Like the other games in Yoko Taro’s series, Nier: Automata isn’t the kind of game you’d play if you just wanted something light and unimportant to while away the time. It’s not afraid to get dark and philosophical, and some scenes can disturb you when you take the time to think about them.
But it’s not just pain and suffering. There are moments in the game that can warm your heart and you tend to appreciate them even more because Nier: Automata is usually so dark otherwise. Side missions are important in this game, as a bunch of them are where these moments come from and can even affect some of the endings.
There will be some spoilers for Nier Automata to follow
7/7 2B Gradually warms up to 9S
2B and 9S have been a team ever since the start of the game. However, 9S is much more formal and awkward towards 2B at first, referring to her as “ma’am.” 2B is also cold towards him and makes no effort to talk to him outside of their mission.
However, after spending more time together, she begins to show genuine concern for him, and becomes angry that Adam had taken and injured 9S. She’s also clearly devastated when she has to “kill” 9S again, which is especially interesting when you consider that her true mission from the start was to eliminate him.
6/7 The Animal Care Side Quest
Pascal’s peaceful robot village is a nice break from all the mayhem and destruction outside. The machines in it mean absolutely no harm, they just want peace, and many of them even ask the androids for help. One such machine, called the “Animal-loving Machine,” asks you to help them cure the sick moose in their care.
If you do this quest, the elk recovers and the machine recognizes how different animals are to them, as animals can’t just be repaired like machines can. They also recognize the warmth that animals have, which machines lack. It’s kind of sad, but it shows that machines can be much more than the enemies you fight, and they can think about what makes something a living being.
5/7 9S and A2’s treatment of Pascal’s Village’s machines
It is important to remember that machines and androids are usually enemies in war, which is why they are so hostile towards each other. Because of this, 9S and A2 are not too keen on getting along with the non-hostile machines in Pascal’s village, even though these machines are harmless.
However, they both warm to the machines at least a little, especially the kids. 9S speaks softly to the lost Little Sister machine as she guides her back, and A2 helps some of the village children create an area for them to play in. It’s nice to see androids who normally hate machines interact with them.
4/7 The Lost Girl Side Quest
This side quest is another example of machines capable of some kind of emotion. In fact, the machines in this quest consider each other as sisters and treat each other as human siblings. They even have matching bows!
Also, the lost machine you have to find acts just like a little girl, although she is much taller than her older sister. The concern of Big Sister Machine when her little sister is missing and the great relief when she is found really forces you to confront the fact that machines are not just mindless tin creatures.
3/7 The Emil’s Memories Side Quest
If you’ve played the other Nier games, you’ll recognize Emil in Automata. Mostly he acts as a vendor you can buy from and sell to, but his side quest, Emil’s Memories, involves a flower called the Lunar Tear. At the end of this side quest, you’ll unlock a place underground that’s just a big field of Lunar Tears.
The sight itself is beautiful, especially in contrast to the dull and desolate environment above the hill, but Emil’s speech at that location is what seals the deal. It might affect you more if you’re familiar with the other Nier games, but even without that information, his sentimentality and wistfulness are enough to make anyone tear up a little.
2/7 2B’s relationship with operator 6O
6O is 2B’s assigned operator. If 9S’s operator is any indication, Yorha’s operators are not very warm or friendly. However, 6O is the complete opposite. She doesn’t hesitate to contact 2B just to talk about trivial things, and she’s openly curious about what Earth is like since she can’t leave the Bunker.
Although 2B seems stoic towards 6O, there is a side quest called Find a Gift where 2B can actually go out of her way to send 6O a picture of a flower on Earth as a gift. It’s very sweet, and if you do that quest, 6O will thank 2B for the flower later in Route C even though she’s undergoing corruption from the Logic Virus. It is clear that the gift meant a lot to her.
1/7 Completion of E’s study credits
The Androids have Pods that float next to them throughout the game. These Pods seem pretty much emotionless and matter-of-fact. But in Ending E, when all is said and done and the androids you’ve grown to love are almost certainly dead, 2B’s Pod refuses to erase their data.
Instead, it wants to save them by rebuilding their data. Watch the extremely hard hacking minigame in the credits. Eventually, other real players will come to help you survive the credits, and only then can you beat them. 2B’s Pod mentions that it had started to grow a will while experiencing the same things as the androids. And in the end, the three androids are saved thanks to the actions. It’s a beautiful and iconic moment that shows that while Nier: Automata may be a dark game, it still believes in the inherent goodness of you and other players to come together.
Next: Nier: Things You Didn’t Know About The Lore