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Meet the Nier Automata modders recreating its mysterious secret church while the community explodes

Nier Automata
(Image credit: Square Enix)

Update - July 29: The truth has been revealed. This whole performance was an elaborate, extremely on-brand way to announce unprecedented Nier modding tools that will change the face of fan-made Nier Automata content. One of the masterminds behind this and the sadfutago persona was none other than Woeful_Wolf, who we consulted for this article, and who did a marvelous job of concealing their role. Meowsandstuff, another modder who was working on the community's church recreation with Woeful_Wolf's help, was as shocked as we were when the curtain was finally pulled back. 

"I was definitely very surprised, since [Woeful_Wolf] had only been helping me get it working the night before where nothing seemed amiss at all," Meowsandstuff tells me. "I'd love to know what he was thinking when he was helping me get the church set up. He told me he wasn't sure how to get the bounding boxes working, though secretly he had it automated in those new tools which is actually hilarious. I probably blew out the ear drums of everyone in the VC as soon as Wolf and DevolasRevenge's names popped up in those credits."

We'll update our reporting as we learn more. You can read our original story about the Nier modding community's proactive, hands-on reaction to this great mystery below. 

Original story follows…

Nier Automata's secret church has an iron grip on the game's community, and that grip tightens with every new video from sadfutago, the mysterious Reddit user conducting this runaway train. Sadfutago's bombshell posts have rapidly developed from screenshots of a never-before-seen door to videos of a hidden church, secret boss, and – a Nier fan's favorite snack – potential lore. Tens if not hundreds of thousands are hanging on a random Redditor's every word, and almost every day brings new revelations. 

By all accounts, none of the content in sadfutago's videos should exist or even be possible in Nier Automata as we know it. It's taken the entire community and its many modders back to the drawing board, and they've been painstakingly whittling down possible explanations as sadfutago continues to defy expectations. Is it publisher Square Enix or developer Platinum Games pulling a fast one to drum up Nier hype ahead of an announcement? Is it the famously playful director Yoko Taro having a laugh? Is this some one-in-a-million secret that everybody missed until now? Or is this the work of a genuine modder who's somehow gotten lightyears ahead of everyone else? I spoke to multiple lead modders from the Nier Modding Discord (opens in new tab) to help put this chaos into perspective. 

How do you make this?  

Nier Automata

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Meowsandstuff is the head author on the hefty "sadfutago debunked (opens in new tab)" document which argues that sadfutago's videos were captured on PC (not PS4, as sadfutago claims) and rules out the possibility that this is all just an overlooked Easter egg. Woeful_Wolf, meanwhile, is a veteran of the game's mod scene from the frontlines of tool development. And Grojdg has been helping them and a play tester recreate sadfutago's mystery church. This crack team has already produced a rough draft of it, albeit a functionally unplayable one.

I can only think of a very, very small handful of people who might be able to pull something like this off

Woeful_Wolf

The working theory is that sadfutago's posts have to be the result of modded content. "Relentless datamining of multiple release builds (and playthrough of one pre-release build) of the game, including the same one sadfutago claims to play on, has turned up no evidence in favor of the existence of the church," Meowsandstuff explains. Woeful_Wolf notes that we can't 100% disprove the possibility that sadfutago really is some average joe that got hold of a one-in-a-million version, but the odds are infinitesimal.

The thing is, if it is a mod, the variety and detail of the secret church goes against Nier Automata mod conventions. Woeful_Wolf notes that the sound scripting, camera scripting, and cutscening used for the church's intro don't have any known mod support. Opening the chest near the altar, waking up the black blocky boss, and even scripting new dialogue is also stuff they've "never seen done before." Even the limitations of Nier Automata's basic asset collision have thrown a wrench into their group's recreation of the church; drawing it up is one thing, but Meownsandstuff says making it playable "presents its own set of issues that will need to be solved over time."

Nier Automata mod

Rough, work-in-progress assets for the secret church and the massive drop leading to it, shared by Meowsandstuff in the Nier Modding Discord  (Image credit: Meowsandstuff / Square Enix)

"We can get farther than we thought with our current tools which revolve mostly around model mods," Grojdg says. "People love modding in their favorite characters to play as, or you know, change every enemy to an Among Us crewmate. It's more engine and game specific stuff that gets tricky because implementation can look very different across games." 

"We are going to continue to chip away at making a mod like this ourselves as we now know that there isn't anything else for us to do but wait for whoever sadfutago is to give us updates," Grojdg concludes. "Presumably, either official or modded, it was started to generate hype. So if the hype dies down, they are forced to make their next move."

Who could make this?  

Nier Automata

(Image credit: Square Enix)

While modders work to reverse-engineer an unprecedented mod that was itself seemingly reverse-engineered, the community's rife with speculation over who sadfutago really is and what their goals are. The comments, photos, and videos they've posted to Reddit and Discord suggest they're a French Canadian minor – it's a long story, but it checks out – who found and shared a wild secret, but the implications of their alleged discovery have sparked much wilder theories. 

Either they have some sort of development tools access, making it official, or it's the next generation of modding

Woeful_Wolf

"Honestly, I've switched sides so many times since joining," Meowsandstuff admits. "I want to believe it's [Yoko Taro] having a fine cackle at us given that it is perfectly on-brand for him, but the evidence seems to point towards this being a seasoned modder or software developer with reverse-engineering experience. We also have reason to believe that the secret church is unrelated to the impending Switch release of Automata (at least it is likely not a marketing campaign), convenient as it may be." 

"I can only think of a very, very small handful of people who might be able to pull something like this off," Woeful_Wolf says. "It's very exciting for the modding scene if it is [real] and released publicly!" 

"A lot of what we have seen is crazy and never seen before in the modding scene," they add. "All I can definitely say from my experience is that Nier Automata is a very tricky game to mod. Everything is completely closed source. Very few resources online. Hell, we don't even know the name of the game engine. 90% of our time is staring at Hex just to get the most basic of results. So either they have some sort of development tools access, making it official, or it's the next generation of modding." 

"Sadfutago would've had plenty of time to get their mod running in-game if it is indeed one; more than a few months," Meowsandstuff adds. 

Why would you make this?

Nier Replicant remaster

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Sadfutago's latest posts have also raised some theories about the story and origins of this presumed mod. The newest videos of the church interior show a figure of black blocks awakening after sadfutago, playing as 9S instead of A2 this time, hacks a chest placed near the enshrined model of a character thought to be Yonah, a female lead from Nier Replicant. Shooting Yonah's still, stone model doesn't do anything, but this blocky boss attacks 9S as soon as the chest is hacked. 

i_think_my_game_has_a_glitch_since_i_keep_going from r/nier

The chest contains a text log for a "Class 1 Patient Health Record (opens in new tab)" which loosely discusses the illness Yonah battles in the original Nier. This log is normally found in the library of Automata's end game tower. Meanwhile, the model and attacks for this blocky boss are seen elsewhere in Nier Automata, and defeating it apparently involves the hacking minigame used throughout the 9S route. More confusing is the bird bath-like statue which is accessible after defeating the boss. This familiar statue comes with dialogue prompts seemingly ripped straight from Replicant's end game – a quiz of moralities that you have to pass before reaching a villain who kidnaps and all but worships Yonah. As of now, we don't have any footage of sadfutago answering all three questions correctly. 

Bizarrely, while sadfutago's copy of Nier Automata is French and their game language is set to English, the statue's dialogue alone is in Japanese. Stranger still, a reliable Japanese translator pointed out that there's an oddly specific difference between the original wording in Replicant and the text seen in sadfutago's video, with a single out-of-place character seemingly changing a line about asking to spying or closely examining. This could be a typo or – tighten that tinfoil hat – a hint.  

Nier Replicant remaster

(Image credit: Square Enix)

This isn't the first time that Nier Automata's secret church has been linked to Nier Replicant characters and assets, but it is the most obvious example yet. One popular theory equates the blocky boss to the villain who kidnapped Yonah in Replicant, and if that was the angle of the person behind this, they've nailed Nier's dramatic sense of romanticism. 

"They are interesting touches," Grojdg says of the Replicant assets. "One could presume that they're in there for less modeling work to be done by the modder, but if they can already create things like the initial dropdown room and twisted hallway, they probably wouldn't need any extra shortcuts? Perhaps it's a hint that this is indeed new content as the Replicant models that were used were released much later after Nier, especially the Yonah model." 

The mod project to recreate the secret church is still fresh, sadfutago is posting more frequently but also more cryptically, and Nier modders and lore masters are rapidly running out of hair to pull out. This saga has been going strong for a few days now, but almost all of these major developments have surfaced within the last 24 hours at the time of writing - that's how fast this scene is evolving. And even after all of this, there are still so many uncertainties. If nothing else, sadfutago, whoever they are, has successfully lit a fire under modders and given a five-year-old game the kind of energy that new releases would kill for. As Woeful_Wolf puts it, "even in the last few days the amount of people interested in joining us in modding this wacky game has increased tenfold!" 

Austin Wood
Austin Wood

Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature.