In the very first minute of Nier's live concert, you know you're in for something special, albeit depressing. London's Chamber Choir worked together in harmony, interweaving different pitches in long, drawn out notes for the Snow in Summer track. I was there to enjoy the music of Yoko Taro's Nier: Automata, one of the best games of the past decade, and there was plenty of that to be had. But I was also in for a pleasant surprise.
On Sunday, I got to experience the melodies of both of the Nier adventures in full, played in unison by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the perfect setting to enjoy it in: London's Royal Festival Hall was packed with cosplayers from all over Europe. I heard German, French, and Italian voices in the crowd. How the many 2Bs and 9Ss were comfortable for three hours, I'll never know, but I salute them nonetheless.
I love PlatinumGames' Nier: Automata, but I could never pay attention to its incredible music while actually playing it. Still, Keiiche Okabe's breathtaking score perfectly punctuated it derelict world, and all the harrowing events that would unfold in it. Ducking and weaving through the bullet hell-like combat of Nier: Automata diverted my attention from its haunting vocals and deeply resonant violin and piano notes.
As for the original Nier, like many people I knew next to nothing about the original adventure going into this concert. It's a niche game from just over a decade ago after all, and I was far more engaged with video games by the time Automata came about with strong word of mouth carrying it forward in 2018. This was my chance to enjoy music from both of them at last.
Before the orchestra had played a single note, composer Okabe and his translator came onto the stage. Okabe was perfectly charismatic in introducing the concert to the audience, with a childish grin stretched across his face, signalling that he was genuinely enjoying himself (for the whole first half, he sat among the audience to enjoy his own music). When Okabe asked the audience to shout if they'd played the original Nier, roughly just half the audience made noise. It's easy to understand why. First released in 2010, Nier debuted as two games—the Japan-only Replicant for the PS3 featuring a teenage boy as the protagonist, and Gestalt for PS3 and Xbox 360 starring a middle-aged lead—and caught a cult following with 134,000 copies sold within the first year of launch. With generally middling reviews though, it wasn't enough to save developer Cavia, which closed shortly after the two games released. It has since been overshadowed by its more popular successor.
Despite that, the first part of the two and a half-hour concert was dedicated entirely to the music of Nier: Gestalt. Every music track for Gestalt was matched with a corresponding event in the game. "Shadowlord" was played with animations appearing on a huge projector screen showing our heroes fight against the evil overlord of Gestalt, for example. It wasn't just footage lifted straight from the game though—the Nier team had put together original animations and overlays for the concert, cutting together snippets of footage that didn't detract from the fantastic orchestral performance taking place just a few meters below the screen.
Every track played through the first half of the concert was done in perfect continuity, telling the overarching story of the entire game through the music and limited projections. Through tracks like "Snow in Summer," the slow and steady tempo of the music told me of sadness of Gestalt's world, and the brave but ultimately fruitless quest that our hero would undertake to save his sister. "Snow in Summer" was the perfect ambient track to set the mood for the game (even if it did have the tough job of following Keiiche Okabe's charismatic speech).
Singer Emi Evans was the perfect note to close out the first setlist on. The vocalist who I knew from Automata's famed "Weight of the World" emerged from the side of the stage to perform "Emil's Words - Kaine," which instantly reduced the people sat on either side of me to tears. A quick way of knowing a song is special is if it makes you shed a tear the very first time you ever hear it, with no context for the events it accompanies in another medium. That was exactly what happened to me on hearing "Emil's Words - Kaine."
The Nier: Gestalt setlist for the Automata concert was the best tribute to a game I knew nothing about. The visuals from Yoko Taro and co., combined with the stunning performance from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, gave me an intoxicating trip into the world of early Nier, introducing me to characters I'd never met through beautiful melodies. Just over an hour of music and brief animations was all it took to encapsulate me in Nier: Gestalt. I can only imagine how the people who actually knew the game must have felt.