You’d think with the ever increasing number of games released that I’d be flooded with titles that I was eager to play. It’s not the case unfortunately as a good chunk of those new games released each week are either visual novels, some kind of RPG Maker pixel art adventure clone or any number of what I consider pretty low effort games that aren’t really worth the time. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum, games that take a good 15+ hours to complete something which I’m finding harder and harder to do on a weekly cadence. So I’ve been diving back through my lists, picking up games that have for one reason or the other slipped through the cracks. Arise: A Simple Story caught my eye only towards the end of last year, even though it had been released over a year earlier. Whilst it’s certainly up my alley in a number of areas it’s one of those unfortunate games where the actual game play gets in the way of what it wants to accomplish.
You have passed from this world and onto the next, one where you’re given the opportunity to revisit the poignant moments of your life and reflect upon what they meant to you. In this realm you’re granted the power to manipulate time, pushing and pulling it to your will so you can navigate the dreamlike landscape that was built off your precious memories of when you were alive. That also means that the challenges and pain you dealt with will also be here, ready to challenge you once again. There is no goal here, just to explore and relive your life before your journey finishes and another one begins.
Arise has an absolutely beautiful art style, heavily stylized and using the tried and true low poly/low texture aesthetic that we’ve all come to know and love. You’ll be treated to sweeping open environments brimming with bright colours and dark passages with details that are only visible with brief strikes of lightning. The sound track is also quite good being paced exceptionally well with events that are happening on screen. In terms of craftsmanship of the audio visual experience Arise certainly meets the somewhat high bar I’ve set for games of this type.
Whilst some would call Arise a walking simulator it’s much more towards a puzzle platformer than anything else. Whilst you’ll spend a good deal of time simply navigating the environments you’ll be doing that mostly through 3D platforming. Arise’s claim to fame is the additional ability to control time, allowing you to move everything but yourself forward and backwards at your will. This is also how a friend can join you, with one person controlling the character and the other controlling the flow of time which is pretty neat. Each level will make its own use of the time mechanic in a different way so it’s not an endless repeat of the same kinds of puzzles over and over. Just like the visuals the game play is a pretty straightforward experience.
In theory at least anyway. The game went with the (understandable) choice of using fixed cameras, giving you only a small amount of control over it’s tilt. I’ve never really liked this when it comes to 3D platformers as it always means that most jumps are going to be at least somewhat done on faith as it’s really hard to get a sense for distance when you don’t have control over the camera. This is made somewhat more frustrating by the fact that the platforming is pretty unforgiving, with small mistakes instantly sending you back to the last checkpoint. A couple here or there is something I can put down to me buggering things up but when it’s as consistent as I found it then I tend to blame the implementation.
Indeed it got so annoying that I’ve given up on trying to finish Arise just because I’m really not interested in dealing with the game’s quirkiness in cameras and control to see the rest of the story. It’s a real shame but not something I haven’t seen before and I’m not sure why developers still opt for crafting things like this where the game’s mechanics get in the way of telling the story. To be sure I share part of the blame here, refusing to use a controller (although the game didn’t tell me to use one) for a game that’s obviously designed to be played with one, but still if your main aim is to have players experience the story then having the game get in the way of that feels like a major misstep.
The story does carry some blame here to, not having enough meat on the bone to keep me playing despite the shortcomings of the game itself. It’s nothing to do with the narrative I feel, even though it’s somewhat simplistic and predictable, as it’s enjoyable enough on its own. No I think that the poignant story moments happen too far apart to each other and most of the revelations only coming at the end of each section. Perhaps if the game’s mechanics were a little bit better designed and the story a tad more gripping I’d be singing this game’s praises from the rooftops. As it is though? I’ve quit before I gave it a much more scathing review than it deserves.
Arise: A Simple Story is a game I should absolutely like but simply don’t. Whilst the audio visual experience is above par the game’s mechanics just do too much damage to the experience to get me heavily immersed in its story. There are certainly many elements of this game that I enjoy but they don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. It’s a shame really, especially considering I’m coming to this game a year after its initial release. Don’t let me deter you though as I seem to be in the minority here as almost everyone else seems to enjoy it (although many do also note its flaws).
Arise: A Simple Story is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch right now for $28.95. Total play time was approximately 2.5 hours.