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If you asked me to choose what the best video game ending ever is, I would pick Ending E of NieR: Automata without hesitation. Not only does the ending harmoniously connect its overarching narrative with its gameplay mechanics, but it also features one of gaming's best scores, already included in one of the best soundtracks I've heard.
Spoilers for NieR: Automata below. Go play the game if you haven't!
I've written a thorough analysis of NieR: Automata in the past, but here's a quick-and-dirty synopsis. In the far future, you play as androids called 2B, 9S, and A2 that were created by humanity to fight an alien army of machine life forms that invaded Earth. The game leads you to believe that humanity is holding out on the moon until you successfully defeat the machines. As you complete the game's various quests, the characters form strong bonds and bring happiness to one another. But over the course of the game, you learn that humanity has been extinct for years and that the fight against the machines was doomed from the start.
As the characters you've fallen in love with during your 30-60 hour playthrough begin a doomed struggle against feelings of helplessness and despair that ultimately lead to their deaths, the game suggests that life is ultimately meaningless. But as the credits roll, Pod 042 and Pod 153 — the robotic companions of 2B and 9S, respectively — refuse to accept this ending and break the fourth wall by directly addressing the player and giving them a choice to rebuild the bodies and memories of the protagonists. This signals the start of Ending E, in which players are tasked with shooting the names of the developers in the credits in a bullet hell hacking minigame.
As players battle the game's developers and fight for a better ending, the soundtrack for Ending E begins. It starts as a catchy chiptune, but gradually gives way to a beautiful orchestral melody of percussion, piano, violin, and vocals. The lyrics of the track are significant as well. "It's like I'm carrying the weight of the world / I wish that some way, somehow / I could save every one of us / But the truth is that I'm only one girl" reflects how overwhelming it is to face the challenges of life alone.
However, connections such as the love 2B and 9S feel for each other suggest that even though life is often difficult and cruel, the bonds we form with friends and loved ones give it meaning and make its challenges easier to bear. This is NieR: Automata's core moral, and it's reflected when you die during the hacking minigame. The game asks you questions like "Is it all pointless?" and "Do you admit there is no meaning to this world?" and as you answer "no" to respawn, numerous messages from other players appear, encouraging you to keep going. You'll even get a rescue offer after dying several times. This is where the music of Ending E truly begins to shine.
As a large group of allies fly in and sacrifice their save data to protect you, the music swells. The vocals now loop between three different languages, and suddenly, a chorus of hundreds of voices begins to sing along. These additions represent Automata's celebration of togetherness and camaraderie, and it gives Ending E an earthshattering emotional impact. By the time I managed to blast my way through the credits and reach the final cutscene of the game, I had been crying so hard I could barely see.
No video game ending has had this much of a profound effect on me since I finished NieR: Automata in 2018, and I'm not sure an ending ever will again. There's something indescribably magical about listening to a chorus of hundreds throw their voices behind you as you attempt to do the impossible, lending you their strength and support as you refuse to give up and continue pushing forward. It's the perfect representation of NieR: Automata's ultimate message: The weight of the world isn't heavy if we all carry it together.
It's incredibly satisfying when a game's score syncs up so perfectly with its writing in this way, and it's something that Automata did phenomenally even outside of Ending E. The soundtrack's softer and mellower pieces accompanied moments in the story when the characters strengthened their bonds, and its dark, haunting melodies were there when the cruelty of reality threatened to break them. When Ending E begins and players are hit with its grandiose and uplifting music, it feels like the perfect harmonious conclusion to an experience that intertwined narrative with soundtrack beautifully.
NieR: Automata is available now on both Xbox and PC, and I highly recommend you play the game yourself if you haven't yet. It has an incredible story and some of the best action combat systems ever developed, and while it's not the best-looking title out there, it's still a beautiful one. It's one of the best games of all time, and I'd give anything to be able to play and experience it for the first time again.
NieR: Automata is an absolute triumph, featuring a phenomenal narrative, some of the best action gameplay ever developed, attractive visuals, and an award-winning soundtrack.
Buy from: Xbox
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