By Drew D. / November 18th, 2020
|Title||When the Past was Around|
|Release Date||September 22, 2020 (PC, macOS)
November 2020 (Switch, PS4, XB1)
|Genre||Puzzle, Point and Click|
|Platform||PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS
When the Past was Around is a heartfelt story conveying the enrichment to life our pleasures, experiences, and relationships can offer. It is an opus of love, loss, and learning to let go, yet also a reminder of the preciousness of our memories, shaped through our joys and tragedies. And although life may offer verses and movements of sadness and pain, When the Past was Around expresses that a melody of love will remain strong and unchanging in one’s heart.
Eda has suffered the loss of her love. She is overwhelmed with grief and she knows not how to move forward, or what that first step looks like. All there is in her world is silence and darkness. And yet, there is a hope which remains. A melody, one that speaks of the love she shared and which tells the tale of a joy filled life lived alongside this precious loved one. And so, the recollection of this love story begins.
Without a single word spoken, but rather driven by fantastic artistic portrayals and a wonderful sound score, the story of When the Past was Around is strikingly deep. I am thoroughly impressed with how much emotional depth is achieved with such a unique narrative direction, as well as in such a small package. The feelings of sorrow and frustration Eda struggles with are real, as are her moments of joy and passion as she rediscovers her buried memories through her journey of healing. I also appreciate the disjointedness of the world to be explored, like fragments of these relived memories stitched together through the major chapter themes, such as Eda and the Owl’s first meeting, or the adorable moments in their relationship, such as a day at the beach or simply sharing a quiet afternoon together. The highs, lows, and everything in between are all palpable, and the result in an incredibly poignant story.
I am equally impressed with the depth of these characters, again only conveyed through expressive depiction and melody. Eda’s joy is contagious, making her a character easy to care for. This, in turn, makes her sadness from the Owl’s passing all the more piercing. Also, we see a wealth of emotion from her throughout; her hesitation and doubts regarding her musical career, her jovial side when spending time with the Owl, and her genuine care towards the end. Not only memorable, it all shapes Eda’s authenticity. As for the Owl, I appreciate how he serves several roles, such as mentor, inspiration, and lover. His care for Eda is charming and how his love for music further inspires Eda’s own passions is touching. It resonates with those of us who can relate to the angst and stresses that come with that time in our lives, when we’re trying to find our way or purpose. Lastly, the degree in which they complement each other narratively makes the entire experience all the more touching. Their relationship charming and natural, these are a pair of characters worth investing in emotionally.
Moving on to gameplay, When the Past was Around is a point-and-click puzzle solver, allowing you to interact with most everything on-screen and providing challenge enough to be both fun and rewarding. The puzzles themselves are clever and have the themes of music and memory impressively incorporated into them. I also like how several of the puzzles span across multiple areas of a chapter. For example, you may find a puzzle, such as opening a locked box or diary, in the first area that requires a hint from the second. Or you may need to collect a series of hints and items across the chapter, allowing you to experience all of the fragments of Eda’s memories all the while. I’m particularly impressed when several puzzles build off of each other to tell a tale of their own. To have the puzzle solving take part in the narrative is incredibly imaginative and well thought out. It demonstrates just how much care and passion the developers put into this project. And although some puzzles are rather simple to solve, I never found any of them to be overly difficult. Rather, once I solved them, I always felt that sense of achievement you want from this genre.
Regarding gameplay and build execution, the controls are simple. Not once did I struggle with any interactions on-screen, and never did I ever experience any lag during actual play. Load delays were noticeable at times, however, and also the music would antedate with the animations during cutscenes, but this seldom occurred. Those were the only issues I experienced, which is impressive all on its own since this game was built using Unity. At this point, I always seem to be impressed when a dev team is actually capable of optimizing Unity.
Lastly, I wish to further discuss the fantastic aesthetics, for they truly shape and permeate every aspect of the game. Visually, When the Past was Around is stunning. From characters, to environments, down to the individual items, every aspect of this world is packed with detail. The emotions depicted through Eda’s face, body language, and movements are palpable and never fail to lend themselves to the tones or narrative of the scene. The photographs and cherished items all speak of the loving relationship between Eda and the Owl. Even the everyday knickknacks add to the warmth their world now possesses through their loving relationship. Also, the plays on color palettes and the use of shadow to contrast joy and sorrow are impressive. Bright days that speak of time together versus rainy days and approaching nightfall that invoke moods of depression. Shadows that are slowly filled, or rooms that are steadily lit, allude to Eda’s rediscovery of memory and the emotions that color them. Simply put, I am in awe of the visual accomplishments offered.
As for the audio, I am impressed with its overall quality, yet even more so with its implementation. The central melody featured throughout is pleasant and serves as the link between the two characters. I love how this melody is what first brings them together, as their first meeting involves Eda hearing and chasing after the melody to the Owl. Later on, they play this melody as a duet, one of their shared cherished memories. The melody is entwined with every moment depicted, a perfect symbol of their love and shared life. And this symbolism is made all the more poignant as the melody also serves as the trigger to stir Eda’s memories. Along with the melody itself, I also found the use of repetition particularly noteworthy, as it directly speaks to the process of Eda’s recollection. The melody is repeated as Eda recalls each chapter of her relationship and as she becomes immersed in the memories and feelings the melody signifies. Overall, I found this dynamic use of the melody wonderful and perfectly executed.
As for the accompanying sound effects, I found them to be delightful and equally impactful. The abrupt stops or the missed notes when the melody is played stand out and emphasize that something’s amiss. The sounds of nature and life around the two main characters enhance the vividness of the experience; a perfect harmony to their story. Even the sounds of shuffling papers, moved books, or boxes opened all add to the immersion of the experience. The audio achievements in their entirety are fantastic and when paired with its visuals, make for an aesthetic execution that I won’t soon forget.
When the Past was Around is an incredible experience. A charming, yet melancholic, duet of love and tragedy played in perfect harmony. The game will only take about 2-3 hours to complete, but has every feel of a song of which you’ll never get tired. Perhaps that musical repeat symbol in its title art isn’t just for show, as it will be a pleasure to experience this melodic tale time and time again.
Review copy provided by publisher. A copy of your own will cost $7.99.
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