the theme of there being a thin line behind human and machine, this track begins in an 8-bit, computerized style but is cut into by powerful, stunning, and very human vocals.
The build-up of vocals in the background accompanies the player during their final moments with the game, almost feeling like those who are helping the player complete the journey are singing along in pride. The giant swell of emotion and feeling is unmatched by any other moment in NieR: Automata, especially if the player chooses to delete their save data.
1 “Pascal” Is A Marvel Of Music
There is something exquisitely unique about the track “Pascal”, that plays every time the player goes to Pascal’s village and meets with the pacifist machines. The vocals are explicitly more inhuman sounding than the others in the game, whilst at the same time sounding strangely childlike, as if every time the player was walking into the village they were hearing the songs of the robot children.
“Pascal” favors a guitar over a violin and is interspersed with clapping sounds, which helps lend to the village feel. The track feels homegrown and natural rather than delicately constructed, there is no swelling or grand strings, just acoustic sounds and rhythmic chanting. The entire track upholds the innocent ideals that the village has, which makes the eventual destruction of everyone who lives there even more gut-wrenching.
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