Described as iconoclastic and something of a loose cannon by those around him, Yoko has gained a fair amount of recognition for his unique storytelling approach. Compared to most JRPG's, which tend to be more on the idealism side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, Yoko's games are instead inspired by the bleak storytelling of titles like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Berserk. In other words, his games have a uniquely dark, relentlessly oppressive tone, with characters that are less than virtuous, often with unique, bizarre quirks. There are also very strong elements of Deconstruction and satire present, frequently parodying, lampshading, subverting, or mocking various JRPG and anime conventions. Additionally, his works also tend to contain various subjects commonly viewed as taboo, most notable but not limited around sexuality and the like. A big root of this is his fascination with the tendency for video games to be centered around mass violence and murder and how nonchalantly and casually many games and players treat it, to the point where both Drakengard 1 and NieR attempt to justify and contextualize why someone would do such a thing. Yoko has explained that he feels he must do this because there's no way his games could compete with the likes of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest if he didn't try to stand out somehow.
He is equally famous for being a Trolling Creator, including unusual gameplay design elements to engage in Playing the Player and Player Punch to great effect. Drakengard became infamous for its multiple endings which became progressively more difficult to unlock while simultaneously becoming more bizarre, depressing and surreal, culminating in an elaborate Gainax Joke Ending which royally pissed fans off. NieR is known for its unique use of New Game+, offering scenes and additional dialogue which completely transform your understanding of the narrative.
His rise to fame has been quite slow, as Drakengard was a cult hit at best. However, NieR ended up gaining a strong reputation as a Cult Classic over time, and its sequel, Automata, was met with financial success and critical acclaim, turning him into a well-known creator. Various interviews and blog entries by Yoko have since been translated, giving more insight into his opinions on game design and the creative process. He is, as you might expect, a rather strange fellow: a Reclusive Artist, who believes interviews to be a boring chore and frequently hides his visage via masks and sock puppets. Interviews with him paint him as a rather modest man, grateful for the opportunities he's been given and for both Square-Enix's and the fans' support.
On occasion he also works outside of the gaming scene, be it either supervising side materials or creating original works such as Thou Shalt Not Die.
Frequently Used Tropes:
- Auteur License: After the divisive Drakengard 2, he was put back as director for the series and given free reign to do as he pleases.
- Better Than a Bare Bulb: Going hand-in-hand with Deconstructor Fleet below, Yoko loves to poke fun at various video game clichés in various ways leading to some very Genre Savvy humor.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: In a promotional trailer for a Nier Automata T-shirt.Taro: Nier Automata T-Shirt! Nier Automata T-Shirt! Nier Automata T-Shirt! Nier Automata T-Shirt! Nier Automata T-Shirt! S**t Square Enix!
- Black Comedy: The guy has a very dark sense of humor and this reflects in the games, with jokes of killing and the like showing up every so often.
- Break the Cutie: The character who ends up suffering the most is almost always the most innocent and kind-hearted (Two in Drakengard 3, Emil in Nier, Pascal in Automata).
- Clarke's Third Law: In NieR's setting, the results of Drakengard's E ending makes the lines between magic, technology, magic derived from technology, and technology derived from magic rather blurry.
- Creator Thumbprint: A motif of three eyes, and the use of the Angelic Script.
- Dark Is Evil: Heavily subverted in Nier. The game initially appears to be playing the trope in a fairly standard manner, with the flawed but likable main characters (whose designs are primarily based on white and other light colors) facing against the villainous Shadowlord and his mindless Shade army. It is eventually revealed that the Shades are the original humans of the world (it's a little complicated), the Shadowlord just wanted his daughter back the same as you, and you killed thousands of innocents in your ignorance. Played straight with Caim and Kuroi, black-haired and darkly-clothed mass murderers. They are on the heroic side, too.
- Deconstructive Parody: Particularly to the JRPG genre.
- Deconstructor Fleet: For the sake of standing out and providing commentary on the industry, he seems to want to subvert and deconstruct as many genre, character, and even medium tropes as he can in his games.
- Dysfunction Junction: Pretty much all his main characters are either profoundly messed up or have some sort of strange quirk, and they often play a part in the aforementioned deconstructive elements of his games. Sometimes it goes straight into Cast Full of Crazy territory.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Any time his stories end in any sort of positive manner, the characters have to suffer immensely for it. This is very deliberate, as he does not believe that any story in which the main character kills hundreds of people in a war deserves a happy ending (referring to the first Drakengard's increasingly bizarre and demented endings). Only played straight in NieR: Automata.
- Eccentric Artist: This video alone should give you an idea of just how quirky this man is.
- Eye Scream: All of his main characters seem to have something up with their eyes. One of Caim's eyes is stabbed by Mana in Drakengard 2, father Nier has a Post-Time Skip Mask in the second half of the game, Zero has a cursed flower in one of her eye sockets, and the YoRHa soldiers of NieR: Automata have a piece of cloth covering both of their eyes.
- Gameplay and Story Integration: One of the more famous aspects of his storytelling and game design sensibilities is his willingness to use the medium in unusual ways to reinforce the story. A famous example is Ending D of the first NieR, which deletes all of your save data, reflecting Nier erasing his own existence to save Kainé.
- Harmful to Minors: Let's just say that children are not safe in his works.
- Implied Love Interest: While there are couples in his stories, they tend to be very downplayed and their relationships are usually not the focus of the narrative.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Many of his characters are very rough around the edges, but either have a soft side to begin with or grow one as the story goes along.
- Kill 'Em All: In his stories, characters tend to die by the droves and it is not uncommon for half the cast or more to be dead by the end. And that is just for the named characters.
- Mind Screw: One of the hallmarks of his style.
- Multiple Endings: All of his games have at least 4 endings so far, and unlike most games, getting all the endings is usually vital to understanding the full story and getting the most out of the narrative.
- New Game+: One of the key aspects of his games. Instead of merely being a second playthrough that's harder or easier, his games offer additional scenes, pieces of dialogue, branching paths leading to new endings, etc. Most notable in NieR which was engineered specifically to use the feature as a transformation of its narrative.
- Playing the Player: Is very aware of the general expectations of both the player and the medium and is very interested in playing with them to craft interesting experiences. Most notable in NieR.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: Averted. In fact, NieR goes out of its way to tear into this and tacitly point out that there are multiple sides to every story, and that just because you believe what you are doing is right doesn't make it so. The first Drakengard kept hammering the point that while he is fighting an evil empire that is about to destroy the world, Caim himself is a horrifying individual.
- Satellite Love Interest: Defied. Yoko has stated that he hates this trope, and as a result often subverts and deconstructs it, such as with Furiae of Drakengard.
- Self-Deprecation: Taro almost never has anything good to say about his own games, and frequently takes potshots at himself.
- Signature Style:
- Kids getting killed, aversion of Protagonist-Centered Morality, Multiple Endings, pretty boys or girls, and a quirky and bizarre sense of humor.
- The weapons the characters wield having tragic backstories behind them.
- Another hallmark of his style is to keep elements of the story and characters hidden until near the very end in order to make them appear static...until he pulls the rug out.
- Deliberately Monochrome for some of the most serious moments in the games (Ending E for Drakengard, the mansion in Nier due to Emil turning everything there to stone, Ending D of Drakengard 3, and The Bunker in NieR: Automata.)
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Actually played with a bit. While his works are often far on the cynical end of the spectrum, a strong central theme in many of them is hope that the main characters, and by extension the often very screwed-up societies they live in, can eventually learn from their mistakes and charge for the better; and that even in worlds as hopeless and cruel as the ones he creates, things like love, decency and personal sacrifice still matter.
- Sociopathic Hero: Most notable with Caim from Drakengard and Kuroi from Thou Shalt Not Die, neither of whom really merit being called a "hero" at all. Also applicable to a lesser degree for both Zero and Nier. They usually share a few similarities with Guts of Berserk fame, though only Caim has been explicitly confirmed to be based on him. The chief idea behind this is challenging the idea of heroism in games and pointing out that a person that engages in wanton murder of several people would most likely not be very nice or mentally stable, either to begin with and/or as a result of it.
- War Is Hell: A recurring theme in many of his stories is the utter pointlessness of war and the tragedy that often ensue from it, be it from the characters directly involved or those around them. It tend to most often be told through the use of subtle metaphors, though he isn't above being more blunt about it on occasion.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Discussed. After the events of 9/11, Yoko came to the conclusion that people don't need to be insane or evil in order to commit atrocities and kill people; they just need to believe that they are in the right. This led to the creation of Nier.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: One of the main themes of NieR, which featured several characters who aren't "human" in the traditional sense. NieR: Automata extends it into Do Androids Dream? territory by focusing more specifically on mechanical lifeforms.
- White Hair, Black Heart: Frequently zig-zagged and Played With. Many of his characters after NieR have white hair, with some of them being quite ruthless and rough-around the edges, such as Zero, but they don't necessarily play into the typical Japanese villain role in quite the way you'd first expect.