Tag Archives: Analgesic Productions

2018 Game Review Haiku, #16 – All Our Asias

Polygonal realm
Holds memories and answers
Surreal sounds abound

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

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All Our Asias surreally explores Yuito’s dying father’s mind

Even the Ocean was one of my favorite games in 2016. Analgesic Productions crafted a game of platforming and exploring, with just the right amount of challenge to not make it feel like a cakewalk, while also weaving a tale of friendship and loss and impending doom that, to this day, still sits inside me, gnawing at my stomach. Aliph’s quest to fix a bunch of power plants to stop the foretold invasion of flood-bringing monsters is not a straightforward affair, nor a happy one, but it’s something she does because…someone has to take charge. More power to her, if you ask moi.

Similarly, Yuito’s mission in All Our Asias is also on a bit of a time-crunch. This is a completely free to play, surreal as surreal gets 3D adventure, about Asian-America, identity, race, and nationality. It comes from Sean Han Tani, one part of Analgesic Productions and the co-creator of Anodyne, which, alas, I’ve still not gotten to play. In this one, you play as Yuito, a Japanese-American hedge fund analyst in his early thirties. His estranged father is dying, and it’s too late for Yuito to communicate with him; however, thanks to advances in technology, despite his father being on life support, he can enter his father’s Memory World, which is a supernatural landscape full of the man’s experiences and secrets. The technology is nascent, and the process is risky, but Yuito has questions and wants answers.

Gameplay is twofold–walking and talking. To explore this Memory World, Yuito glides around inside a tiny tank-like vehicle, something that instantly made me think of that bright red tank from the PlayStation 1 Ghost in the Shell game (I briefly experienced it via one of those demo discs). You’ll find people to chat with, who will often guide you to the next area or offer a tidbit of info about this strange, hypnagogic realm. He’s trying to learn more about his father, but not everyone is forthcoming with information; in fact, there’s an entire sidequest about restaurants and instituting new tax policies that I didn’t entirely understand or see how it was connected to the big picture, though it does tackle issues about race and shared sympathy and other sensitive topics generally not explored by this medium. Movement is slow, most likely deliberate, which gives you time to observe the environment and eat up the soundtrack. You can do a short-hover jump to help with ledges and staircases, but this is by no means a puzzle platformer, and beating the game gives you a cool upgrade to help speed exploring up…though I didn’t feel compelled to keep playing.

I genuinely love the look of All Our Asias. Sure, my first gaming console was the Super NES, but when I eventually did that terrible thing of trading in a ton of my games to get credit to buy a PlayStation 1 from Toys”R”Us, rest in forthcoming peace, I was taking a big step, one that would forever impact my history with gaming. Here was a console I was getting myself, not as a birthday or Christmas gift, but through the sacrifice of others, and boy was I going to get the most out of this system. I played the heck out of Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Bushido Blade, Silent Hill, The Granstream Saga, Chrono Cross, Resident Evil, and so on. I become one with low resolutions and polygons, with fog designed to purposely mask load times or pop-in, with in-game character models with next to no details beside shapes and some color. Exploring All Our Asias forces your imagination to see things bigger and better, to look past its flat textures and chunky models; it’s a blend of walking simulator-esque gameplay and emotionally complex storytelling, drenched in 32-bit visuals, and I love it.

Sound-wise, All Our Asias is a dream. Again, I’m never not lost on the difficulty of describing music via words, but please, take a listen. It’s soft, it’s mesmerizing, it’s soothing. You’ll at once feel like you are floating above a city skyline on a gorgeous September morning while also zipping through the innards of a dying man’s mind where thoughts and memories race against each other, fighting for attention, scrambling for security. Somehow, the soundtrack never overtakes the story, but provides ambiance and a haunting sense of dread, and I can’t get over how pretty of a tune “Somewhere’s Meadow” and “What Will He Retain?” are for the ears. Getting lost a couple of times and unsure of where to proceed next wasn’t frustrating, as it just meant I got to listen to some more songs.

Right. All Our Asias is not perfect and certainly not for everyone. It’s focus on narrative and slowly moving towards the next story beat will probably feel like a chore for many; however, I found myself instantly sucked into this world, curious to know more, much like Yuito himself. I won’t stand here and say I understood everything it was going for and definitely could not relate to some of its themes, but your mileage may vary, and you won’t know until you give it a click.

In Even the Ocean, an unassuming power plant technician rises up

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Even the Ocean has a lot to say. Sometimes the game says it out loud, other times it’s in the silence, the awkwardness, the looming dread. To be honest, it wasn’t everything I thought it would be, but in 2016, in this age of Internet spoilbreathers and big budget over-promoting with trailers every odd week, that’s a welcomed surprised. For starters, I entered Even the Ocean‘s beautiful if troubled world without having touched Anodyne, the previous independent videogame from Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka, also known as Analgesic Productions. Seems like I’ll need to work backwards for now.

The easy, one-two punch is that Even the Ocean is a heavy on the narrative, puzzle platformer about balance, about balancing. Not just the light and dark energies that hold the world together and keep Aliph, our unassuming power plant technician of a protagonist, alive, but also the balance of work and free time, of not overdoing it, of dreams and demands. Basically, Whiteforge City goes from good to bad after a routine maintenance trip to a local power plant takes a wrong turn, leaving Aliph in a position to show what she can do. Mainly, maneuvering safely through dangerous puzzles and solving those light-bouncing conundrums we’re all familiar with after things like Beyond Good and Evil and every Professor Layton title. With Mayor Biggs backing her, she’ll travel the continent, moving from power plant to plant and elsewhere, to save the city she now calls home from total destruction.

Gameplay is structurally straightforward, possibly on purpose, a mix of puzzles, platforming, and chatting. Mayor Biggs will assign a number of downed power plants to Aliph to investigate, and then you can pick which one she’ll tackle first. Each plant (or location) is more or less a puzzle maze, with learning how to navigate rooms blocking your progress. These places have their own theme and teach you, the player, something new about Aliph’s abilities, something vital. One area focuses hard on her maintaining the right balance of energy as she moves between energy-sapping blocks of color, another is all about timing jumps on moving platforms, and one will have you carrying items while avoiding heat-seeking enemies. I personally liked the puzzles involving using her shield the most. There are also non-platforming sections, like in Whiteforge City, which has you exploring different areas via menu selections and speaking with locals to learn more about the world and your place in it.

Let me explain more about the energy system since it is Even the Ocean‘s big draw. Aliph has a shield and bar of energy, represented at the bottom of the screen as chunks of blue and purple. The energy bar greatly affects her maximum running speed and jump height. When the energy slants one way too much, she’ll either jump higher and run slower or vice versa. Sometimes this is inevitable, and other times you’ll need to drop or increase to a certain amount for puzzle reasons. Discovering the when and where for this is a lot of fun and extremely rewarding, though a part of me had a hard time trying to constantly keep the bar sitting pretty at 50/50. If you go too far in one direction, the energy will consume Aliph, reloading you at the last checkpoint, of which, thankfully, there are many.

Even the Ocean is stylish as heck, both in its looks and sounds. The music is oftentimes soft, but moody, lingering behind every jump Aliph makes. It can get real pretty too, soothing, safe-sounding notes to provide comfort in dark times. I really liked a lot of the sound design too, from the noise the statue makes when saving your progress to Aliph pulling up her shield to even the simple pit-pit-pit of the dialogue boxes. The pixel art is…look, I love pixel art. I am never afraid to say pixel art is beautiful, is great, and Even the Ocean‘s art design is stellar. Commonplace locations, like a forest or beach, are enhanced with weird, unfamiliar flora. Many might see this whole thing as yet another 2D indie platformer with retro graphics, but it is more than that. The locations are unique and interesting, like Clearbreeze Island, home to a giant telepathic starfish. Also, every character portrait feels plucked from real life…though I have no way to prove that. Hmm, I wonder who Humus actually is.

Truth be told, not everything worked for me. I didn’t understand why there couldn’t be a single map or mini-map when traversing the overworld. Now, after exploring it fully, the world is not that big and it is impossible to get lost, but having to equip specific maps was a tad tedious to the point that I only relied on it for one puzzle-pertinent part. I also found the inclusion of an inventory misleading and unnecessary, as the number of items added to it over the adventure is slim, and it is as functional and as fun as reviewing your “key items” in any ol’ RPG. Y’know, the ones you can’t do anything with, but carry to the credits. Lastly, I was hoping to find more in the world, in the “dungeons”…some secrets or hidden doodads, but Even the Ocean isn’t about wasting time on inconsequential pick-ups to satisfy us collectible fanatics. At least you unlock some dev commentary buttons after completing the game to explore at your leisure.

At times, over my six hours with Even the Ocean, I was reminded strongly of other adventures, which shouldn’t be shocking. Everything is linked, in one way or another. As Aliph entered each new environment brimming with locked doors, unreachable floors, dangers, and offbeat characters, I thought of Knytt Underground. As Aliph jumped from wall to wall, shifting her energy balance to allow for extra speed, I thought of Super Meat Boy and Mega Man X. The game, at least on the normal playthrough setting, never becomes brutal or punishing, though a few puzzles did take a few tries until I learned the trick to making it through them alive, if leaning hard towards one color of energy. As Aliph took breaks after each plant to check in with Whiteforge City and her friend Yara, I thought of Persona 4 and schedules and the use of repetition. Of its story and conclusion, I couldn’t help but think of Shadow of the Colossus and The Last of Us, of our current political landscape and the hardships many face every day, of persevering against unlikely odds.

Here’s my suggestion: dip your toes into Even the Ocean. Wade in slowly, letting your skin become used to the temperature, to the ripples. When you are ready, comfortable enough, dive down. Submerge yourself. The flood is coming. Now it’s time to find out how well you can swim. Don’t worry–if the waves are too rough, too relentless, you can always play through it on Story Mode. In fact, I plan to do just that for my second go-around.

A review copy of the game was provided to me by Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka from Analgesic Productions LLC.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #76 – Even the Ocean

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Here comes the flood, world
Check your balances–light, dark
Heed Aliph’s story

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.