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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Is This 'Nier: Automata' Church a Hoax or a 5-Year-Old Secret?

For the last month, Redditors in the Nier: Automata community were trying to solve a mystery. It involved a secret door, a church allegedly hidden in the game for five years, and roughly 175,000 fans debating whether it was real or one very elaborate lie.

It started, as many conspiracies do, with a cryptic post online. Two months ago, Reddit user sadfutago went to a small Nier forum to ask how to open a church in Platinum’s 2017 hit game. The post attracted little fanfare, but they continued to follow up with photos, and later videos, of the area: a paper white room, eerily empty save for a few small hints which some fans believed were a nod to other games in the series. After sadfutago began posting, no other player was able to find it.

Countless theories and investigations later, no one could figure out what the room was or how it got there. Was it the work of an advanced modder, or old code only unlocked on a dev kit? Perhaps it was a teaser for a new title or the game’s Switch release later this year? Or was it one last secret hidden by infamously enigmatic and eccentric creator Yoko Taro? The answer almost didn't matter as much as the meta mystery it created. “This is either a god tier and impressive hoax, or insanely cool left over data, and either way this is AMAZING,” user SoftDisappointment wrote in one thread. “I have never been this happy at being potentially bamboozled before.”

Nier: Automata isn’t quite like other games of its kind. Taro is infamous for wearing a grinning, bubble-shaped headpiece that looks like a Tim Burton prop, and his games are known for doing things that flip what you think you know on its head. Secrets are his business, and Nier is full of them. A player discovered the presumed last of these in 2021: a feature unlock cheat code that only works under hyperspecific circumstances and was later confirmed as a Taro hidden gem by the game’s official Twitter account. But this time Taro didn't provide any help. Even his responses sent players on perhaps the shortest hunt of his career. “Do you want to know about my insight?” he tweeted earlier this week. “In that case, you can find answer at my Twitter profile. Thank you.”

The chaser to this shot? His Twitter bio says, “I can't answer about any products. Please ask publisher.”

Two Nier fans, Lyn and Vera (who requested WIRED only use their first names), share a Twitter account that has been religiously documenting every major development via a popular thread Vera created. Both say they’ve been following along closely. Vera was keen for answers straight from the source—the people who made the game—to “give us some kind of explanation for the wild goose chase we’ve all been going on.” Lyn hasn’t been sleeping much. “In any other game series, something like this would be quickly dismissed as a hoax,” Lynn says. But Taro “has created an immense mythology that has mostly consisted of screwing with players. That means that no discovery is completely out of the question.”

Lyn compares it to films like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, or “an intentionally obtuse” book like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Fans may pick apart different cues and discuss theories, but ultimately these mediums are static, rather than interactive. “Everyone is experiencing the same thing in all those cases, they don’t vary from person to person,” Lyn says. “In a video game ANYTHING can happen and developers like Yoko Taro are known to hide secrets that lay undiscovered for years.”

Nier’s community went to extensive lengths to sort things out: digging into literature, scrutinizing architecture, attempting reconstructions of their own, creating memes. Modders shared their progress as they worked through evidence. The rabbit hole grew deep, and the fan base kept watching. “That’s the sort of mindset everyone should have about searches like these. They’re absolutely about the journey and what’s uncovered about the game as opposed to one singular, monolithic secret,” Lyn says.

On Reddit, the mystery continued as the original poster releases more footage for armchair detectives to sift through. “I … can’t fathom how this can possibly be real or how this can possibly be fake,” wrote user vgxmaster after a new video posted Wednesday night. “No matter how this wraps up, I’m along for the ride, I guess. Thanks for taking us on this journey.”

Late Thursday, fans got their answer. The church is the work of three modders, who plan to release the level and the tools needed to create it for others to enjoy. On Reddit, many members of the community still see the experience as a net positive. “Even if you're disappointed this didn't end in a new game announcement, what these modders did for the community is huge,” said a user named Bossman1086. “I've seen so many posts and comments on this sub the last few days from people who had never played a Nier game before excited to jump in for the first time because of this thing.”

Updated 6-29-2022, 2 pm EDT to reflect that the mystery has been solved. 

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