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Arise: A Simple Story

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Techland
Developer: Piccolo Studio
Release Date: Dec. 3, 2019

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Arise: A Simple Story'

by Joseph Doyle on Feb. 20, 2020 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Arise is an emotional journey and a deeply moving adventure game through the life of two people where memories come alive and time bends to the player's will.

As the camera falls from the night sky to the crowd surrounding a Norse funeral pyre, a flickering fire cascades across the solemn, mourning faces. As they hang their heads, the scene is engulfed in a bright white flash. The deceased are now on the peak of a mountain and surrounded by hovering snowflakes. The player uses the right analog stick to affect the terrain, at which point the snow starts to fall in reverse, and the winter sun settles on a peak in the background, prompting our gray protagonist to rise and begin his journey into his past. Dreamy intrigue and empathy build throughout the entirety of Arise: A Simple Story, a game that uses its simplicity to explore growth, love and pain in a profound and poignant manner.

Our protagonist picks himself to his feet, brushes off the snow, and begins to traverse the dreamscape of his own memories. We begin by being transported back to his youth, and with simpler times come simpler terrain. Playing as the old man trekking through the level, you use the power of time to raise or lower the water and snow in the surrounding areas, taking us between grassy isles with simple and mostly effective platforming. At times, the scenery and narrative are lost to both the player and character fumbling about, because it's tough to keep track of how many different buttons need to be pressed at a time, in which direction, etc. Our time-weathered friend gracelessly heaves himself over each ledge and picks himself up after each lofty jump, taking in as much from his yesteryears as he physically can, finding figurines of himself throughout his youth, and sometimes a specific memory here and there.

As you progress, the levels expand in scope and intensity. The word "joy" splashes across the screen as you find yourself in a wonderland of extremes, trying to catch a kite that the younger version of yourself lost to a powerful gale. Flowers bloom and tower over you, bees meander, and spider webs are woven and unwoven as time spins at your control. Sharing art styles with games such as Human: Fall Flat and Gangbeasts allows the narrative to largely speak for itself. The lack of definition allows the player to build a rapport with the character and buy into the whimsy. Sunlight spills through the cracks of the vegetation, dulling and brightening the green grass as you stand atop a mushroom. Meanwhile, the water and flowers bounce in time with the changing winds, easily and handily filling the player with the aforementioned joy. Sunflowers serve as platforms that wax and wane with the flow of the sun over time, and your man bounces along until he finally reaches the peak of the level. After soaring through the cloud on the kite tails, his younger figurine is cloud-watching with a little girl by his side; the old man allows himself a small respite after miles of trekking.

Your figurines grow in size and stature, allowing the player to see the man progressing in his life, but he's terrified of both losing his companion from before and traversing the harrowing storm before him. The clouds darken upon a steep valley, and the orchestral pieces that once chirped and twinkled descend into a mix of howling winds and murmuring strings. The music and sound in this game largely pick up the pieces where dialogue could but refuses to go. Michael Giacchino and his work on various films, namely "Up," come to mind while playing. Rather than encapsulating the scenes, the music is peppered in, allowing the swells of the violin to come and go, giving the score a gravity that's otherwise understated. This can be said about the rest of the game as well; elation, fear, happiness and melancholy are all deftly curated by David GarcĂ­a's fantastic soundtrack. Making it to the end of this peril-filled canyon sees the first instance of pain, and eventually the beginning of our character's demons, manifested.

As a whole, Arise: A Simple Story is a look into someone else's life passing before their eyes as they pass. It's an interactive story to behold, as the protagonist traverses landscapes and a narrative that's brimming with feeling and meaning. Interest is naturally fostered, like a bedtime story told to a child. Time folds and unfolds at a whim, and the puzzles are intriguing but manageable. Colors fly off the screen, and light dazzles the player and fades quickly into the background when the story becomes harrowing and lonely; the game can instill strong emotions into the player at the drop of a hat. Vagueness in the character design and narrative creates a blank canvas upon which the player may put anything or anyone they've ever known. While all of this occurs, music spins in the background, ceremoniously presenting how the player should feel. The title occasionally feels derivative and lacks a tightness in the controls, but generally, Arise is largely filled with strengths that result in exactly what it promises to deliver: a simple narrative that also happens to be incredibly moving.

Score: 8.1/10

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