NieR Automata Character Design


#1

In another thread, the topic of NieR Automata’s character designs came up and was somewhat polarizing, so I thought I’d make this thread so we could unpack why we like (and dislike) them, or just generally discuss them, since I think they are pretty interesting designs.

I think the first thing that comes to mind as polarizing is, of course, 2B’s butt. Which I am a fan of, but also understand how it can be interpreted as negative objectification (I’m not here to make that argument, but please do!). I think the designs are also good beyond just that though. GIta Jackson wrote a piece at Kotaku about the fashion design in that game. I don’t have anything to add beyond what she says, but I wanted to link it because I enjoy reading about fashion in games, and when games think about it. I remember reading an explanation from Yoko Taro of why the combat androids dress like that and his answer was something to the effect of “Its 10,000 years in the future, we can’t really extrapolate what people will dress like for combat, and space marines are boring” (heavily paraphrased based on my memory).

Another fun link on the topic is this, from 2B’s character designer https://blog.us.playstation.com/2017/04/03/an-exclusive-look-at-the-creation-of-2b-by-nier-automatas-character-modeller/ which also provides some insight into the character modeling process itself.


Has better graphics lead to less iconic character designs?
#2

I’d certainly say reading over the Bayonetta discourse is important for avoiding having the same conversations over and over with this new game. Specifically I’d link to this piece by Katherine Cross and to this focal statement:

I would, however, argue that one of the most useful lenses for understanding objectification in videogames is what Nussbaum calls fungibility, or interchangeability, and it’s where we come back to Bayonetta.

Fungibility. The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type and/or (b) with objects of other types.

It’s a long read but well worth it.


#3

From a rather nerdy character design point of view, man are Automata’s designs excellent. I’m a big fan of the use of negative space(??? I hope that’s the right use of the term). 2B’s dress especially is great, the split near the thigh with the little ribbon is a brilliant touch, and it manages to have plenty of gorgeous detail up close while still achieving the clean look from a reasonable distance and in motion.

As for the sexual connotations, I think they’re done pretty expertly considering the game’s themes. Nobody is a full-on Bayonetta, the sexuality of the designs is done subtly(again, sweet sweet thigh split), contrasting with the more overt military aspects, which parallels beautifully with the theme of sexuality overlaying violence that permeates the whole game.


#4

i absolutely love 2b’s dress! i think it’s wonderful fashion design


#5

Personally I think the aesthetic of the game is what I love, rather than individual character designs. The Yorha uniforms tell you a lot, and the machine’s are a wonderful design. But 2B specifically is just another character in that uniform.


#6

More granular than the game’s entire aesthetic is the aesthetic of YoRHa itself. Because yeah, they are uniforms, and they imply and suggest a hierarchy and structure. The room with the Commander, and her design itself, is so evocative of that aesthetic. It is depicted in greys, not color, and has hows of Operators (also, their uniforms are great). The aesthetic extends to their logo, to how they talk, to their slogan (for the glory of mankind!). The fact that their combat visor is a blindfold.

Even among those uniforms though 2B’s stands out, along with a few others like the commander. Notably, there is a change later in the game in which 2B no longer stands out. I don’t want to go too much into that because I don’t want this to be spoiler-filled, but I think that change in design is very significant.


#7

Thank you for this link! I saw Katherine Cross at a panel this year at PAX East and have been a huge fan of her work ever since - this article is a super super good lens through which to view these issues, and I actually think the nature of objectification of androids in NieR: Automata is something well worth discussing


#8

I do too, I was thinking about that as I read that piece, because the way it applies to 2B and other androids in NieR isn’t 1:1 with Bayonetta. I haven’t put together my full thoughts on that though.


#9

It’s cool that the Yorha designs borrowing from classic maid costumes kinda plays into the idea of them serving mankind. It still pretty damn sexualized but it feels a bit more thought out than you’d see in other games.


#10

Agreed - something that kinda clicked with me in that article is how the game itself plays on a lot of the notions of “objectification,” encouraging you at certain points to respond violently to endless, interchangeable models of androids in these sexualized clothes. But there’s meaning there as well, insofar as the intent to me was having players face the destruction of their own, interchangeable avatars. Combined with the ambiguity surrounding 9S and his “I want to **** 2B” characterization, I always felt that there was a point to the sexualization, and one strong enough that I actually don’t feel comfortable with portrayals of 2B that ARE explicitly pornographic. In a sense, it felt like relegating these androids to the role of sexual objects was interchangeable with the violence you ultimately perpetuate against the machines and androids of the game - that the entire, humanizing reveals surrounding individuality are rendered moot as soon as you yourself decide to **** 2B.

All that said, clearly any design decision that I would defend as deliberately uncomfortable needs that much more critique - designed discomfort is a tough needle to thread, and I’ve always fought the urge to wield this discourse against my friends who found 2B’s design off-putting. After all, my discomfort through the game had more to do with my internalized shame and fear of the masculine, heteronormative objectification of female bodies in which I am all too frequently complicity through consuming various media - and that’s a personal connection that can’t be (and shouldn’t be) assumed as shared experience for all players. But nevertheless, for me, personally, something about the experience of NieR Automata would be lost if 2B’s or other YoRHa units’ designs were less “sexy.”


#11

I think in the end that’s all we can ask for in terms of character design, regardless of overt sexuality or not: that the developers at least we’re cogniscent about their design and thought the design through. How it is percieved is ultimately out of the artists hands but generally I would say that having a well thought out reasoning behind your work will always help. A good comparison here would be the way Blizzard designs their characters compared to how Platinum/Taru has done here. The Overwatch characters are almost pure undiluted aesthetics which, while pleasing and impressive in their own right come across as shallow and superficial when taken under closer inspection. Conversely you can look at Taru’s characters who at their face value are extremely sexualized (and they still are) but upon further review display a pretty significant thought process behind them. Hell, I’d argue that Bayonettas design is one of the best there’s been in years if only because of how it damn near bastardizes the idea of sexualization and contorts it into an outright charicature of the genre it plays in.


#12

It’s weird, from the beginning I never really thought of 2B’s outfit as a sexualized one. She was just, throughout the entire game, a badass.

When it comes to the way they are presented, the androids of Yorha in particular are meant to be reflections of the “best” parts of humanity. It’s this whole god complex thing where man creates the android in the image. Even 9S is “attractive” from that perspective, he has “good looking” features, even though he’s kind of childlike.

It’s a pretty heavily referenced theme throughout the game that the machines are trying to replicate humans, as are the androids, but where the robots are almost crude or simple in their imitations, the androids are more subtle. I feel like the outfits for the entirety of Yorha are reflections of what “values” humanity held. There is no references to any kind of sexual acts or thoughts (apart from the Adam **** thing, but that is a whole other discussion in itself… fuck, kill, save etc). Again it’s much more subtle, but in the fiction of the androids existence, there is no real concept of sexualization.

I feel like I don’t take to sexualization as much as other people though, so I might be reading it wrong. I love the idea of exploring sexuality and power dynamics with that (in women, men and everywhere else on the spectrum), which is why I super dig Bayonetta’s style and aesthetic without once ever feeling attraction or anything of the like. Most of society is still so immature when it comes to that.

Edit: to be clear, I definitely think there’s more factors to it: AAA games always have to have good looking characters, people like sexual things, this is no doubt swayed by what the developers wanted to make as well as what publishers wanted to sell. I just find it interesting to think and talk about from a academic perspective. A few years ago, I played Bayonetta 2 after reading the puff pieces, taking screenshots at the most sexualized parts, expecting to be able to write my own “shock” piece. By the time I got to the end of the game, I discovered a character who was 3 dimensional, and instead of being sexualized, owned her sexuality. From then I realized we needed to move past the “OMG it’s sexy gurl outrage!!!” and “WE HORNY BOY WE WANT SEX GIRL” into more nuanced conversations about this stuff. That’s why this thread is great :slight_smile:


#13

A lot of why I find Niers sexuality so off-putting may be just the fan reaction. Seeing gifs of 2Bs butt for weeks did NOT endear me to the game whatsoever.

But what also isn’t endearing was Yoko Taro’s sort of half justification where he both tried to make up some bullshit excuse and ALSO just said “Maybe I just like hot girls” which. Okay. Neither of those is endearing AT ALL


#14

I don’t think “endearing” really comes into it. “I like big butts and I cannot lie” is a 100% valid justification for putting big butts in your game. He’s never made any excuse beyond that, even though he’s plenty justified it by the way he’s explored sexuality in regards to machines.


#15

I guess? Like sure. He’s allowed to put hot girls in his game but I’m also allowed to find that kinda uncomfortable and not want to play his game because of it.


#16

My number one issue with Neir:A, in terms of character design, is that there’s no decision to opt out of it if it’s something you’re uncomfortable with. In a game that prides itself on things like customizeable play style (chips and difficulty) and the exploration of genres (character action + SHMUP segments, as well as camera angle changes), it’s very strange that it doesn’t have many costumes for 2B, especially since that’s actually a pretty standard thing. Almost the whole time I was playing through Route A, I couldn’t help but notice that almost every other YorHa soldier had a unique outfit that was better than mine by miles and that I would have been much more comfortable staring at for 20+ hours.

My other issue is that the outfits are never touched upon to the level that I’d like in regards to a theme in the game. Nier:A asks if their androids are people or simply tools. Certainly, mankind treats them as tools. Death is cheap for androids because they can just be put into a new body. Flight Units are considered more valuable than an android.

So I find it strange that there’s a lack in-depth discussion in the game about how the only reason androids wear what they wear is because they know they’re only tools, or because that’s what humans want them to wear, even though they interact purely though audio. It gets touched on, I think, but not to the degree I’m satisfied with.

Honestly, I wouldn’t care about 2B’s outfit if they didn’t design her skirt to fucking fall off when you use an in-game mechanic and then force you to buy an in-game item with their currency if you want to avoid the uncomfortability of that. I should NOT need to pay in-game money to opt out of the male gaze. That’s an unquestionably shitty decision on the part of the developers.


#17

I’m not going elaborate on the sexualised look of 2B (or whoever that long-haired girl is - I haven’t played the game) since I have such a low sex drive that it didn’t really cross my mind until people brought it up. That said, the little joke in the game of 2B hitting the camera away if you try to see up her skirt was a fun little nod to include.

Anyway, I do have some problems with her design. First is her cleavage window - I don’t find it overtly sexual (partly because I don’t think of breasts sexually) but it’s just a character design thing that annoys me and appears way too often. Having long sleeves but then a cut inter her front and a bare back just seems a little odd.

I can’t really tell what the outfit is aiming for: Does it want to be tight and fit to the contours of her body, or does it want to be flowing and puffy like her skirt and shoulders. It sort of looks like they took the arms and shirt from one outfit and put it with the torso and legs of another. It’s certainly not a boring outfit, but I wouldn’t really call it appealing to me. It just sort of reminds me of some of the disjointed outfits from Lightning Returns:Final Fantasy XIII.


#18

Yoko Taro is often very blunt and darkly humorous in his interviews, and his stated reasoning for 2B’s butt isn’t really any different in that regard. Though it’s also the case that people really asked him about it only after social media blew up over 2B’s design when the Nier: Automata demo released. So of course that’s the sort of thing he’d have fun poking at. Beyond that, he doesn’t make excuses for his characters’ designs. If sex appeal is the intent, he doesn’t dance around it.


#19

Also, am I the only one who saw “You’re thinking about how much you want to **** 2B” and thought that, after a little more consideration, the censored word was ‘kill’?


#20

Austin offered this suggestion up in the spoilercast. And it’s certainly plausible.