NieR is always going to have a special place in my heart. The original and its sequel Automata were the first two games to be reviewed on this site. Granted, neither of them were originally written with this site in mind and this was mainly because I had just put out the review of Automata at the time so I wanted the original up for context, but regardless, both games are special to me, if one couldn’t tell based on how often I reference them. I also consider both titles to have some of the strongest soundtracks in gaming. I decided that, while I am in the habit of re-writing old entries that I will revamp mine on “Emil’s Theme.” Yes, I know that is not the official name of the song, but the official name has a spoiler involved so that’s what I’m going to call it.
There are a lot of RPG “sad themes” out there that are used for the tragic or emotional scenes in their respective games, but this one stands out to me. I don’t think there are any other tracks that are quite as effective as this one except for maybe the “Mother 3 Theme of Love.” While my original piece didn’t do this one enough justice, I will quote one specific part of said piece that will always apply.
This song is one that practically spells out the word “tragedy.” The vocals are at just the right pitch and sung in just the right way that it would give off an air of sadness even if it were not accompanied by mournful violins. This song is just straight up sad. Not even “emotional,” just straight up sad, with no sense of positive emotion in sight, yet it is also not somber enough to fall into depression territory either and has strong vibe of loss and disbelief to it.
I often have to be careful to not listen to this song too much, lest I get it stuck in my head and become depressed for the rest of the day; it’s just that powerful. It certainly helps that it is put to amazing use in both the original game and in Automata.
The first time that this song truly caught my attention in game was in the cutscene after defeating Wendy, in which Emil loses control of his powers and destroys not only monster, but the entirety of the Aerie. The song plays over Emil’s realization that he killed an entire town full of innocent people. Additionally it plays when the wolves’ attack and kill Fyra on her wedding day as The King of Faced holds her dead body begging her not to die.
However, the strongest use of the song is the one it is named after. In the final dungeon after the fight with Devola and Popola, where Devola is killed and Popola goes mad with sadness and rage because of her death, which causes her to unleash her most powerful magic. In order to make sure they survive, Emil uses his own magic to protect them and carry them to their next location while he stays behind thus sacrificing his own life. What really makes this so effective is how Emil starts to break down before his death about how he just wants to see his friends one last time and how he doesn’t want to die.
In Automata, you hear it playing whenever you enter Emil’s House, which brings back memories of the original game and makes you think of what has passed since then, and all the pain and tragedy that Emil must have suffered through since then. Automata takes place several millennia after the original and Emil is the only surviving member of the original cast. All his friends died 7000 years ago (along with the rest of humanity) and he has been alone ever since. Of course, Emil doesn’t know this because he cloned himself thousands of times to fend off an alien invasion, and lost a piece of himself every time until he couldn’t even remember his only friends or which one was the original. Of course, what makes that hurt even more is that Emil still lost despite all this. Also should mention that there is a chip tune variation of this track that plays while hacking the chest open, but I cannot seem to find that one anywhere online.
So here, we have the same vocal track as Emil’s Theme, but played over a different elemental. It is amazing how much versatility Emi Evan’s vocal performance has, and how it can fit with a a sad and slow paced funeral piece AND a fast paced boss theme. This particular track only plays during a select few boss fights, and I didn’t even notice that it existed while playing through the original NieR. I do know that the battles it plays during were ones with very emotional subtext, such as the battle against the wolf leader and… others. Sorry, my memory of where this one plays is fuzzy.
The vocals are as beautiful as before, but the key difference is the instrumentation. The drums, piano melody, and the horn are what give this song a much more active feeling than Emil’s standard theme. What really stands our is the high point where those violins kick in, and they take what was the saddest part of Emil’s Theme and make it sound much more uplifting and encouraging, but still beautiful enough to bring a tear to one’s eye.
This track is basically Automata’s remix of “Emil Karma” similar to how other tracks from the original were remixed. The difference is that this one has notable significance to the plot when it plays.
MORE SPOILERS INCOMING!!!!
Emil does not bare much relevance to the main plot of Automata aside from being the subject of some sidequests and as a mysterious merchant (btw his happy shop theme is pretty catchy but I don’t feel like writing about it so it’s not being covered here). Of course, he serves the role of a level 99 superboss in the game… twice. The first is when you try and steal something from his house in what is a silly moment… until he lets you take the treasure because he realized the only thing that matters in this world anymore is power, which causes you to feel like an asshole (but not as much as killing the Amusement Park statue that dindu nuffin wrong, #Amuesmentparkstatuedidnothingwrong). The second battle with him plays against the rampaging floating heads of the previously mentioned Emil clones buried in the desert. This actually felt like more of a final battle than the actual final boss fight that I beat in under a minute and that didn’t even have its own unique music… which is sad because this boss was still pretty easy.
Regardless, there is still an emotional pull to this track. All of these clones frequently cry out in such pain and misery that madness was the inevitable outcome. This track not only does a great job at sounding like an epic final showdown piece, but also at making the player think back to the original NieR, and just how long ago it feels after all of the shit you went through in Automata. So many emotions start to flash at once during this battle as everything Emil ever went through comes to mind. Composition wise, this version sounds smoother and what I would describe as more “cinematic” than “Emil Karma.” The drums are no longer the same and the track sounds stronger than the original, and that opening gives the track a stronger presence in terms of what it represents. “Emil Karma” while a beautiful track, was used for multiple battles and without thematic relevance. This one is exclusively for this final fight and it captures the emotions perfectly.
Of course, after the battle is over, the music switches back over to Emil’s Theme for use in one final crushing scene. Emil finally remembers who Nier and Kaine were, (and hearing him say Kaine’s name makes me shiver all on its own) as he sacrifices his life to stop his renegade clones from destroying what’s left of Earth. If one was not aware already, the actual title of Emil’s Theme is “Emil Sacrifice.” There’s that book end trope; NieR is ended off where Emil sacrifices himself to save the life of Kaine and Nier (but he got better) while Automata ends on Emil sacrificing himself for real, just when he finally remembered. Emil’s tragic life finally comes to an end.
Well that was depressing, maybe I SHOULD include the shop theme just to lighten things up.
Shit, hearing how happy this song is just makes it even sadder that he’s gone due to contrast. Fuck it, you guys are on your own for this one!
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