Grief is natural; we’ve all experienced the emotional suffering one feels when something or someone truly cherished is taken away, and if for some reason you haven’t, bless your lucky, cold-as-steel soul. No, really. I hope you never have to feel the lingering twist of a broken heart, but I kind of doubt you’ll avoid it in one form or another. It’s dark subject matter, sure, but worth exploring just as much as any other adventure game plot based around escapism, making a name for yourself, and standing up against persecution.
Eternally Us is about grieving. I didn’t know this immediately going into it, but by the end, all is made explicitly clear. It’s self-described as a tale of love, life, and friendship. Created for the April 2010 MAGS competition by Infinite Grace Games, this somber story from Steven Poulton (writer, programmer, scorer) and Ben Chandler (designer, artist) starts innocently enough, with two young girls sitting on a park bench. Amber and Fio, short for Fionna, are feeding the pigeons, enjoying the nice weather as friends are wont to do. Alas, just as Fio is about to hit her childhood best friend with some very bad news, a magical door appears and opens, revealing some monstrous zombie-like being. And then, just like that…Fio is gone.
Amber now has to travel across five strikingly different locations in search of her stolen friend, solving puzzles and speaking her mind to any that will listen. The scenes are diverse, with one set in a dark, marshy swamp and another in the quiet snow and the final one in the middle of some tranquil, autumnal woods. Chandler’s colorful art makes each place highly expressive and detailed, with the supernatural mixing with the natural in a fairy tale way that had me immediately thinking of The Neverending Story. It’s amazing what adding glowing eyes can do to personalizing bark and branches, but it’s extremely effective here. There’s also a weather effect on top of the painted backgrounds in every scene, with my favorites being the rain and falling leaves. Small details, but they matter. They help you–and maybe even Amber too–forget that this place is not real, that you are traveling through portals and doorways, trapped in the otherworld, looking for someone you actually lost long ago.
Sound-wise, there’s falling rain and peaceful bird-chirping, as well as some surprisingly strong voice acting. Naturally, Amber is the one voice we hear the most, and her voice actress Miranda Gauvin does a fine job of playing someone that is unable to cope, that is begging for answers, but would also rather not hear them. The more inhuman characters dance the line between creepy and ridiculous, but again, I like them talkative trees. A soft, unobtrusive melody plays on a few of the scenes, too.
It’s a point-and-click game, and fairly limited in what you can actually do. The left mouse button lets Amber use items, and the right button examines things, which is the standard we’ve all come to know these days. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Two of a Kind. Found items immediately go to her inventory, which can be accessed by moving the mouse cursor to the top of the screen. Any items you find relate to that scene only and vanish when you move on to the next area, so if you get stuck, just keep trying every possible combination/tactic. I only ran into problems with the squirrel at the end, and that was more of technical issues than not understanding what I was supposed to do. I did not see a strong connection in some of the puzzles to what was happening in Amber’s mind, but maybe others will.
Eternally Us is ultimately a downer, but a fantastic way to fall. The puzzles are not terribly difficult and contained to a single scene to make things easier, but it’s the dialogue that you want to hear and the way Amber grows over the course of the short game. There’s also some cleverness afoot, such as how Amber “sinks” through the swamp to the depression area. Basically, you should play this short adventure game to put her and her friend at peace–and maybe find some solace yourself. It’s free and can be downloaded here.