Song: “Birth of a Wish (This Cannot Continue - Vocals)”
Artist: Keiichi Okabe
Game: NieR: Automata (2017)
Music is extremely important in the overall production of Yoko Taro’s NieR: Automata, and not just in the way that music sets a scene or ties characters together like in every other Square Enix game. For one, the game was immediately preceded in 2015 by a musical stage show about the YoRHa military service, setting up several characters and events in advance of the game as a song and dance routine that brandished submachine guns. Series lyricist and vocalist Emi Evans imagined futuristic languages that might exist thousands of years from now, as civilization would evolve and change, pulling sounds from German, French, Japanese and other languages to make whole new operatic soundscapes that are at once aurally familiar yet entirely foreign and incomprehensible.
Of all the highly evocative songs throughout 2B and 9S’s adventure, none have the immediate impact of “well, this is unsettling/well, this is awesome” quite like “Birth of a Wish (This Cannot Continue - Vocals).” The piece of music at its center, “Birth of a Wish,” is already a powerful battle theme: driving the player forward with its war drums, cutting through the noise with pirouetting strings, and demanding a sense of grandiosity with its chorus of imposing male voices. What makes this version special, though, are the additional machine voices and how they tie directly into the arena where the battle takes place.
To set the scene, heroic androids 2B and 9S have been chasing a renegade machine (the race of non-humanoid robots built by aliens and ostensibly the “bad guys”) through the desert and finally trap it at a dead-end... where they also find a few dozen other machines, ones that are cartoonishly aping the motions of living beings. Some of the awkwardly constructed robots are rocking cribs and calling them “baby,” others are pawing at the ground on all fours like a dog digging up a bone, and the rest are... ramming their groins into one another in forceful attempts at sexual congress. Upon realizing they have been found by the androids that have been slaughtering their kind, the machines panic, running and flailing frantically while repeating “This cannot continue. This cannot continue.” Without ending this chant, the machines climb atop one another, form a giant machine egg with their bodies, and give birth to a naked man with long white hair who proceeds to attack 2B and 9S. It’s... weird.
Automata attempts to repeat this trick later, reusing “Birth of a Wish” with the machine vocals “Become as Gods,” but the impact is lessened. There’s no surprise, now it’s just a callback to the first time the game really shocked and horrified the player. It’s not wild enough to be fighting to a standstill a completely naked adult man who seems to have been born literally moments ago, you need to do it surrounded by the chants of machines you just saw acting out what they believe to be human behavior. It’s cute when pets do it. Killer machines from outer space come to supersede life on Earth? Not so much.