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.