On Drakengard's Ending E.
This is an especially frustrating topic to write about. I am not typically one that feels much reverence for things as “established canon” or even caring much about lore, in general. Each game is its own isolated work, it may have connections inferred by its previous piece, but it should be able to stand on its own merits. This combined franchise, Drakengard and Nier, does all have entries that stand on their own merits, as well, so caring about any sort of established connection between each of them is kind of a tenuous balancing act on its own.
With that said, however, this is meant to be reflections on the typical convention of gaming conversation. Things that have infested my brain and won't go away until I get these thoughts out through the written word. In this case, we're discussing the oft repeated sentiment, “Nier is the continuation of Drakengard's joke ending.”
Drakengard's Ending E is pretty notoriously well known, a giant woman seemingly made of stone—the Queen Beast—falls into Japan, with the protagonist and his dragon companion going along to fight them. There's a difficult fight where you have to match the musical tones coming out of it by hitting two different buttons to match the patterns. It's quite a departure from the rest of the game, to be sure, and ends with the Japanese military shooting down and destroying the dragon. These events then lead into Nier because the otherworldly entities of the Queen Beast and the dragon spread disease and magic into the world as a way of setting up the plots of Nier, which of course came some many years later and probably was not originally planned to set up a sequel.
However, as wild as this ending is, I'm not ready to call it “the joke ending”. Drakengard, Drakengard 3, Nier: Replicant (specifically the re-release), and Nier: Automata all have endings that go from A to E, and they seem to follow the pattern of further expanding on what came before. You cannot see Ending B, before Ending A for example, as Ending B wouldn't make sense without the context of Ending A. There's a small exception in Nier: Automata, in that Ending C and Ending D are choices made and can be viewed either way, but beyond that this remains true.
I feel somewhat baffled by the assertion that just Drakengard's Ending E is a joke. Nier: Automata, which tends to be the most well known of the entire series, I think the consensus is that Ending E is the “true ending” of the game, for as much as that concept holds weight. We'll probably get to that concept at a later date. Drakengard 3's Ending E almost mirrors Drakengard's and, in fact, sets up stuff that is referenced even in the loading screens of Nier: Replicant.
Even if we just look at Drakengard alone, Ending D is when the Queen Beast shows up with a bunch of giant flying babies, all coming out of the sky into the fantasy world. If this is still deemed part of the serious section, why is it that going to modern day Japan is when the individual's disbelief is suddenly shattered and it gets deemed as a joke? It isn't a phenomenon I've encountered, personally. I assume it elicits laughter and that is why it is considered a joke. Yet, I believe it is possible this is meant to be read with all sincerity.
In general, it seems consensus tends to fluctuate when it comes to readings of Japanese games. A lot of games in the Super Nintendo era tend to get read as being more comical, and more like Saturday Morning cartoons. Where as the more modern Japanese games tend to get interpreted as “taking themselves too seriously” with their melodramatic prose. Yet, it wouldn't surprise me if the intent behind both styles of games was exactly the same, and either due to just translation or cultural differences paired with the graphical differences between generational gaps, they are considered to be different in tone by western audiences.
Regardless, I think it's strange that the consensus has declared the ending to be a joke, when the rest of what came after simply states that not only does Ending E occur, but that all Ending Es in subsequent titles are also vitally important to the thesis of each game's plot. I think it's time to retire calling it a joke. It can still be an ending one doesn't like, but that requires different language and thought to explain an individual's thoughts as to why.