Arise: A Simple Story Review: A Tale of Love (and Depth Perception) Lost
I've always considered myself more of an experiential reviewer. Though I can appreciate a great technical achievement in games and can acknowledge when that aspect doesn't feel so right, I'm able to forgive a lot when the feelings a game evokes are powerful.
Arise: A Simple Story is a great example of such a game. As a 3D platformer, Arise is a nearly constant issue.
As a story, it's an emotional, beautiful, and smartly metaphorical tale of a life lived in love and loss. Despite the aggravations, it's the game's most heartfelt moments that I'll remember the longest, making Arise a flawed but touching game.
Arise wastes no time in sinking into its own sadness. The very first scene of the game is a funeral for an old man. As his body is burned up, his spirit travels to a purgatorial ether where he revisits his life's greatest triumphs and tribulations. Across ten levels, each about 30 minutes long, players will guide this old man through a metaphorical journey of his life.
From the earliest days of his childhood, whereby he finds his best friend, to his adolescence and far beyond, you'll play witness to their growing love and watch as their relationship morphs into something new at every milestone.
Each level is given a simple name like "Alone" or "Fruit" and these work in tandem with the game's stunning visuals to imbue the world with some on-the-nose but unforgettable metaphorical worlds. The early days of childhood are painted like a vibrant garden, full of life, while later troubles rock the couple and the world is literally broken in two, needing the man to pull it back together again.
Lighting and colors are never anything short of breathtaking, and they're enhanced by the game's central mechanic of shifting time and place. Doing so alters the world in different ways for each level, and the game's way of constantly adding new traversal mechanics is engaging and unpredictable.
The music is deeply affecting, though I've come to expect nothing less from David Garcia, who also scored two all-time emotional journeys for me, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice and RiME. In Arise, he captures a similar soundscape as that in Tequila Works' 2017 tearjerker, and for good reason. They both swim in the twin rivers of love and grief.
With so much good to say about Arise, it's just a shame the actual platforming is a nearly constant issue. With wide and distant camera angles in a 3D world, it's automatically a bit awkward trying to move about some tricky terrain, but this problem is exacerbated by the way the man feels to move. He's heavy and quite slow, and when jumping off ledges, he always seems to have available one step fewer than you may estimate.
This leads to lots of fall deaths and missteps that really hurt the flow of the otherwise gorgeous world and story. Restarts are quick, but falling off the same platform repeatedly when the game is at its emotional height is close to infuriating. I had to laugh off a lot of the platforming woes in Arise.
These issues are made even more annoying when you realize how often you'll be asked to perform additional feats for the full scope of memories to collect. Going out of your way for these story beats should feel more worthwhile, but they tend to more often feel like a chore.
I kept telling myself I would forgive a whole lot of such issues if the game could course-correct, or at least overpower those problems with its story merits, but the platforming gameplay features some of its most infuriating sequences toward the end. It really holds back Arise from being as great as it could've been.
Despite these unavoidable issues, story-first gamers should push through them because the narrative that's there is really affecting and well told. As you collect memories on each level -- still drawings of different parts of the man and woman's life together, you'll get a great sense of who they are and it's hard not to feel connected to them, to root for them.
- Stunning art design and a touching soundtrack
- Its "simple story" is actually moving and memorable
- Clever use of metaphors and shifting mechanics in each level
- Constant depth perception issues
- Frequent platforming missteps
While its platforming problems are inarguable and unavoidable, Arise: A Simple Story remains worth its time investment because of clever symbolism and a clear and moving story by which it is just as impossible not to get swept up.
Arise calls itself a simple story, but in that simplicity, there is something universally beautiful and I'm glad I am present for it.
[Note: A copy of the Arise: A Simple Story was provided by the publisher for this review.]