GOTY 2017: Best Moment

This year we've brought back our category awards to recognize achievements in specific areas of game development. There are 10 awards in all, with two new ones being awarded every day this week. Keep checking back for more winners!

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Best Moment: Ending E, Nier: Automata

Platinum Games | February 23rd, 2017 | PlayStation 4, Windows

Runners-up: Goodbye Danganronpa, Danganronpa V3; The audition, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Nier: Automata has 26 unique endings achievable at different parts of the game. This is something of a tradition in director Yoko Taro’s work since the Drakengard series, from which the first Nier spun off.

Only the first four endings of Automata are narratively important, while the other 21 are mostly one-off gags for curious players. Ending E, however, is something entirely different.

Ending E is an interactive credits sequence in the form of an arcade-style vertical shooter. It controls like the hacking sequences from earlier playthroughs, but the difference is that there’s a plain, black background, and the shootable enemies are the names and credits of the development team.

It’s not necessary to understand the story that Automata is trying to tell to appreciate this best moment, but to clarify: Ending E is the canonical, “true” ending. It does something only possible in this medium: ask the player to examine the investment of time they made in the experience, and answer if it’s all still worthwhile when the credits roll.

Keep failing and the game asks, ‘Is it all pointless?’ and ‘Do you admit there is no meaning to this world?’

It starts as a simple enough novelty, but as you get farther from the creative individuals and into the corporate structure of publisher Square-Enix, the enemies have more health and firemore bullets—an unexpected social commentary all its own.

Eventually the difficulty becomes overwhelming. Once you inevitably die, the game asks if you want to give up. If you choose “Yes,” you’re brought back to the title screen. That’s it. Choose “No,” however, and Ending E offers a unique, encouraging spin on co-op play that challenges expectations on what the completion of an interactive experience should mean to its players.

Keep failing and the game asks, “Is it all pointless?” and “Do you admit there is no meaning to this world?” questions which force you to examine your perseverance. Yet with every failure, words of encouragement from other players appear on-screen. They’re scripted, but feel truly genuine.

Die again and the game offers aid from an actual, named player. Accept, and half-dozen ships appear while the solo vocal track that’s been playing over the credits rises to a chorus. The music swells, and the formerly impossible enemies go down easily. You quickly succeed over what was an impossibility, and all because you allowed yourself to ask for help.

When the credits minigame finishes, you’re asked if you’d like to leave a message behind, similar to Dark Souls. But that’s not all that you’re asked to leave.

The assistance you were given comes at a high price. To return that favor, you must ask yourself: do you also want to help the players struggling like you did? If you are, you can help other players...by sacrificing your Nier: Automata saved data in the process. Just like the players who helped you chose to do.

And the game’s not kidding: you’ll really lose all your data.

Choose to help, and the next time you load Automata, you’re presented with a fresh, clean save file.

Theoretically, you could go back exhausting any remaining content and redo the credits sequence in Ending E, but it feels selfish to choose “No.” The “No” choice—to reject helping others—says that your save, your experience, is more important than others’.

Despite Nier: Automata being a mostly linear game, it’s one that asks you to examine your choices, good and bad, because they are all that defines you. And in exploring those scenarios, it created the best moment of the year. – Tyler Martin