How NieR: Automata Uses Color to Characterize Violence

Oh yes — we’re back talking about NieR: Automata again!

I’m super excited to follow up my incredibly lengthy and in-depth analysis post from January with another (briefer) look at this unfathomably amazing game. I recommend reading the above post before reading this one, as you’ll have a greater understanding of the themes I plan to discuss today if you do so.

There are so many clever ways that Automata uses its visuals to augment its narrative, but one way that I never see get any praise is how it uses color. Specifically, one color: red.

In this post, I aim to highlight how the color red is significant in Automata’s story, as well as how Yoko Taro and his team of developers ensured that it stood out amongst everything else in the game. Oh, and there will be spoilers. You have been warned. 

Without further ado…


What is the Game Trying to Accomplish?

nier-a

While doing so is honestly a disservice to the complexity and nuance of the full work, I think NieR: Automata can be accurately summarized as a game that criticizes how often and how quickly people default to conflict and violence as a solution to our problems. The narrative of Automata shows us why doing so is wrong. Therefore, the game needs to enforce that idea with its supporting elements.

The ways in which Automata does this are interesting. Its music and its combat flow make fighting seem thrilling, epic, and grandiose (which reminds me of the “combat thrill” that many soldiers have described after serving) but it never results in anything positive. Ultimately, the conflicts in the game only ever result in loss, sadness, and death.

This is where the visuals (and, specifically, coloration) come into play.


How NieR: Automata Uses Color

2b-blood-1.gif

Since the goal of the narrative is to characterize violence and fighting as damaging and counter-productive to progress, the game needs to make it ultimately seem like something ugly. Something that taints and tarnishes our world and makes our lives worse. It does this by using the color red, and making it stand out.

As seen in the numerous animated GIFs in this section of the article, the blood of Automata is bright, vibrant, plentiful, and thick. It’s impossible to miss, and it’s a part of every single scene in the game where violence results in the death (or the perceived death) of a main character. But the blood itself isn’t the only thing that causes it to stand out — the way each scene is framed and the way the other parts of the scenes are colored also contributes to this as well.

Take a look at the GIF above, as well as the ones below. What do they all have in common from a cinematography standpoint?

2b-blood-2.gif

9s-blood-1.gif

9s-blood-2.gif

I notice two things:

1. The blood is always center frame.

2. The background is always a muted color, like white, gray, or beige.

These scenes are clearly designed to make the results of violence stand out. The bright red blood strongly contrasts with the flat color of the background, as well as the flat-colored appearances of the characters themselves. This blood is the result of the game’s conflicts, and it looks wrong, and that’s because Automata is trying to tell us that it is. This isn’t coincidence; it’s an intelligent use of color that props up the game’s main themes. And the fact the camera is always centered onto it ensures that we focus on it.

The prominence of the color red and what it represents is seen elsewhere in the game, too. Machine lifeforms with violent intent have glowing red eyes. The androids who are infected by the logic virus do, as well. And even though these things don’t always appear by flat colors, the vast majority of NieR: Automata is composed of greens, grays, blacks, blues, and rust-like oranges, which all still stand out noticeably from this piercing red sheen.

NieR: Automata’s association of red with violence and what it can cause is clear, and I wish more people would recognize it. This game would still be incredible without this thoughtful design, but it’s that much better with it.


Author’s Notes

Thank you for reading!

I haven’t had much time at all to write anything here since I’ve been so busy with work and with university, but this was something I wanted to give Automata praise for in writing at some point. I realize this post is incredibly brief compared to my usual content, but I don’t really think there’s more to say on the topic. There’s a lot of other clever ways that this game utilizes visuals to help tell its story, and maybe I’ll cover those another time. For now, though, I feel like taking a bit of a break from writing about this game on an analytic level. Last month’s gargantuan analysis was incredibly fun to write, but it was also rather taxing, and there are some other games I want to write about in the future.

My next article will most likely be about Metro Exodus, which was absolutely fantastic. Keep an eye out for it sometime in late April or early May! And also, if more Automata content is what you’re after, I’m planning on putting up a brief-but-broad overview of why the game is so amazing on the 7th on Windows Central in order to celebrate the anniversary of its original North American release date. Make sure to follow me there to see my professional writing!

Thanks again, and have yourselves a great March,

Brendan

 

 

 

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