I was overwhelmed by family affairs last week, so I was unable to do #TuneTuesday last week. So, I thought I would make up for it by talking about a cue that has many different versions found within the game its prequel. The cue is ‘The Song of The Ancients’ from NieR & NieR: Automata, composed by Keiichi Okabe and vocals by Emi Evans.
It is difficult to talk about either game with revealing massive spoilers to either game, so I will avoid the plot, making this little blog post smaller. What I will mention is that both NieR games have a huge array of interesting eclectic characters, two of which being the android twins Devola & Popola, two of the most important characters in the series, who serve slightly different purposes in both games. Canonically, it is Devola that is singing the song, which is why when you search for the song on YouTube, you will find lots of artwork with the two characters.
The version that I included above comes from NieR: Automata, and is not heard all the frequently in-game, neither does the two characters it is associated with, which makes sense to me for narrative versions. I love all the arrangements of the cue, but this one (and ‘Fate’ from NieR) is my favourite, for I believe the arrangement is the most interesting. What is often overlooked with the soundtrack is how small the ensemble is. Most orchestral soundtracks have large strings, brass and wind sections, with about 40 players, 21 one of those players being string players (violins, violas, cellos/celli and basses). NieR: Automata has 13. This isn’t a financial decision, but an artistic one, for SQUARE ENIX (the publishers), has a shite tonne of money to go around, with a huge chunk of their games having a full-on orchestra.
A point that I’ve mentioned before is that you can have more punch our of a smaller ensemble, which works wonders here, as most of the cues in both NieR games that use strings are short, detached (or Stacatto, to use the correct terminology) ideas that add excitement and tense to what’s going on screen. The battle cues are often percussion-driven anyway, so a larger ensemble could potentially muddy/dampen the feel.
As for the language the song is performed in, I believe it is a made-up language, smashing together German, French and Japanese to form the in game’s Chaos Language, which is only ever heard in the game’s songs. It is an interesting choice for sure, one that I’d love to see in future games in the series. It is this approach to songwriting that has made vocalist Emi Evans particularly well known within the gaming community.