Tag Archives: narrative

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.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #10 – Back to the Future: The Game

Doc’s life needs saving
Back to prior Hill Valley
Fun story, a cinch

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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #106 – In the Darkness of the Sea

Lost, ocean drifting
Watch out for whales and waves, boy
No explanation

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #102 – Takume: The Dreaming Daughter

Walk from left to right
Talk to all, search for sister
Short story, not game

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Oxenfree’s supernatural coming-of-age story nails teen talk

Oxenfree from Night School Studios got the distinct honor of ranking number four on my Top 10 Videogames I Didn’t Get to Play in 2016 list. I had originally tried buying the game during the Christmas holiday sale, but this was back when my Xbox One decided to stop working when it came to accessing the store and other menu options, and so I moved on. Then, thanks to the Humble Day of the Devs 2016 bundle, I got a copy on Steam for a few bucks, but just never got around to installing and/or launching it. Thankfully, my waiting and reluctance-ness paid off, as Oxenfree is a Games with Gold freebie for this month, which means I got to play it comfortably from the couch with a controller in my hand. Woo, go me, go waiting.

What is Oxenfree? Y’know, other than a word most famously known for its use as a catchphrase in hide and go seek. Well, it’s a supernatural thriller starring a group of teenage friends who accidentally open up a ghostly rift on Edwards Island. You play as blue-haired Alex, and you’ve just brought your new stepbrother Jonas to this overnight island party that quickly goes horribly wrong. Also there is Clarissa, who used to date Alex’s deceased older brother, Ren, a light-hearted stoner, and Nona, a shy being that may or may not have feelings for a certain pot brownie-loving, easily excitable goofball. It’s kind of a point-and-click adventure, but with little pointing and clicking and more wandering around the island, chatting with your friends, and solving radio-based puzzles to battle ghosts and close time loops. Also, gorgeous background art.

Ultimately, Oxenfree is a game primarily about conversation. Thankfully, there’s a simple and extremely effective speech-bubble interface for all of these interactions, with each dialogue choice tied to a respective button on the Xbox One controller: X, Y, or B. This allows you to still walk around a scene and interact with items or climb platforms using A while people speak around you. You can also, much like in every Telltale Games title these days, stay completely silent and not pick a response, and there’s even an Achievement for doing this all the way to the credits, tough as that might be.

Here’s what makes the talking in Oxenfree interesting–characters are constantly chatting, and it is up to you to have Alex respond at the sort of tempo that would be home in a true-to-life conversation. This means you can interrupt someone or wait until they are done to say your piece, and each action feels just as natural as the other. There’s no pausing and waiting, you need to react quickly and naturally, and if you don’t, the conversation moves on without you. This realism can lead to frustrating moments where you simply don’t have time to respond accordingly or you can accidentally cut off someone mid-sentence and never know what they were planning to say in the end. Thankfully, the writing and voiceover work is strong, full of charismatic and everyday voices from industry staples like Erin Yvette as Alex, Gavin Hammon as Jonas, and Britanni Johnson as Nona. These definitely feel like teens talking like teens.

Oxenfree is short and punchy, but I expected that. A couple hours at most, but I played it in two separate sessions. It doesn’t waste time, which is a funny statement when you understand that several of its puzzle sequences are about being stuck in a Groundhog Day loop. These scenarios are easily solved through repeating actions, and the only real puzzles involve Alex and her portable radio, which can be tuned to specific stations. Find the right one, lock in on it, and open up a channel to communicate with the angry, vindictive ghosts of Edwards Island. The “glitchy” effects and how you continue to interact with a scene going topsy-turvy and quickly changing from one second to the next are unreal and captivating. I also found a lot of the ghosts, especially when taking over one of Alex’s friends’ bodies, to be extremely unnerving though I’d never call this a horror game.

Endings are where it matters most in Oxenfree, and I don’t know how many there ultimately all and refuse to look it up, but there’s definitely more than one. I am happy with the one I got. Based on your conversations with friends and actions taken, you can end up with some hating you or falling in love with others by the time credits roll. My choices resulted in a mixed bag of outcomes. Often with games like this, I usually stick to one single playthrough and cement it in my memory as the only way that story could have unfolded because, to me, that’s how it all went down. Though I am very much interested in a second go-around where Alex is mute and doesn’t react at all to the terrifying things happening around her.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #97 – Oxenfree

An island party
Teens unearth ghosts, fun’s over
Tune in, talk them up

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #96 – Monster Loves You!

Live life of monster
Affect your world and humans
Raise stats, be clever

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #69 – Mailfrog

Deliver the mail
Frogs are the symbol of life
What wonderful friends

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #52 – The Monster in Me

Life after the end
Full of tough choices, like food
Hey, we all survived

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Yesterday is such an easy game to play

“Yesterday” is not my favorite song from The Beatles, nor is it my favorite point-and-click adventure game, but I enjoy both of them greatly. They are easy to listen to, easy to play, and leave me wanting a little bit more from their respective mediums. For those curious, depending on the day, either this or this is my favorite tune from The Fab Four. I don’t know if I’m ready to commit to saying what my favorite adventure game is yet. That’s kind of like naming the best cheese. Besides, there’s a bunch of so-called classics–here, I’ll name a few, like The Dig, Day of the Tentacle, and The Secret of Monkey Island–that I’ve still not touched despite having copies at the ready, which would probably affect my decision immensely. Probably.

Anyways, Yesterday from Pendulo Studios is a dark beast. A quick research of the company shows that many of its previous games were more comedic, but there’s not much to laugh at in this one, which features a lot of murdering, satanic worshipping, and forced suicides. It all starts with the philanthropic Henry White and his bungling friend Cooper. Both of these men work for a charity committed to helping New York’s homeless people. However, after a serial killer starts murdering members of the community, Henry and Cooper venture into the abandoned Cadway Subway station to see who they can help. It is here that they meet the murderous Choke and his assistant Boris and are forced to take drastic action. That’s more or less the prologue of the game, with the real meat of it focusing on satanic cult investigator John Yesterday many years later. He is recovering from an apparent suicide attempt that has left him suffering from amnesia because of course. Henry White now runs White Enterprises and has employed John to unearth the link between the serial killer and the occult known as the Order of the Flesh.

Yesterday, in terms of gameplay, is a pretty straightforward point-and-click adventure romp. You examine an environment, collect items in your inventory, chat with other characters for background details, and solve puzzles to move forward. Something that gave me a bit of anxiety was the high amount of items you often pick up and the fact that many of them do not vanish after being used. Reminded me of my time with Deponia, which was not a blast. Sometimes these items are used again later on, and sometimes they aren’t. You’ll never know until it is too late. Naturally, as it often happens with these types of games, some of the puzzles don’t follow the best logic this side of brain development, which leads to trying everything on everything in hopes of anything changing. If you only knew the number of solutions I came up with for acquiring a truth flower that didn’t come close to working.

Thankfully, Yesterday offers a couple tricks to help when you are stuck: a hint system and the ability to ping the scene and identify every object you can examine. The hint system builds up over time, so you can’t spam it, but it’ll point you in the right direction, though it can be a bit condescending. I ended up using it more than I would have imagined, but at least it let me stay in game and not close out to look up a walkthrough. You can also, at any time, press a button at the bottom of the screen to highlight every interactive object around you. This is great as it helped reduce pixel hunting, as there were occasionally a couple areas or items that I missed after doing an initial scan of everything.

I was pleasantly surprised with the conversations system. These occur with the two speakers framed in their own windows, with dialogue options in a bulleted list. As you move through each option, the boxes are checked off when the topic is concluded. New topics open us as you chat, and I found myself exhausting every topic, even if it didn’t immediately seem relevant to the puzzles at hand. I found the script and voice acting to be well done, save for that Frenchman who endlessly gave out tips on how to identify a Frenchman. At times, the whole thing reminded me of Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. Occasionally, the subtitles did not match the spoken words perfectly, but that’s just me being an editor and too observant. Lastly, I’ll say that the game’s visuals are gorgeous and detailed and kept me interested in seeing what was next. I especially liked the comic book-style cutscenes.

The loopy narrative about investigating satanic cults and unraveling John Yesterday’s mysterious past comes to a close rather quickly, somewhat abruptly, and the post-credits scene added little to the whole picture and was completely unnecessary. It felt like things were just beginning to build to something grander, but once the villain began to explain why he did everything and how, I knew it was over. Still, I enjoyed going through Yesterday at a slow pace, over a few nights, eating up the atmosphere, characters, and designs to make puzzling out progress less frustrating. Maybe I’ll check out Yesterday Origins or one of Pendulo Studios’ other titles down the road. However, for now, I have some other point-and-click adventure games still to launch in my collection, and I just know that many of them won’t make things as easy as Yesterday did in this tiring day and age of too much to play and not enough hours on Earth. Boo to that.