So, I’m getting a lot of notes on this post that are basically saying ‘oh wow, was nero good the whole time?’
and the answer is yes, FGO just scuffed up and overly sanitized her character.
Because Nero was such a good character. She was charming. Witty. Imperious. Passionate. Cruel. Competent. Honest-- overly so.
So, long-time followers of this blog know that I’m a resident Nero fan. Fate Nero Claudius is probably one of my favorite Sabers that got a really bad rap during FGO. And so here’s my absurdly long essay post explaining why.
Strap in. We’re going to the Golden Theater.
So, one of the main gripes that people have with Nero in FGO is that she’s like... overly dense and ditzy. She’s very self-centered, with no self-awareness, and therefore things always seem to end up going her way.
In EXTRA however, Nero was never meant to be a ditzy character. In all honesty, she was incredibly bright- especially when it came to analyzing others. Despite not being able to understand love, she understood how people worked on a technical levels. Their flaws, their vices, their weaknesses- because she was raised to know those things. She was raised by a snake and tossed into a pit of vipers, and could only gain headway via manipulation and conspiracy just like every other member of the Roman government. She’s a schemer, well-educated through the privilege of being taught by one of Rome’s best philosophers.
Everything she says, she says with superiority. She looks down at all of the other fighters in the Grail War, because they’re warriors. They aren’t kings- the only one remotely close is Vlad, and he’s too far gone to even really acknowledge. They’re footsoldiers. Rabble. The people she’d either be commanding, or those that she’d tell those under her command to squash. And so she doesn’t care what they think, because what’s one lone warrior to a Roman Emperor?
And her intelligence and arrogance isn’t unfounded- like many other Servants in the franchise, being summoned gave her an objective view of her life. She knows what she did wrong, she knows that she’s despised and hated, she knows that ‘Nero Claudius’ is a name synonymous with debauchery and shame. And in some cases- she is ashamed.
But at the same time, she’s proud. Because while her life wasn’t good- wasn’t perfect- wasn’t ideal for an emperor- it was hers. Through her delusion and tyranny, she lived as herself, and she arrogantly decides that therefore her life was worth living.
She’s self-aware, but she also understands herself.
She knows she’s not great. She knows she’s not the best Emperor that graced Rome. She admits so herself, actually commending her citizens for dealing with her, and not herself. And yet, she still strives to be the ‘great leader’ that comes with the title of ‘emperor’.
She’s a Saber because Sabers are supposed to be the best, and she’s an emperor so obviously she’s the best, so OBVIOUSLY she’s a Saber. It’s such a hilarious contrast to another Roman Saber like Caesar, who genuinely has more combat and renowned tactical experience, but is absolutely baffled as to why the Throne shoved a sword into his hands because he has the wisdom to understand that he’d be more effective as a different class. She is representative of Roman arrogance gone wild- and that wildness clouds her mind at times.
Because Nero isn’t stupid. She isn’t dense- she just gets blinded by her passions. If you put her in front of an opponent, or in front of a Senate, then she’ll crank out the most well-articulated, focused speech possible while carefully picking out and wearing down whatever weaknesses she can take care of.
You stick her on a stage, and she goes absolutely nuts.
I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite bits in EXTRA is when she’s regaling the plot of her favorite play to Hakuno... and the play is shit. There are too many twists. The plot goes everywhere and nowhere. There’s incest. Hakuno describes it as an ‘emotional orgy’. It ends with a literal Deus ex Machina. The play fucking sucks.
But she loves it because she loves to create art. She loves happy endings. She loves seeing love- writing love- every type of love that she can’t experience. The romance is messy, like an awkward teen writing their first fanfiction, but there’s still a sense of love and total lack of irony that makes it commendable in a sense. She wants to be an artist- she’s not good at art or singing, but she loves it, and that’s where her shortcomings lies.
She knows what love is, maybe not love between others, but love for the arts. And that love is how she’s able to get through to Hakuno. To love another is difficult- something she never experienced, so she makes it into something she can understand. She turns her sword into an instrument, her techniques into a dance, and her Master into the conductor. And through this elaborate performance, the show called the ‘Holy Grail War’, she gets it. She begins to understand.
She becomes ashamed. Embarrassed. Afraid. She objectively understands the weight of her name, but now she knows that it’s her name. She’s ‘Nero Claudius’. She’s the ‘Whore of Babylon’. And something like that would absolutely drive away the conductor that’s been with her, right? She’s an antagonist in the grand story of history, and her mediocre Master is the protagonist. She takes a genuine step into understanding herself, and realizes that love is scary, and it hurts, and so when she’s accepted- she’s overjoyed. It becomes another passion of hers, leading to her learning how to become a person who loves and can be loved.
Which presumably leads into CCC, as I quietly and excitedly wait for the translation to be completed.
But, let’s take a step back to FGO Nero. A common reasoning for her writing is that she’s ‘post-development’ from the Extra series- leaving her confident and prideful, with no doubts in her mind. But... weirdly enough, you can still see her Extra characterization in the Extella games.
Nero in Extella wants to rule the ‘right way’, this time. Her version of SERAPH is beautiful, ornate, and yet with Hakuno alongside her and Nameless advising her, she’s acting more practically. She still has her sardonic wit, as seen through her interactions with Tamamo (and her cruelty, as seen by the implication that she shoved Tamamo off the Moon Cell and tried to leave her for dead), though her arrogance towards others has been tempered slightly as now the other Servants of the Moon Cell are assisting her and not enemies. Nero is trying to fulfil the ideals of an ‘emperor’ and ‘someone who can be loved’, which makes her a bit overbearing, and maybe a bit snippy at times, but she’s trying- and you see her continue to try in Link.
She’s making the effort to be the emperor she should have been, while still trying to live life her way.
FGO Nero isn’t making that effort. She’s not a Nero ‘post-character development’, she’s a Nero that ‘skipped her character development’. Nero is a character that shines in adversity, stands tall over insults and looks down on others as she graciously lends her advice in order to bring them to what she considers ‘her level’. She isn’t faced with that adversity in FGO.
She’s stuck with a mediocre Master in Guda like Hakuno, but in a gacha game, she can’t admit that. Extra Nero constantly picks out Hakuno’s flaws. Scolds them. Tells them what they’re doing wrong and when (all of the Extra Servants do, really)-- but that isn’t present in FGO. Because gacha players don’t want to roll for a Servant that will do nothing but point out how average they are- they want to get a waifu that’ll praise them from Day 1.
Nero isn’t ‘all-loving’, she ‘sees the beauty in all’. There’s a difference, and FGO missed that difference. There are traits she ardently dislikes. Actions that anger her. Personalities that cause her blatant irritation. Nero is cruel, but also merciful- but her mercifulness should be seen as a kindness. Something to be earned, not a right. She’s good, but not nice, and even then-- ‘good’ is subjective to her.
Can you even imagine FGO!Nero making a comment like this?
And it’s such a shame that Nero’s best portrayal is trapped behind an old PSP game that most people recommend skipping because of awkward combat mechanics.
Though, maybe that’ll change with the release of Extra Record.