Arise: A Simple Story by Piccolo Studios is a refreshing and beautiful piece of art that captivates the emotional core of the human experience. Arise seems to be inspired by the pre-verbal storytelling of older games like Journey. In fact, ever since Journey, I have been interested in this genre; however, I haven’t played any pre-verbal narratives that could capture the same magic. Arise not only captures that same emotional truth, it carves its own place as a masterpiece. When developers use a pre-verbal approach to narratives, there are certain aspects of the game, like the score, unique visuals, and thoughtful symbolism, that must be used in order to attain the emotional connection for the player. Unfortunately, all too often, developers use the pre-verbal approach in a haphazard way that actually harms the story. Arise did not fall into this trap. While I am hesitant to play games that rely on a singular mechanic, Arise is able to use basically one mechanic, the manipulation of time, in a unique and ever-evolving way. If you are interested in surreal and narrative-based gaming, you cannot pass up this game.
As it states in the title, the story is a “simple” story; however, it is able to translate a simple human experience into a complex, emotional narrative. In the beginning of the game, members from a tribe set up a pyre for your character who recently died.
The protagonist then awakes into a snowy afterlife. From here, your character sets on a path engaging in the memories of his life from when he was a youth all the way to old age. These memories are shared through surreal, dream-like levels with deliberate symbolism. Along the way, players can obtain collectibles which are still-frame art of specific memories. Through these collectibles, the story attains a heightened sense of the emotional journey of your character. These simple bits of story guide the player through memories of love, separation, family tragedy, new life, and hope. Personally, I believe the older a player is the more emotional impact this story will have. As a middle-aged, family man myself, I was emotionally brought to tears throughout the story. The story pin-pointed personal fears and concerns about my own life’s story. Arise is able to tell the simple yet complex existential tale of the human journey.
Arise relies on a simple back and forth time mechanic. Players must use the right joystick by simply moving it left or right, which either progress or reverses time. There is a multiplayer aspect to this game if you want a friend to control this mechanic for you. This manipulates the environmental time which makes for some enjoyable puzzles as you experience the memories of the character. Oftentimes, games that rely on a mono-mechanic, even if it is unique and fun, become redundant and monotonous. By the end of the first level in Arise, I became concerned that this would be a problem; however, Piccolo Studios demonstrated their ability to be quite adaptable with this mechanic. Every level presented new ways of using time to create challenges that felt fresh. Whether it was controlling the growth of ice during the snowy season, the flow of flower petals in a river, or using fire and light to carve paths through the shadows of despair, I never felt like I was playing the same challenge twice. While there are a couple of other movement mechanics like a simple jump, throwing a grappling hook, and climbing, the developers utilize them in differing ways alongside time manipulation.
To be honest, I was greatly surprised at the lack of drawbacks in this game. Experimental narratives always have a gambit of obstacles in creating a story that can connect the player to the world. If the game focuses purely on surrealism, it can be hard for a player to enter “the dream” of a story. If an experimental narrative focuses too much on either simple or complex mechanics, it can detract from the heightened symbolism that is necessary for a pre-verbal game. Arise, much like Journey, finds the right composition of mechanics, score, and visuals to produce a dream-like piece of art. With this stated, there is one critical error in the game that Journey doesn’t contain, and this revolves around their decision concerning collectibles. In Journey, a collectible isn’t imperative to the story; however, in Arise, the static memory collectibles are an integral part of the plot. Many of these collectibles are hidden, so throughout a chapter, I would notice gaps in the timeline of the memories which saddened me. I was invested in the story, so any time I found a gap in my static memories, I was, quite simply, missing important parts of the narrative. Since I deeply wanted to know the characters full story, I found myself spending time just searching for a collectible, which pulled me out of the complex and compelling dream.
While this game will not appeal to all players, if you are someone who enjoys experimental, indie narratives, you must play this game. The score, visuals, and surrealism tells a pre-verbal story that will take players on an emotional journey that connects them to the human experience. There were multiple times that I felt like I was experiencing something truly sublime. While compelling narratives are important to contemporary video games, developers must produce a fun experience as well, and Piccolo Studios provides that through challenging puzzles that make the story enjoyable as well as thoughtful. It has been about eight years, but we finally have a game that rises to the creative bar set by Journey. Since this game is currently on sale, I implore narrative gamers to use this opportunity to play this transcendent work of art.
Formats: PS4 (reviewed) PC (Epic Games Exclusive )
Publisher: Piccolo Studios
Release Date: December 3, 2019
Age Rating: E
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