2019 has been a great year for gaming. Outside the big blockbusters, Indies and smaller games have really been given the chance to shine. Whether it be A Plague Tale: Innocence, Concrete Genie or My Friend Pedro, each title has offered something unique and unforgettable to the gaming spectrum that have arguably shone brighter than a lot of the big games. Rounding out this great year is the proverbial cherry on the cake; Arise: A Simple Story. While it may be simple in concept, Arise delivers a real showstopper when it comes to its gameplay, offering up an innovative blend of aesthetic splendour and strong themes. It’s a beautiful, poignant journey not to be missed and one of the best games of the year.
Arise is a puzzle-platformer that sees you take control of a well-worn traveller as you traverse the world of memories and piece together the joyous and painful moments that have shaped your fictional character’s life. Across the 10 chapters, each level explores a different emotional state including hope, sorrow, loss, anger and joy. This not only comes across through the visual design of these levels, it’s also reinforced across the gameplay mechanics too, which constantly evolves and adds extra layers to its complexity to keep things engaging and challenging throughout the 4-6 hours you’ll spend with this one.
The levels themselves play out in a third person perspective with simple platforming and puzzle sections peppered throughout. Taking inspiration from Braid and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Arise allows you to manipulate time, controlled through holding the right analog stick left or right. The opening level starts things off simply enough with shifting through seasons of the year; left for winter where snow mounds allow you to climb up to unreachable platforms, right for summer, melting snow and subsequent higher sea levels allowing you to board rafts.
As the game progresses however, this quickly grows and evolves into all manner of wild and creative concepts. Every level takes the core meat of this time manipulation and adds its own blend of herbs and spices to keep things engaging and challenging. Holding L2 to climb up walls and holding R2 to freeze time quickly joins the party, along with rope swinging and grappling, all of which tied into the basic idea of platforming and solving environmental puzzles.
These levels also serve to add character and build each memory up to a climactic, emotional finale that rounds things out in the most beautiful way. Every challenge and obstacle you face directly links into the game’s themes and whether it be hopping across passion-pink lily pads and spinning through the air during the level titled ‘Love’, or using fire as a destructive tool to burn away wooden statues in ‘Ashes’, this sort of environmental storytelling is partly why the game works as well as it does.
A lot of the great work here lies with the game’s composer, David Garcia, and the talented art team. Together they’ve crafted something truly beautiful and I lost count of the number of times I found myself staring in awe at the environments, muttering how gorgeous everything looks as the whimsical orchestral score caressed the visuals. The colours are vibrant, deliberately chosen to reinforce those aforementioned memories, and also help everything shine and stand out in the best possible way. Having said that, there were a few odd occasions where things blend so well together it was confusing to work out which direction you need to travel. To be fair though most of these moments crop up toward the latter end of the game and are easy to look past.
For all of its positives, the game is not without its problems. The jumping and general control of your character feels more cumbersome and problematic than it should, and at times the camera views can be deceptive for how far you need to jump. Late on there’s a particularly challenging level involving freezing snow and these sections oftentimes see the camera pan out to really soak in the beauty of the environment rather than focusing on me, the player, as I scrambled furiously up the snow to safety.
What’s particularly memorable here though is the way these levels are presented. Each significant life moment is presented through a variety of audio and visual cues, with in-level cut-scenes depicting literal or metaphorical ideas that help add some depth and beauty to this game. With very little voice acting beyond the odd grunt or sigh, everything is presented through the art on display. At times the game reminded me of the montage segment at the start of Pixar’s motion picture Up!, conveying a man’s ups and downs in 4 minutes. While Arise never quite ascends to that level, it does come close on occasion.
If you can look past some of the niggling issues with the core mechanics and take to the idea and story, Arise: A Simple Story rewards your patience in the best possible way. Across the 6 hours, Arise delivers a heart-warming and heart-breaking tale that cycles through a variety of different emotions to deliver one of 2019’s most beautiful games. It’s a wonderful little Indie game and well worth the £15.99 ($20) to buy from Playstation Store. It’s not perfect but it is one of the more unique video game experiences of the year and well worth checking out.
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