Title: Arise: A Simple Story
Available On: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Release Date: December 3rd, 2019
Official Site: Arise: A Simple Story
Just because a tale is simple doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting. And just because this game is called Arise: A Simple Story, don’t think it won’t completely enrapture you. The beauty is in its simplicity and in its universality. And despite some platforming hiccups, it delivers its message in one of the most unique ways I’ve experienced this year.
The Great Beyond
Arise takes place in limbo. Or, at least, one man’s version of it. He makes his way to the afterlife, represented by a light atop a distant hill. But first, he must travel through levels that embody the most important moments of his life. A more accurate description would be that they embody the emotions he felt at the time.
And it’s here where Arise is at its most impressive. The most important aspect of this man’s life was the woman he loved. The plot is never told to you but rather shown through various creative ways. Statues spread throughout each small world tell a part of the story; one moment that defines that stage of their relationship. You can also venture off the beaten path a bit to find hidden memories. These unlock nice watercolor pictures that lend to the story. Even if you find none of them, you’ll be able to follow along easily. But for players wanting extra incentive to explore, these are what the game offers.
How the levels evolve and reflect each emotion is endlessly fascinating. Life has ups and downs for us all. Some levels burst with bright colors as string instruments swell and piano keys dance along. Others are gloomy and dangerous, encapsulating terror and uncertainty. The art style of Arise is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a blend of the toy-like models in the Link’s Awakening remake and the storybook wonder of Journey. It’s got a bit of the same DNA as that last one. But what sets it apart is the main gameplay hook: time manipulation.
Reliving The Past
The old man doesn’t have much in terms of what he can do. Run, jump, climb. You know the drill. But his true power is in how he can change his environment. By pushing the right joystick to the right or left, you can move things forward or backward in time respectively. What exactly moves in time depends entirely on which level you’re playing.
In many cases, it will be something you can use as a platform to reach another area. A giant lily pad or snail, for example. As levels go on and the emotions become more complex, so does this ability. One stage had me grinning from ear to ear as I climbed a vine, expanding at my control, as I followed the growth of a giant rose. The music grew, the flower shone brightly, and I felt completely tranquil.
On the other side of the coin, this ability is your saving grace when things become heavy. Without going into spoilers, there were some instances where moving elements through time became my one lifeline. Whether I was running from encroaching fire or a horde of dark versions of the old man, these instances required a more careful approach. This put them in stark contrast with earlier carefree moments of young love. But they were none the less impactful.
The Downside of Time Travel
The time manipulation mechanic, as intriguing and engaging as it is, does come with a small caveat. Since you use the right joystick to scroll through time, you have no way to change the camera angle. This can become quite frustrating when it comes to platforming. You can’t move the camera closer or turn it to line your jump up properly. It doesn’t seem like it would have been too big an issue to let players control the camera while mapping the time manipulation to a button. But there isn’t an option to change it. You just have to make due.
This leads to another problem. The old man can be quite stiff. And while I wouldn’t expect an elderly person to be too spry, this makes the platforming the least fun aspect of the game. I was spellbound by how I could manipulate the world around me through time in order to fit my needs. But time and time again, I’d watch the old man fail to grab onto a ledge and plummet into a pit.
However, Arise would often award me with something worthwhile after conquering these questionable spots. I’d curse as I fell between lily pads, drowning for the tenth time. But afterward, I’d be swept up in a gust of wind, flying through a sprawling forest in awe.
Verdict: Arise: A Simple Story tells a relatable tale in one of the most unique ways I’ve seen all year. The emotionally reflective nature of each level conveys everything you need for an engaging experience. While the rigid platforming mechanics and no control over the game’s camera are definite hindrances, there’s enough here in design, art style, and score to make you marvel.
- Emotionally Reflective Level Design
- Enchanting Score
- Unique Time Manipulation Mechanic
- Art Style
- No Control Over the Camera
- Stiff Platforming Controls