(Check out part one to read the premise for “The terrible beauty of sentience”)
The second part outlines the extended story summary for the Platinum games video-game hit franchise which is the second installment of the “Drakengard” series,
With the exception of the vast and stunning sun-bathed forests, the pristine and desolate cityscapes, the fast-paced and flavorful game-play and the eerily charming orchestral background score by the singular Keiichi Okabe, (which could quite well be played at any concert hall) I could discourse at great length on the serpentine plot of the game, which I frankly found quite enthralling and lead me to pose the following questions; What is it really like to be a free-thinking individual? What is it like to truly live with the choices that we consciously make?
So sit back and sip some coffee. This is the short story of an android who gains sentience.
Yoko-Taro’s convoluted narrative begins with this melancholic opening verse from a despairing android, “Everything that lives…is designed to end! We are perpetually trapped in a never-ending spiral of life and death. I often think about the God that gave us this cryptic puzzle, and wonder if we could ever reach out….and kill him!”.
The curtain opens up in the distant future where mankind is effectively driven out of the planet by violent machine lifeforms and relegated to take refuge on the moon. These machines are devised by the extraterrestrial beings currently inhabiting the planet in mankind’s stead. This threat is met with the creation of “YorHa” androids (artificial humanoids, programmed to revere mankind and harbour undue hatred towards machines) to aid the android resistance down on earth and wage war on these aliens in a bid to win back the planet. Simple enough right?
In this case, the same androids fighting to regain control, are programmed to develop conscientious behavior through developing feelings and conflicting thoughts about the same machine lifeforms they’re fighting, of which some had resorted to a peaceful lifestyle as the new denizens of this vastly untenanted planet. As a result, nature had taken over, converting unprecedented concrete jungles into colossal, vegetated and crumbling ruins. Devoid of humans, planet earth had become a safe haven for all sorts of flora and fauna; thriving without its destructive apex predator.
Driven out of their own habitat, mankind sought vengeance against the machines. The argument was simple. Foreign beings had replaced mankind and therefore have the moral obligation to be destroyed, right? But in a rather odd twist of fate, the androids (on human’s side) facing off against the machine lifeforms (who are fighting for themselves) notice that the latter inexplicably strives to find humanity in themselves out of their own volition by way of imitation, despite the clearly inadvisable nature of it. This brings to mind the paradoxical question; Why would seemingly perfect mechanical beings strive to become something so flawed?. Meanwhile, the androids, who are painfully aware that they are not human and in fact cannot be try as they might, start questioning their own convictions regarding their ultimate motive.
The story follows the main protagonist Yorha android unit designated “2B”, a lithe and petite humanoid seemingly in her late teens, who’s a lethal melee combat expert and carries out her orders with an unquestioning zeal that’s oddly befitting of seasoned/veteran militia; along with her partner android “9S”, an extremely intelligent and inquisitive long-range scanner type model, later setting out on missions together. They both start having interchanging attitudes about the same machines they’re designed to kill, but are programmed to feel only contempt and disregard for the opponents they’re currently sympathizing with. This is evident from the changing mindset of 2B where she comments to her partner’s questioning nature by first saying, “You should work to keep your opinions in check! Yorha units aren’t allowed to be emotional remember?” but then sympathizes with him later on and admittedly says “Although I suppose such intense curiosity can be admirable in its own way.” This is a sign that they are indeed affected by these events and fail to remain completely objective under the circumstances.
The chapter begins with 2B with a squadron of Yorha androids in flight-machines, tracking down a massive Goliath-class machine life-form in an abandoned factory where she meets 9S for the first time, who offers to help with recon support. The two make their way into the depths of the ruins and end up facing the Goliath in an epic battle where both of them get injured beyond repair and after seeing another horde of goliaths, decide in a last-ditch attempt to rid the site of rogue machines by self-detonating via a powerful “black box” mechanism with a massive blast radius capable of taking out the entire surrounding vicinity.
Just before they explode 9S requests his pod to back up 2Bs data back to the bunker at the moon, but seemingly doesn’t have time to back his own. The resulting explosion is utterly blinding. Next thing 2B remembers is waking up at the bunker, having been newly transferred to a body with her memories intact. She remembers everything that happened at the factory, but after meeting with 9S, realizes that he doesn’t remember. He carries on to chat about some trivialities and then departs, leaving 2B clenching her fists in quiet frustration.
They soon get paired up for another mission, this time providing aid to the android resistance forces down on earth. During this expedition they meet a good and peace-loving machine named Pascal, who lives in a village with other non-hostile machine beings. Soon after, they get attacked by more rogue machines and the city ends up getting destroyed due to the explosions. This in turn reveals a cavern beneath the central podium with our heroes eventually investigating this path and finding themselves in a chamber which seemingly belonged to the extraterrestrials, now long dead, murdered by none other than their own machine creations Adam and Eve, two sentient machine lifeforms borne of the very beings that now lay dead around them.
They declare that they’ve already gotten rid of their ill-fated creators and become “aware” thus eventually transcending their intelligence as well. They go on to inform the androids of their intention to capture and examine the human beings currently residing on the moon, in order to discern their behavior and motives stating “Humans are an enigma. They killed uncountable numbers of their own kind. But they loved in equal measure. It’s fascinating don’t you think? What could drive such behavior?”
A short battle ensues and though they are defeated they vowed to exact revenge and flee before anything happens further. This leaves 2B and 9S wondering why they hated their beloved humans so much. But they knew that they somehow detested the duo, without apparent rhyme or reason. Thus the inquisitive nature of the machines as well as the questioning nature of the androids is brought to the fore with this meeting.
After a brief encounter with the twins, the androids retreat to Pascals village where they hear about a potential machine kingdom hidden away deep into the forests where machines are loyal and united. The androids wondered how machines could comprehend notions like loyalty as they are incapable of doing something so intuitive. (The irony here being that they speculate about it). They learn however, that the machines were protecting an infant machine whom they considered their king’s heir, but before they could reach it to find answers, they see a mysterious YorHa unit suddenly impaling the baby machine and then discarding it aside heartlessly. They recognize her as “A2”, (who looks very similar to 2B but with long hair and tattered/ worn out clothing) the deserter android who was a wanted fugitive with a kill-on-sight order on her head. She goes on to attack them without hesitation but escapes before they could capture her. Upon asking command about her, they are informed that she’s a criminal and should be apprehended or worse, killed. The reasons are deemed classified and are not given.
Soon after they are tasked with fighting a large machine combatants near the coast of the city and formulate a plan to deal with it, with 9S offering to aid with missiles. 2B fights and defeats the battalion but realizes that 9S was missing, so she sets out in search of him down at the caverns where his faint black box signal was coming from. She finds out that he’s been kidnapped and is held captive in a seemingly virtual but tangible city that Adam has created. Here 2B finds countless, lifeless android bodies laying around and encounters a keen Adam who states his intentions to “feel human” and claims that
“Us machine lifeforms have a keen interest in humanity. Love. Family. Religion. War. The more human records I unearth, The more charmed I am by their complexity. I seek to adopt all facets of humanity Some desired family; Other desired war. Only then did I realize that the core of humanity – is conflict. They steal. fight. Kill! This is humanity in its purest form! I strive to attain nothing less than the essence of humanity itself! Let us fight, and embrace death” This inference is as disquieting as it is insightful. He then prepares for battle.
An intense fight ensues between 2B and Adam in the bleak yet pulsing heart of the copied city (designed by the twins to imitate a human settlement) where Adam, unsure of his own intentions, cuts himself off from the network created by the aliens in order to act truly independent and mortal during the fight. He claims that since machines exist in a connected network, they could be revived countless times, hence effectively becoming mortal by severing his ties with it. He yells in jubilation, “We are immortal! Invincible! And yet within all those infinite bits of data, there exists not, even the merest flicker of being, of Life. of Death! – even the concept of death holds no meaning for us”
Through the hacker space, Adam also taunts the captured 9S by stating that he’s driven by emotion as well, just like him, and calls him out for harboring strong feelings for 2B being “unbecoming of soldiers like them”. 2B gets enraged by this and eventually defeats him; he proceeds to die with the words “Is this death? It is so dark – so cold”, realizing that this was indeed why the human mortals feared it. 9S is seriously wounded, however, he’s sent back to the Bunker on the moon for repairs. In the meantime, 2B continues to hunt for Eve around the city, and also attempts to broker a peace between the rogue machines who followed Adam and Eve.
After meeting Pascal, 2B is invited to meet at an abandoned factory nearby to discuss peace terms with a machine tribe leader, where they encounter a cult of frenzied machines headed by a prophetic leader (who turns out to be long deceased) It becomes apparent that this is trap of sorts and the followers claim that he has “ascended” to heaven. Their eyes start glowing an eerie red and they start killing each other and themselves in a suicidal manner whilst claiming that they too must attain salvation and die together to “become gods”. Discerning that there is some sort of virus that is corrupting them and that there was no point in discussing peace with these berserk machines, both of them flee the scene.
This suicidal mania brings to mind, man’s ever-present desire to reach a higher plane of existence through enlightenment, (whilst not knowing how) the perpetual cycle of unsatifactoriness, death and rebirth by which one can be liberated (tentatively).
Meanwhile a recovering 9S back at the moon base attempts to remotely assist 2B by hacking into the HQ servers but accidentally discovers something startling and utterly horrifying. . .
That the mission to save humanity centuries ago was a massive failure and all of humanity had been extinct for several decades now! Whatever data was left of their consciousness was sent as a beacon to the moon and was used as a mere relay point to ping messages to earthly resistance forces as well as the Bunker on the moon to make the androids believe that their beloved humans were still alive and well.
9S, now rendered speechless with shock and horror, quietly mutters under his breath, “This …is …project YorHa”
In order to perpetuate the lie that humanity lived, and to provide a purpose that they still had something to fight for, Project YorHa was launched; It trained elite androids to reclaim earth from the invaders by warring with them and procuring victory for the now non-existent human beings. Only a few were privy to this knowledge like the Head Commander who issued missions to the YorHa androids. News of this would throughly destroy the moral and insurgence against the machines while making the androids lose their will to fight and eventually succumb to hopelessness.
(It’s noteworthy that in this series lore, the androids only inherent tendency is to adore, protect and serve their masters)
This was unprecedented information for the fate of the androids and so the wretched unit 9S decide to keep this to himself for the time being as 2B was locked in mortal combat with the infuriated Eve. By taking over all the machines in the nearby villages, Eve had gained control by spreading a virus and could regenerate his heath by connecting to the machine network. In order to win 9S had to hack into the network and disable his ability. He knew that he would be corrupted by the virus as well, but he desired to protect 2B and ensure her survival. So he did what he had to and he lay dying on the ground while 2B approached a weakened Eve as he lay on the ground both frenzied and mourning his brother. She cringes but pierces her sword through his head without mercy.
By the time 2B had finally turned to face 9S, he was already dying from the corruption of the virus and with his last breath he asks her to do the unthinkable. To end his life personally. She shudders in terror and falls to her knees. She has to do this again.
Despairing and shaking she knew that she had to put him out of his misery so she lay atop his dying body and wrapped her hands around his neck and begins to sob as she strangles him whispering to herself, “Why is it always me who has to do this? It always, always ends like this”. She cries aloud and chokes the last breath of life from his lips and breaks down in uncontrollable sobbing and lets her grief take over.
However just as she loses all hope, she hears a machine nearby and in her fury, she picks up her sword and approaches it with killing intent only to find that it was 9S who had managed to upload his data into a nearby machine and had salvaged his remaining consciousness. With Eve’s death they were now finally free of the virus. 2B wipes away her tears and smiles whilst telling 9S how glad she is that he’s alive and they’re both relieved. It’s the most touching moment of comfort and joy in the whole narrative and it’s impact is truly felt as you take in all of the visuals and the endearing background track, and you almost believe it is the happy ending we wanted, but it’s still not the end.
That’s right; there’s more. much more.
As time grows, as they become intimate while retaining their memories but the androids are separated by a cruel twist of fate as they discover that there is a seemingly corrupting virus that starts breaking out and affecting everyone, 2B included. She starts malfunctioning during a mission and gets separated from 9S and by the time he arrives at the scene, he’s overwhelmed by emotion as he finds a dying 2B and her murderer standing atop her with a sword in hand, A2 closes her eyes and raises her sword to strike the final blow. With her last breath, she spots 9S and turns to him with the sweetest of smiles he had ever seen on her face, almost of relief and calls him by his nickname,
The sword comes down across her body in a flash and she lay lifeless on the floor.
9S lets out a shallow breath, he couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed and seethes with uncontrollable rage but a tremor nearby causes a collapse nearby which allows A2 to make a getaway with 9S in flailing pursuit. He falls down a ravine while chasing her and he remembered what the commander had told him regarding his newfound information and about the futility of the androids, “It’s up to you to decide. What path will you take?” He didn’t care anymore. All he wanted was revenge.
When he came to, he realized that he was back in the resistance camp, being nursed to health by Devola & Popola, the two red-haired veteran androids. He swears revenge and to destroy all machine lifeforms and most importantly take A2’s life; he soon heads out to investigate the white tower in the ruins in search of her, a newfound darkness within him causing him to intensely feel pure Hatred. He had never felt this strongly before. . .
Meanwhile, A2 is accompanied by 2B’s pod which has stated to help her after 2B’s demise. She finds out that her fuel filter needs replenishing and makes her way to Pascal hesitantly, she is distrustful of him at first but after seeing his pacifist tendencies, she starts to change her mind soon. They battle together to ward off the remaining hordes of machines in order to protect the young ones in hiding but later on when they return, to their horror, find that they had taken their own lives . . .out of fear; something that Pascal had taught them thinking it would serve them for the better.
Unable to cope with this terrible loss Pascal pleads for his memory to be wiped, or killed. A2 consents with the former.
After investigating the mysterious tower, 9S learns of two truths,
The first truth being that the black box inside every android and the core inside every machine life form are much the same, thus allowing the logic virus to corrupt either entities with equal damage.
The second truth being that the centuries old war between the machines and the androids was never designed to end at all. There was a backdoor to the bunker that inserts a debilitating virus into the androids mainframe as soon as the war reaches it’s climax, thus effectively wiping out the YorHa androids and allowing the machines to recuperate before a fresh batch is set to pick up where they left off.
Throughout all this, we see a steady decline in 9S’s mental health, who slowly loses his mind with the grief over 9S’s loss and the hatred towards A2 for killing her. He makes his way up to the tower helped by Devola and Popola’s sacrifice in fending off the machines. He finally makes it near the top where he is greeted by infected 2B clone units who looked just like her. He stares in disbelief as all his memories come crashing back to him. They start to attack him and he finally loses it and starts hacking them all apart out of sheer madness, and loses his arm in the process; he kills them all without regard and lies back panting in terror, he turns to his side and notices one of the clones next to him. Dead. Murdered by him. He lets the thought sink in.
“I killed her. I did this. . . . It hurts. Why does it hurt so much?”
He then proceeds to get up and to finish his mission. he had to kill A2. He rips off one of her arms and replaces his own severed limb, thus effectively corrupting himself further beyond repair. He didn’t care. He just wanted to kill her.
A2 also makes her way up to the tower where she is met by a familiar yet mysterious girl in a red dress who starts attacking her on sight. She finds out that this girl was in fact a computer program, and also the root cause of the war taking place on earth. She had effectively overseen the battles that took place between the two sides for centuries and thus thrived on conflict in order to grow. She knew she had to kill this vile machine. She starts to attack A2 meaning to kill her at first but after seeing the self-awareness and initiative displayed by 2B, 9S and A2, their core logic starts to change and they briefly start exhibiting bicameralism (one side starts to talk and the other listens and responds) with one side starts arguing stating that,
“We need more evolutionary pressure, if we allow this android to continue living, we can create even more hardships for ourselves. Overcoming the crisis this creates will help our kind to evolve even further!” to which the other argues saying that “The enemy is dangerous and ergo whoever supported it is also much the same, We have to kill them“
The saturated consciousness are in conflict with each other, and to her bewilderment, the android exclaims “Huh, well they’re acting like humans now aren’t they?”
However during this confusion, A2 was able to strike a fatal blow to the program (or what was a representation of it) and kills it. She finds out that it had been that very same program that ordered command to kill her party, (she had been the first batch of YorHa android units who were sent out to earth for experimental purposes and then discarded, hence she deserts them to become a wanderer) so in effect, she had now achieved her vengeance and she feels somehow light-hearted but then proceeds to the top of the tower anyways.
Upon reaching the top of the white tower, She finds 9S waiting for her; his eyes red with killing intent and sword in hand. He sneers at her and cries,
“You killed her! Now, you die!”
It’s here that A2 calmly looks at 9S with sympathy in her eyes, and reveals that 2B actually stood for the designation: 2E, a special type of YorHa android, who was designed to kill anyone who discovers the truth. She had been paired up with 9S, a highly intelligent scanner type, to make sure she killed him in case he got close to finding out the true mission of the androids. She also states that 2B was not aware of this till her last moment when she had realized her fate and begged A2 to kill her, and asked her to look over 9S in her stead.
9S takes in this information hard, realizing finally what 2B meant, when she claimed “It always ends like this”. He stutters and fights to hold back the tears when he thought of how many times she had had to kill him and erase his memories, only to be paired with him again with her pain and the burden of memories intact. He wept as he thought of how lonely she must have felt and realized the agony of her state.
“How many times had she gone through this? How much resentment did she harbor?”
He sucked in air inwardly. He wanted to die. He wanted no more of this torture, and before A2 could react,he jumped up and ran towards her, tears flowing from his eyes as he drove his sword through her chest and as hers ran through his.
As they both lie dying in their own pool of blood, A2 finds a semblance of peace in her final moments, thinking of all the centuries of hatred, struggle and loneliness she had suffered along, confessing to herself that, “I had never quite realized… how beautiful this world is… I’m coming everyone. . .”
She gasps her last breath and drifts away, finally mustering a smile on her face.
9S sees her dying and turns around on his back, chuckling to himself, finally glad that he will be freed from the torture of living whilst admitting that, “It doesn’t matter, but if it doesn’t matter. Why do I long for humans like this? Why do I desire the touch of something that no longer exists? perhaps it’s how we were made, our core programming demands that we – that we – ….what is this blinding white? the pain is gone. it’s so warm.”
9S finally dies in peace, free from his struggle and pain.
The next scene shows the screen going blank to show the two pods arguing with each other, considering the possibility of reconstructing the three deceased androids from parts salvaged in and around the tower. After arguing some more, they proceed to do it whilst claiming that the possibility of them fighting each other is still completely viable but at the same time having faith that a different future still existed saying,
A future is not given to you, it is something you must take for yourself!
The pods who are machines themselves, had gained a semblance of sentience.
The curtain closes on 9S and 2B resurrected and unconscious, lying next to another, awaiting their next meeting with each other. Their memories intact. . .
The final scene sees the white tower shooting off in space, an ark carrying all of the information about androids, machines and humans. To wander aimlessly for all eternity, looking for another planet to take refuge in, and to begin the war between the races,
All. Over. Again.