Behind the video game: the story of Yoko Taro

Behind the video game: the story of Yoko Taro

Behind the video game

Cut by the Hori canal, Nagoya is one of the most important Japanese capitals: economically significant and the birthplace of the most famous leaders of the rising sun, the unifiers Nobunaga and Hideyoshi. Here, with the ocean on one side and a steep castle with a sloping roof on the other, our Yoko Taro was also born and raised, a cult author who thanks to NieR: Automata was able (finally) to communicate with the great audience.

We are talking about a complex personality, but which despite its ambiguity over the years has become anything but elusive. The public face of him, a sort of outspoken otaku jester with a nervous talkative, is now approached to a more real and melancholy Taro: a humble, insecure man, with a great desire to express himself artistically, regardless of the means to layout. Thanks to his Twitter profile, his blog, the practically unconditional support of the producer of Square-Enix Yosuke Saito, Taro has managed to carry out several projects and build a multiverse made up of videogame sagas, manga and theatrical works.

In the Nagoya area, if we want to follow the biographical events like hounds, Taro lived with his grandmother, due to absent parents for work. It is said that a person's fate can already be read from the clues that emerge from childhood: Yoko Taro, even then, was an outsider, an isolated boy unable to get out of his shell, with social and relational problems. Even today, in the interviews, this insecurity shines through.

Watch on YouTube. "Welcome to the worst of all possible worlds", says Yoko Taro, overturning Leibniz's maxim, at the opening of SINoALICE. Such an intense closure and negativity seems to be influenced by a way of reading society that has marked him since his early youth. In a post on his blog dating back to 2013, she says, for example, that he was struck by the hilarity with which his acquaintances told him about the suicide of a boy. Man, to have such a grotesque taste for the macabre, must be rotten from the inside.

Yoko Taro, in an interview on Gamesradar, says: "It's not that I want to speak explicitly and represent taboo topics . I feel that even just looking at the world in general, there are so many types of people, and that some people hide who they really are. I feel that every person has some sort of distorted identity within them, and can decide whether they want to show it or not. . The interaction between these types of people intrigues me, and that is why I obviously end up having these types of characters in my games ".

From these premises derive much of the pessimistic vision that transpires from his works and the need to wear a mask to defend against the judgment of others, a must during interviews and promotional events. Last but not least, the Live with Yoshida, to advertise the NieR themed events of Final Fantasy XIV.

Yoko Taro and her elusive mask. The round, grinning mask she wears, depicting the character of NieR Emil, is known to gamers. At least to those who attended the E3 presentations around the launch of Automata. The function of him? Multiple and not just social. It is marketing, undoubtedly, but it is also a means to make the author transcend, dehumanize him as if he were a messiah of strangeness, which is one of the strengths of his works.

Yoko Taro, in an interview for Polygon, comments on the mask: "When someone buys one of our products, I feel it's important to consider how they perceive the game. So instead of a forty-seven-year-old middle-aged man taking the stage talking about the game, I think it is more interesting for a player to see a bizarre character representing the game. I don't want to alter their perception of the game by showing who I am. "

In a very interesting Italian documentary, the youtuber Gekidemu, specialized in underground video games, rightly speaks of human darkness, present in Yoko Taro's works as a leitmotiv. The protagonists of Yoko Taro's games are always disturbing, sick and manic, anti-heroic, yet moving. This has been happening since Drakengard, released in 2003 for PlayStation 2, the work with which he went from being a visual designer and designer to wearing the role of director and screenwriter.

Drakengard 3 is a more accessible hack'n'slash than the first chapter, but equally exaggerated in terms of plot. But the apprenticeship was not short, in a sense it is never over, so much so that fans never know if Yoko Taro's next game will have good gameplay or will be as tiring and slow as Drakengard. Yoko Taro graduated in design from Kobe University, less than two hours by train from Nagoya. In 1996 she worked on 3D background for Namco, in Arcade Alpine Racer and Time Crisis II. After a brief interlude with Sugar & Rockets, a studio under Sony with which she collaborated for the action Chase the Express, it is the turn of Cavia. With this study, by Takamasa Shiba and Takuya Iwasaki (Ace Combat), Yoko Taro has had the consecration.

Drakengard, a project that Iwasaki cannot take care of and that he leaves in Taro's hands, is not all of the lot of him. One of the recurring stylistic figures and the author's trademark, namely the alternation of different gameplay styles, was imposed here to face the low budget with the particularity of the various game sections. In short, we had to build an aerial combat video game mixed with a classic Musou (these are the years of Dinasty Warriors 2), with role-playing elements. The textual adventure phases, on the other hand, suggest a tribute to the latest low-budget episodes of Evangelion, rather than something truly original. But the whole, undoubtedly, is unique.

Yet, the bitter and apocalyptic writing, with its alternative and absurd endings, is something that we have rarely seen in the gaming landscape. One thinks of the intricate timeline of Radiant Historia, or as regards certain stratagems of videogame deconstruction, to none other than Hideo Kojima, with his charisma that takes him, in a certain sense, above the rules (except, unfortunately, those of the market). But no one, in the videogame medium and before Yoko Taro's team, had had the courage to dig so deeply into the dirt of the human soul.

NieR Gestalt. Yoko Taro says in an interview in The Guardian: "The reason there are so many characters suffering in my games is that I want to show reality. That's how people can empathize with the suffering of the characters. The reason my games are chaotic is that not me, but the world is chaotic. I don't look for bad endings, they come out naturally. "

As for NieR, the formula is not that different. There are anti-heroes, dramatic and highly emotional stories, plus timelines and mechanics not really within the reach of anyone's patience. Version 1.22 of Replicant, a bit remake a bit remaster, was created to cope with more modern videogame tastes. But Yoko Taro focuses, more than in Drakengard, on variety and on taking the player by surprise: he experiments with menus, item descriptions and forces him to more runs, with the sole aim of discovering new perspectives of the plot.

Drakengard 3, developed with Access Games (SWERY's company), renews its collaboration with Keichi Okabe on the soundtrack. The esoteric and prophetic atmosphere of Yoko Taro's games is largely due to her compositional ability. Recurring collaborators are the writers Hana Kikuchi and Sawako Natori, although contacts have been lost since the closure of Cavia. Many recognize Natori great merits, as regards the fragments of textual gameplay in NieR and the overall narrative quality of the works in which you have worked, among which Automata is missing.

NieR Automata. Cavia closes in 2010. In 2015, Taro founded the Bukkoro company together with his wife Yukiko Koro, illustrator for the well-known rhythm game Taiko No Tatsujin. Taro now acts as a freelance author, on commission or as a promoter of personal stories and projects, for those who prove able to grasp the potential of her extravagances. Thanks to this freedom and a happy coincidence of events, the collaboration with Platinum Games takes place.

NieR: Automata impressed with its fast-paced and spectacular gameplay, apocalyptic atmosphere and desperate writing. More within reach of the player, without absurd challenges to reveal the secret endings, it showed a dying yet fascinating world, with a luxuriant nature capable of taking its course beyond the struggles between androids and biomachines. Game of the Year 2017, winner of multiple awards for the soundtrack (again mainly by Okabe), proved that even the craziest and most out of the ordinary ideas, the most philosophical stories, if supported by good gameplay, have space and long life in the world of videogames.

Among the minor projects are the two mobile games: Demon's Score (from the now closed servers) and SINoALICE. In this mobile gacha, certainly a minor work, he builds a sort of Purgatory for fairy-tale characters, in a constant metanarrative struggle to bring his author back to life. Here the aforementioned stylistic figures of Taro recur, summarized in pessimism, metanarrative and writing centered on tragic, nihilistic protagonists. But the last element, which we haven't talked about yet and very evident from the Drakengard character design and plot, is a strong erotic component of the characters, some of which are dominated by overwhelming sexuality.

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SINoALICE is a missed opportunity to experiment and revolutionize gacha games. The story of Yoko Taro is therefore the story of a man who makes the excessive use of creativity his personal battle against a cruel and uncontrollable world. The story of a somewhat bohemian artist, which she writes with the help of alcohol and who faces the creative process backwards: from the tragic endings and the reaction she expects from her audience. A story still in progress, of a director who wants to amaze the public.

At the presentation of NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139, Saito and Taro have confirmed that they are working on a new game, eccentric, mysterious, "unusual" and "difficult to explain". Probably a new IP. During the live show at the end of the year, for Famitsu and V-Jump, the duo let themselves go to an indiscretion, concerning a second game in the works. Meanwhile, we can only wait for the arrival in the West of NieR Reincarnation, the penultimate game of the series, released this February for iOS and Android.

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