Reviewby James Beckett,
Nier: Automata: Long Story Short
Ten thousand years into the future, the human race has evacuated to the moon, abandoning the remains of human civilization on Earth to the YoRHa androids they created to fight a mysterious race of alien invaders and their army of seemingly mindless Machines. 2B is one such android warrior, and she's joined by her inquisitive partner, 9S. One day, a pair of twin machines arrive: two brothers who go by the names of Adam and Eve. These twins possess frightening intelligence and power that goes beyond any threat the YoRHa have faced in their millennia-long struggle, and the Machines are developing characteristics that seem disturbingly human more and more these days. To defeat their enemies, 2B and 9S must uncover the most dangerous secrets of the Human-Alien War, and in doing so they become inextricably linked to the fate of all that remains of the human race's dark legacy.
While I have yet to complete the original NieR video game that was released back in 2010, I consider its sequel, 2017's NieR: Automata, to be one of my favorite video games of all time. Writer/director Yoko Taro has always been known for crafting weird and surprisingly heartfelt RPGs, but NieR: Automata manages to combine its gameplay, music, visuals, characters, and themes in an astoundingly artful and harmonious way – it's one of my go-to standards for artistic achievement in gaming and a perfect example of how interactive media can tell stories in a completely different way from what's possible with a book or a movie.
Both of the NieR games are notable for sectioning off much of their story content behind numerous endings that players can only get by playing through the game multiple times. There are 26 endings to NieR: Automata in total, one for each letter of the alphabet, though the main story of the game is covered in Endings A through E. NieR: Automata: Long Story Short (which I will just call “Long Story Short” from here) is a novelization of the game by Jun Eishima, translated by Shota Okui, and it essentially functions as a straight adaptation of the main “playthroughs” of Automata – the full story that leads to Ending A of the game is included, a select few scenes from the Ending B run are tacked on after that, and then the book picks up with the core material from the endgame chapters, leading to Endings C, D, and E.
My chief curiosity coming into Long Story Short was whether or not the original vision crafted by Yoko Taro and Platinum Games could even be replicated as a novel. NieR: Automata's story and characters were certainly a highlight of the experience, but they were augmented by Platinum Games' fantastic action sequences and combat style, the atmosphere and emotions brought on by exploring the game's open world, and the way that Automata uses every aspect of its multi-media artistry to supplement the narrative and its themes. From the ridiculously beautiful soundtrack to the memorable character designs and vocal performances, and even the way that the menus and user interface are integrated into the story, pretty much every trick of the trade was utilized by Yoko Taro and his team to make NieR: Automata a masterpiece.
But being a novel, Long Story Short has to toss aside almost all of those elements. The essential pieces of the story are all present; 2B and 9S are brought together, along with their Pod companions, after their pyrrhic victory against a Goliath class Machine, and they explore the ruins of human civilization in order to uncover the secrets necessary to destroy the Alien menace. The twins Adam and Eve show up to cause trouble, 2B and 9S fight a terrifying opera-singing Machine in the wreckage of a ruined circus, and encounter friendly Machines such as Pascal and his Villagers, causing our heroes to question the fundamental morality of their war. All of the twists brought about by Endings B through E are more-or-less intact, and by the time you finish the book, you'll have gotten the same basic plot communicated by the game's cutscenes, along with a few extra scenes to deliver information that would have been found elsewhere in the game version. The book also includes a handful of illustrations by Toshiyuki Itahana, which are quite lovely.
The fatal flaw that brings Long Story Short down is that so much of what makes NieR: Automata special lies in all of its game-related accoutrements. Without the visuals, music, acting, and the emotional connection forged by playing a game for dozens of hours, Long Story Short falls woefully short both as a book and an adaptation. The opening prologue of the game is reduced from a tense and exciting action sequence to a bare-bones summary, and the same dilution affects many of the climactic scenes thereafter. The narrative's connective tissue is also given short shrift, as instead of finding creative and descriptive ways to adapt sections of the game that would be taken up by exploring the world and uncovering side-quests, 2B and 9S are simply rushed from plot point to plot point, with only a scant few sentences tossed in to explain how they got there or why.
9S's character development gets the worst of it. Without spoiling too much, his character arc is one of the most dynamic and surprising in the entire story, and much of it hinges on that repetitive second playthrough for Ending B. What takes hours to complete in the game is reduced to little more than excerpts cobbled together for a single chapter, which makes the developments in the game's final act feel much sloppier. There are several sections of the book that shoehorn in some narration from 2B, 9S, and other characters in an attempt to make up for the lack of clarity in the plot and dialogue, but these sections are too few and far between, so they stick out like a sore thumb. Too much of Long Story Short feels like exposition and jargon being dumped on the reader without any of the necessary emotional context. This makes the book feel like an especially detailed wiki summary of a 60+ hour game, instead of a novel in its own right.
The book also isn't done any favors by its sloppy and inconsistent translation. There are typos and grammatical errors aplenty, and many sentences just sound awkward and stiff. Take this line for example, which describes an error 2B makes in the middle of a heated battle: “Using her brain for unnecessary thinking had drawn her attention away from the obstacles near her feet, and she had tripped.”
That kind of clunky wording and reliance on passive voice plagues the entire translation, which makes it a chore to read pretty often. There are also numerous instances of terminology and lines from the game being translated differently, and while this isn't a flaw in and of itself, the book's changes are almost universally bad ones. For instance, anyone who has played the game can tell you that the Machine chant of “THIS CANNOT CONTINUE” is one of NieR: Automata's most memorable lines; it's even worked into the game's soundtrack to dramatic and creepy effect. In Long Story Short, however, the line is interpreted as the much less effective “Th1s 1s n0 g00d”. While I can appreciate the use of 1s and 0s to approximate the Machine's robotic way of speaking, I can't for the life of me understand why they felt the need to stray from the existing English translation.
Overall, NieR: Automata: Long Story Short is a poor way to experience an incredible story. The writing is stiff, the story's most indelible moments simply can't be communicated through text alone, and the poor translation makes for a sluggish read. If you are unable to play the NieR: Automata game proper and you still want to experience Yoko Taro's bizarre and heartfelt sci-fi parable, you'd likely be better off with the innumerable Let's Plays and analysis videos you can find online. To paraphrase Long Story Short itself: “Th1s b00k 1s n0 g00d.”
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : B
+ Great illustrations, offers some additional context not provided by the game, strong moments still peek through the messy adaptation
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