Nier Automata's secret church mystery explained: genius marketing, modding stunt, or total hoax?

Nier Automata anime teaser trailer
(Image credit: Square Enix)

The Nier Automata secret church mystery continues to spiral out of control, with new videos raising more questions than they answer, and the game's community expanding as furiously as it implodes.

What started as a possible Easter egg has evolved into a wild goose chase involving countless modders, lore masters, and intrigued newcomers. A single inexplicable room has given the Nier community a sense of excitement normally reserved for new games. Let us bring you up to speed on this weird, wild saga. 

The history of the secret church 

this_is_the_church_area_that_i_was_talking_about from r/NieRAutomataGame

This tumultuous saga is the work of Reddit user sadfutago, who first posted about the mysterious Nier Automata church on June 10, the same day their Reddit account was made. 

"Hello, I'm new to Reddit and want to know how to open the church in Nier Automata," they said in a brief post on the Nier fanart subreddit, which has now been flooded with incredulous comments. The same day, they asked the Nier Automata game subreddit the same question, and the community was understandably confused because nobody knew of such a church. 

Four days later, sadfutago shared two screenshots taken inside the church they described – or rather, taken of the screen, seemingly with a phone. They said they entered the church via a door in the Copied City after the boss fight with Adam, but noted that their friend was unable to replicate this in their game. This post was initially deleted by the Nier Automata subreddit's automod (it's now been restored), but on June 15 it was also posted to the larger mainline Nier subreddit, which is when the mystery really took off. 

Nier fans were immediately perplexed, in no small part because back in January 2021, Nier Automata director Yoko Taro personally confirmed that the game's final secret, a true-blue cheat code, had been found

On June 18, sadfutago followed up with a short video of A2, one of Nier Automata's many playable protagonists, making her way to the hidden door they'd described. The video was seemingly filmed with a phone and the footage ended right as the door opened, which raised some red flags among curious onlookers. 

hello_here_is_the_video_of_the_path_to_the_church from r/nier

As fans debated whether there was anything to this discovery, sadfutago disappeared for about a month. Out of nowhere on July 25 – one day after making a profile post claiming they'd forgotten their Reddit password and wanted to reset it – sadfutago shared a new, longer video of the alleged secret. 

hello_here_is_the_video_for_the_clip_i_recorded from r/nier

This time, they showed A2 going through the hidden door and down a massive shifting corridor – but again, no church. Lance McDonald, a known PlayStation sleuth and the player who discovered the aforementioned Nier Automata cheat code, shared this video on Twitter, and it's since racked up over three million views from that tweet alone. 

McDonald's involvement gave the whole thing a thicker air of mystery. He was quick to note that "it’s not yet possible to mod Nier Automata in this way, if anyone is curious if this is fake," and with that, the fuse had been lit. Sadfutago was just dancing around the hornet's nest before, but with this video they had officially kicked it.

And on July 26, sadfutago posted another, longer video which finally took us inside the church. 

hello_i_get_lots_of_messages_and_i_cant_read_them from r/nier

Opening the door connected to the church appears to be a scripted event, as it triggers a brief, black-bar cutscene showing off the interior. At the heart of the church, a distorted cursed figure prays to an alabaster corpse with a white lily sprouting from their chest – a motif that Nier fans are plenty familiar with, and one that could easily pass for a Nier Replicant Easter egg. The video continues but there's seemingly nothing else of importance inside the church apart from an oddly placed treasure chest, and this becomes much more important in sadfutago's latest posts. 

i_think_my_game_has_a_glitch_since_i_keep_going from r/nier

On July 28, sadfutago posted two new videos within hours of each other. The first video introduces a blocky boss fight triggered by 9S – not A2 this time – hacking that curious treasure chest, and the second, longer video shows sadfutago defeating this boss and interacting with a statue near the back of the church hall. This bird bath-like fixture poses three questions ripped straight from the final chapter of Nier Replicant – in Japanese, for some reason, though sadfutago's game is in English. 

This boss and the sealed text log it was apparently guarding can be found elsewhere in Automata, but this video seems to draw yet another connection to the events of Replicant. Players are now hoping to see footage of sadfutago answering all three of the statue's questions correctly, working off the assumption that the answers are the same as they were in Replicant. 

A limited developer response

Nier Automata

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Nier fans have been divided over the legitimacy of this secret church since June, and because nobody has been able to find or access this area on their own, many modders are convinced that it's some sort of elaborate hoax. 

The hopeful believe that this is a proper ARG campaign leading to a new announcement for Nier or Drakengard, the series that acted as a sort of incubator for Nier's dramatic stories. Some reckon this is all a marketing stunt meant to drum up interest ahead of the Nintendo Switch version of Nier Automata launching October 6

Others believe it's a joke orchestrated by Nier series director Yoko Taro. Nier Automata producer Yosuke Saito joked about this possibility in a tweet addressing the mysterious church after the story spread to Japanese outlet Automaton, but unsurprisingly, Taro himself has only broken his usual silence to confirm that he can't comment on the situation – and to add that he loves beer and sausages

I reached out to publisher Square Enix to see if they had any thoughts on the situation. A representative told me that, "unfortunately we won’t be able to provide a comment," and they haven't elaborated beyond that. I've also reached out to sadfutago directly but haven't heard back. 

Nier Automata experts weigh in

Nier Automata

(Image credit: Square Enix)

With sadfutago MIA and no official details to go on, Nier fans started poking through the game's assets and reexamining what they know about the mod scene. Someone was quick to share a noclip tool on NexusMods specifically designed to break through the Copied City's walls in search of the secret church, but the uploader says they didn't find anything. Reddit sleuths pointed out that Nier Automata often only loads in specific assets once the player triggers something in the world, which would support the theory that this church is the result of an incredibly rare interaction hidden somewhere in the game, but that's been largely debunked. 

More recently, a full-fledged rebuttal to sadfutago's claims was shared on Reddit, led by a modder named Meowsandstuff. In addition to comparisons to Nier Replicant assets, they claim that differences in lighting and ambient occlusion between sadfutago's videos demonstrate that the secret area is not only fan-made and running on PC (not PS4 as is claimed), but that it was also updated and re-rendered between sadfutago's posts. 

"Whether it is a mod created using official dev tools/SDK or custom tool is yet to be 100% confirmed," the document reads, "though the latter is likely, given specifics such as the church cutscene’s lack of interpolation for its camera movement and camera cuts (note that there is a slight shake for several frames when a camera cut occurs in the new cutscene). The voice lines are also recycled from an earlier point in the game. Either way, this is clearly the work of a very talented, experienced person." 

Nier Automata

(Image credit: Square Enix)

An early theory proposed that sadfutago had somehow gotten their hands on a pre-release build of the game which included content that may have been cut or made off-limits by a launch update. But after scanning the earliest archived builds of Nier Automata, modders have largely moved away from this theory. The "sadfutago debunked" proponents are therefore operating under the assumption that this is all a mod which was apparently siloed off from the game's mainstream mod scene. It's not an airtight explanation, but it does have some compelling evidence behind its claims. 

Others like Redditor _emoose_ have pointed to unused assets spotted in a data mined beta version of the Copied City map, which could explain some of sadfutago's footage. This doesn't fit the church interior shown in the videos, but the surrounding buildings visible through the windows of this mystery church do line up with archived assets, including a building model thought to have originated in Bayonetta 2, which developer Platinum Games released three years before Nier Automata. 

This could leave the door open for a mod grafted onto an unused level, but it could also bring the line of thinking back into the realm of an Easter egg. However, the working theory at this point is that nothing short of modded content could explain this secret because many of the church's assets cannot be found in any known version of Nier Automata.

To help get to the bottom of things, we spoke to three top Nier modders who are working to recreate this mystery church for themselves.  

Who is sadfutago? 

Nier Replicant remaster

(Image credit: Square Enix)

A non-trivial chunk of this whole investigative process has focused on sadfutago rather than the photos and videos they've shared. Their internet presence is limited and could fit the profile of a run-of-the-mill troll, though if they are just trolling, their efforts go far beyond the usual red herrings and jokes. Some people even think they're a bot designed to sow chaos. 

Even their username, which can be translated to "sad twins," perhaps in reference to Nier's iconic redheads Devola and Popola, has come into question. However, they say it's a simple reference to a "clan," presumably either a gaming clan they've made with their friends or a clan in another game or series.

Sadfutago was verified on the Nier modding Discord in the midst of all this chaos, and though they've yet to share a new video of this purported secret area, they've been pretty forthcoming with minor details. Asked how they opened the secret door the first time, they said: "I don't know I was killing robots with my friend to level up and then it said I could open the door. I thought it was an item." 

Many users have mentioned sadfutago's curt and sometimes wonky verbiage, but based on a gallery of photos they shared on Discord when asked about their Nier Automata case and disc, their native language is French, and this would explain the perceived language barrier. 

Sadfutago's Discord comments also fit with their Reddit comment history, which is important to note because there have already been confirmed copycats. Redditor Alexray35 spotted a fresh NexusMod project shared by someone with the same username, but it was quickly deleted after fans decided it was an ARG smokescreen looking to hijack the community's hype. 

What do we know for sure? 

Nier Automata

(Image credit: Square Enix)

This is one of the strangest moments in the Nier community's long, strange history, and we're still desperate for more information at this point. Everyone is constantly waiting for sadfutago's next video with bated breath. All we know is that someone has seemingly created a secret area within Nier Automata, nobody has been able to replicate or completely disprove it, and even the game's developer and publisher won't talk candidly about it. If this does turn out to just be Yoko Taro in a trench coat hyping up an announcement, give the man the budget for whatever game he wants to make. 

 Since the publication of this explainer, Nier Automata's secret church mystery was revealed to be the result of unprecedented new modding tools.  

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 senior 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, all while playing as many roguelikes as possible.