On July 25, a reddit user that goes by the moniker of sadfutago accidentally blew up the Nier: Automata community.
In a post on the subreddit r/nier, sadfutago consigned a thread that was actually an update to several earlier attempts to draw attention to an oddity he discovered in Nier: Automata, the 2017 Square Enix action-RPG that is hailed by some as one of the best games of the generation. In the thread, the user embedded a video from the game running on their PlayStation 4 where late-game-character A2 was running through the black-and-white Copied City area and discovered a church that, up until this moment, no one in the Nier community had ever seen before.
Sadfutago — who wouldn’t return a request for comment, citing that they are “overwhelmed” by pings — posted the video after two months of intermittently trying to bring some attention to it. They did not appear to think it is a discovery, but were instead curious about why they had access to this church but a friend who is also playing the game did not. The first post was made in a Nier fanart subreddit and duplicated in the Nier subreddit, simply reading “Hello, I’m new to reddit. I was wondering how to open the church in Nier Automata.”
When pressed for details, and laboriously taught how to take a picture to post on Reddit, sadfutago provided some visual evidence of what they were talking about. The post was then automatically hidden from the subreddit’s timeline for low engagement and the picture deleted, though it was reuploaded to a different image hosting service.
In the image, we can see A2 standing in the Copied City, inside a building with pews and archways dotting the walls. Fans of Nier: Automata know the game inside and out at this point, having played the original from five years ago and every permutation and port since. No one had seen anything like this.
With the picture removed and the original post not garnering much attention, no one actually could see the thing they have never seen before. There was also, for those unfamiliar with the internet, always the chance it was merely photoshopped or edited in some way. It was not until July 25 that sadfutago posted another entry into this mystery, video filmed off-screen of A2 entering the church from the Copied City. Suddenly, things seemed much more real.
In the video, A2 goes through known areas and hallways to find a door that quite simply does not exist for every other player who has gotten there. Community members desperately tried to recreate the circumstances in the video, down to variables like version number, platform, and even hyper-specific region like using a Canadian copy of the game as sadfutago says they are using. It got more complicated when sadfutago posted a video that they claim is straight from the PS4, showing actual interaction with the church.
This time around, a cutscene plays when sadfutago enters the church. A2 interacts with a weird blobby shadow that can’t really be hurt but can be targeted. There’s dialogue between A2 and the pod, but it’s not unique to the area, and is repeated based on enemy interactions. In addition, Devola and Popola’s weapons seem to just be laying next to the shadowy blob. It answered very few questions but added a few dozen more. In short, the video is either another baffling piece of a puzzle no one has seen the entirety of yet or it is evidence of a truly incredible fake.
While I categorized sadfutago’s grenade-drop in the Nier community as “accidental,” there’s always the chance it’s not. Their account did not exist until nearly two months ago, when the very first post they made was about this strange church. It took a month for the first video to get a post and then direct-feed footage was initially deemed unlikely by sadfutago because they did not have access to a USB drive (which they eventually got). Even the first video ending in an abrupt way beggared the explanation of “i didn’t want to record too much because my mom said not to take up space” in a separate comment.
It feels like a textbook example of an internet fake, right down to the childlike affectation that excuses every weird thing. To many, this weird church was obviously made using mod tools, and more than one comment has accused sadfutago of being a very talented modder trying to pull a prank. It’s a believable explanation, but there’s one problem: every single Nier: Automata modder I have spoken to insists this is so unrealistic that it might as well be impossible.
The consensus seems to be that what’s going on in these videos, like the door or the environmental animations, is just way beyond where current Nier: Automata modding is right now. Nothing in these videos would be theoretically impossible to do as these are just all ones and zeroes, but the person doing it would have to either be a developer on the game or so extraordinarily talented that they managed to do this on their own without any community help. In other words, it’s possible that the hoofbeats you hear outside are zebras, but it’s more likely to be horses, and in this case the realistic answer might lean closer to the videos being real somehow.
In a Discord that is dedicated to Nier: Automata modding and now seems to be focused solely on this church mystery, people both new and old to the community have spent the last 24 hours trying to unravel all the evidence presented so far. Some have pointed out that the church’s geometry, marked by the repeating arches, is used in the first chapter of Bayonetta 2 alongside the reflecting pool. But it also wouldn’t be the first bit of Bayonetta 2 reused in Nier: Automata, so that means very little on its own. Dataminers like Lance McDonald have gone through the game’s files and can’t find anything specific to this church, but the nature of datamining means it can’t be entirely ruled out either.
There’s multiple avenues for explanations, but all of them conflict in some way or another. It could be something in the 1.00 version, which sadfutago says they have, that was patched out in later ones — but then why can’t any trace of it be found? In addition, the word “futago” translates to “twins” in Japanese, making the username “sadfutago” possibly reference to characters Devola and Popola as their weapons are sitting in the church. It could be a cheeky reference to the prank or it could just be a weird coincidence.
As if tossing his own explosive into the mix, Nier series producer Yosuke Saito has decided to get involved on Twitter.
— 齊藤陽介 Yosuke Saito (@SaitoYosuke_Z) July 26, 2022
“This is something Yoko Taro would do,” Saito says according to a machine translation and then vetted by associates that read Japanese.
He’s not wrong. It is absolutely a thing Yoko Taro would do. The director and writer of the Nier and Drakengard series once told me that he believes that players should not have every part of a piece of media and that it’s okay to leave some mystery. A room that only exists for some people, somehow, would absolutely fit into his designs. How it would go so long without being discovered is a larger question, but perhaps we’re looking for answers there where there aren’t any.
Sometimes the way we discover weird things about games isn’t through datamining or value changes, but because someone had a strange experience that they posted about on the internet, and then experts on the game try and figure it out themselves. Maybe this game — known in particular for its strangeness — has one of those easter eggs and we are only now discovering it. Who can really say besides the developers and sadfutago?
Perhaps Saito is the only one who really sees the value of this mystery. In one final tweet about the subject, Saito linked the upcoming Switch port of Nier: Automata and simply said “First of all, please calm down and make a reservation here.”