Hey there, and happy holidays! Breaks are always a bit more busy than would be ideal but I’ve gotten a couple good indies in during the past week. Stuff on the more emotional and personal side, though certainly in their own fairly different ways. Without further ado...
This first game is one I’ve been really itching to play for a while; There Swings a Skull: Grim Tidings. I got the first iteration of this game (now technically a demo) in some itch.io bundle a long time ago. It immediately caught my eye when I first saw it, but it fell into the category of “things I want to save for when I’m ready and in the right mood” which unfortunately caused me to procrastinate on it for longer than I really needed to. But fortunately for me, when I finally wrapped back around to it, it had gotten a full release!! Lucky me!
I guessed that the demo was probably a little too long to get into and I would be annoyed to get that far in the game and then have to start over with the full release. As far as I can tell, I was right, though I think if you want to pick this game up for yourself, the demo can be useful for playing exactly how much of the game you need to in order to decide if you want to buy the whole thing. Personally I liked what I saw in trailers enough to just grab it outright, and I’m really happy I did. Grim Tidings feels like the rare kind of personal gem only indie RPGs can provide. The atmosphere is impeccable. Set in a town surrounded by dirt for miles, where everything is slowly burning under a malevolent sun, you play as married couple Anatoli and Pyotr as they try to keep themselves and their relationship together as the world falls apart around them. It’s a wonderfully done fictional setting and circumstance (the atmosphere almost reminds me of Welcome to Nightvale?) but it taps into real life sentiments of stress, despair, and in my opinion most importantly, love and connection. It’s hard to think of a more thoughtful way to say “god as a guy who likes guys, I love a good story about gay married men, and I love how this one feels so genuine, it really speaks to my own experience”, but just so you know. I’m also thinking about that too.
Grim Tidings really encapsulates the feeling of trying to face the weight of the world alongside your significant other, who you want to always protect, but aren’t always sure you can. This game says, to me at least, that no matter what happens, you can at least be there for each other, and sometimes that’s the best and most important thing you can do. That really spoke to me. I would be lying if I said I didn’t choke up at the end. Also, interactions between Anatoli and Pyotr (which make up most of this game) are so sweet, funny, heartfelt and emotional. Even in the sad and tense moments, their connection struck me. Generally everything about this one hits an RPG Maker game sweet spot. The dialogue flows nicely and I love when it gets especially moody and poetic. The art is also fantastic and really sets the tone, and the music is extremely RPGMaker styled and extremely good as well. Just on all artful fronts, this game is unambiguously quality.
If there’s anything I would say that surprised me, it would be the “true” ending. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t go into detail, but I felt the twist it pulls was a little jarring. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it, but it was a shame to see some of the tone that was building up get tossed a little near the end. But ah well. The rest of the game is rich with it anyhow, especially right up before said twist. Also, there are multiple endings, but it will probably be very obvious what the “correct” choices are. Make sure to save often if you aren’t sure though! The “incorrect” choices will end up exactly how you expect, so unless you’re dead-set on *seeing everything* I don’t think there’s much use in checking them out. Even the game tells you as much if you boot it up again afterwards: most people don’t return to Pareildas (and you can rest now). Basically, I really really really liked it. It feels more like a compliment than a complaint to say that I wish I could spend a little longer in this kind of game. Luckily for me, the dev of Grim Tidings also made An Outcry, which is *another* RPGMaker game with a nice looking aesthetic that’s been on my radar for a good little while now… hopefully sometime I’ll come around to playing it and reviewing it on here as well… >:-] !
The second and decently longer of the two games I played this week was Perfect Tides, which I think describes itself quite well as “a point and click adventure game about the agony and anticipation of being a teen”. While it’s set in the year 2000, I find that (assuming a lot of this game is based off of personal experience) a lot of what being a 16 year old is like has not changed much in the almost-two-decades between then and when I was at that age. Especially the experience of building relationships online! Mara is in many ways a mirror back into the past, to a time of knowing fairly little and assuming you know everything. There’s an almost nostalgic feeling to seeing her make various mistakes and assumptions and thinking “Yeah, I remember thinking that way too”, but it also leaves a poignant sadness. She doesn’t get it, but you didn’t get it either. The game follows Mara around for around a year’s time, as she struggles with life in general, and relationships to the people around her in specific. It seems like the *point * of the game is to place you there beside her, and experience that with her, and I think the game generally does a wonderful job with that. There are really only two things that may get in the way of that weighing on my mind, so I’ll punch them out of the way real quick.
Firstly, the UI is…kind of painful sometimes. I wasn’t really tuned into the height of the 2000s point and click adventure game scene, so I can’t speak to how authentic it is, but boy it can be hard to figure out what the game wants from you sometimes! A quick few tips: save often and in many slots, the little different colored pixel on your hand cursor is usually where you are *actually* clicking on things from, you can use the right-click mouse button to switch through interaction options when you can’t open the toolbar at the top, and if you ever get stuck for more than a few minutes, just use a guide (like this in depth one I used for basically my whole playthrough; many thanks to Mason Blue!). These should make your game experience flow much easier and lead to less frustration.
Secondly, there are some parts of Perfect Tides that are obviously, pointedly, gross and/or uncomfortable, sometimes so much so that they tread into agonizing and painful territory. When these moments have service to the story and Mara’s feelings and thoughts, I feel like they are fine and pointed, but sometimes scenes like these (just a few in particular stand out in my mind) just feel like they’re there to make the viewer harrowingly disturbed, and they don’t seem to have a bearing on the story or Mara at all as they never really are brought up again after. I don’t want to say they have absolutely no place or purpose, and it’s not like they were “unrealistic”, but personally I don’t think I ever felt their necessity beyond their shock value. BUT! They’re not a dealbreaker for this game, not at all; just something I feel is worth mentioning, especially to people interested in playing themselves.
The reason I got this game in the first place is because it was sold to me as an incredibly emotional and honest story about being a teen, and I can confirm it absolutely sells on this premise. There are many and plenty of moments that tug on your heart, especially the ending (as long as you got the best one like I did; don't forget to develop your photos!) that owe much of their success to charming artwork and dialogue full of personality, especially the inner monologues. Like I mentioned before, you’re always right there with Mara. The experience is certainly not always a fun romp, especially not from her perspective, but it’s a very intimate one, both very unique and very familiar. I’m happy I got to participate in it, for both of those aspects, and I feel like there’s a lot of value in it that easily makes it worth recommending. If you’ll play it yourself, take note of what I’ve mentioned here, and most importantly: have a favorite song of yours as an .mp3 on your computer. Trust me on this. You’re gonna need it!
Annnd that's all I have for this week! Two decently sized games; not too short but not too crazy long! I hope to finish another switch title soon, but you'll find out if I have by the next blog post, heheh. I'll admit it...my dusty itch.io collections call me evermore...so see you next time!!