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Wither away to nothingness

I did not know what to expect going into this game. All I saw was positive mentions of it, the positive average rating with a high number of reviews (high by this site's standards at least). What I got was a game that initially felt inconsequential, a brief, heavily symbolic adventure title among many seemingly about death but without context I could see that was short and easy. But then I reached the end and everything that happened before suddenly came together for me.

Some games of this kind reveal themselves slowly, some reveal themselves outright from the start (as is with games like Middens and Gingiva), some remain obscure and still up for debate (Yume Nikki and OFF). This game might be an example of the former type, you encounter and talk to many people but none of it makes any sense until it builds and builds and then eureka! I got it! I don't think this game is nearly as good as the games mentioned in the parentheses, but regardless I find these kind of games provide the most satisfying outcomes, and the only other game I know of that does this properly is Leave, also a short and easy game. More games with this kind of storytelling, please, with the same substance of games like the ones I mentioned!

So you start the game and immediately you are dropped in front of a graveyard in a small village of sorts not having a clue what's going on. The Game Boy aesthetic is what stands out immediately, both in graphics and in its music. I have to say of all "retro" styled games I played this is one of the most successful I've ever seen replicate the style, in that, if someone told me this was a Game Boy game I wouldn't doubt it. I don't know what ultimate purpose it serves outside of being neat-looking but I suppose being neat-looking will do. Anyway, you are told to visit a certain grave, where interacting with it gives some cryptic message about keeping a promise or somesuch. Going by the tense it was spoken in I didn't know who was even speaking but it turns out it may have been the grave. What is this "promise" anyway? What happened? Where are you? Whose grave is this? What are you supposed to do?

Well by wandering around the town enough you'll find out the answer to the last question at least which is to collect enough flowers until they completely fill up your inventory screen, which then you access another area where you must collect two coins, then The End. Collecting flowers involves doing mostly rudimentary tasks, sometimes speaking to the right person, interacting with the right object and so on. It is not at all hard to figure out, and despite the non-linearity of the town it is so small that the player easily overwhelmed by games with too many choices or things to do should have no problems settling into an easygoing groove here.

Among the areas you visit besides the graveyard are a forest, a lake, a hotel and a hospital of sorts. Like I said, this is a small game, so they are all very compacted and clumped together for easy access. One example of a flower you get is when you talk to someone who says the flower for his girlfriend fell into the lake. Then you find an old man fishing. You keep him company long enough and soon he'll reel in a flower. Yay! Progress! Oh yeah the characters. Most of them seem normal and generic enough, others speak oddly and cryptically, like of avoiding nightmares about boneyards and other things. Then some things take a mildly disturbing and odd twist. You have an odd nightmare of your own when you sleep in your hotel room. There is an off-putting tragedy in the hotel, and then there's the now seemingly infamous interaction with the automobile in front of a house.

After getting all of your flowers you head down further into an area that makes it even clearer you're not in normal territory. The assignment of getting the two coins is childishly simple. They involve going into two caves with short linear paths and interacting with the thing at the end to get them, then you walk back. One of the coins you collect is from probably the most disturbing image in the game. That all you do (or maybe all you can do) is collect the coin from this spot and walk away makes it even more unsettling. Once you have the two coins you reach the end of the game, and that's it.

So what to make of it? Gameplay-wise, well, it's not much of a game to be honest. It easily ranks among if not the shortest and simplest of these adventure-minded RPG Maker titles I've played yet, which says something. The Game Boy aesthetic is cool but again I don't know why it's there outside the ultra-nostalgia factor (nostalgia not being a theme I really noticed in the game - it does reflect on past events but not in the way nostalgia suggests) and, of course, the cool factor. Thematically, story-wise though, when it came together it hit me like a sack of bricks. It is a game that is better upon reflection than it is experiencing it, because then you get to work out how the game's gears move, and what I came upon was a highly poignant story that doesn't overdo it. By telling it in such a minimalist and succinct manner gives it more impact somehow, all the way up to the ending, which just ends, as it should, and nothing more.

It's still hard to get over how slight it is as a game. It's actually a bit surprising how almost universally well-received this is considering, though perhaps the simplicity is part of the appeal. Ultimately it's a question of, how much does its storytelling usurp its lack of game-ness? I was considering a 2.5 but I felt that a bit harsh since it does what it sets out to do successfully and has no intrusive or aggravating elements I could find, unlike, say, Lisa. So it manages to narrowly reach the 3 score, which on my scale is "good." It is a wonderful way to tell a story, and the story underneath is indeed well-told but there's hardly anything else to it despite initial promises. Still, a game with a quality story everyone from your 6-year-old brother to your grandmother could easily finish does count for something, right? (though perhaps this isn't the most appropriate game for a 6-year-old)

oh yeah ANOTHER WITHER REVIEW LOL there happy now T_T