Dealing with loss is never an easy thing. The pain never goes away completely, but we still have to keep pushing onwards – we have to move on. That doesn’t mean that we forget those we leave behind or rather those who have left us behind though. That is one of the principle messages explored by Mojiken Studio’s point-and-click adventure When the Past Was Around told concisely within the hour and a half to two-hour experience.
After an overwhelmingly positive reception on Steam and receiving a number of awards after its initial PC release, it is no real surprise that the game has now made its way to consoles. I’m a strong believer that point-and-click games work best with a PC and mouse – they’re much more precise when it comes to…well, pointing and clicking, but When the Past Was Around’s console release doesn’t have any glaring problems. In fact, it actually plays pretty well.
But what is it about?
When the Past Was Around focuses on a young woman named Eda and the love she found with a seemingly nameless anthropomorphic owl. Eda is so lost after the death of her lover that it is down to the player to guide her through a world disjointed by the memories of the love she shared with Owl and back to the present. There’s a fine line between heart-warming and heart-wrenching and Mojiken Studio manages to walk this line and deliver a truly beautiful experience that tugs at your heartstrings.
A Story Told Through Art and Music
Without any speech, the story is told entirely through the art and music, and let me tell you right now, it both looks and sounds great. There’s not an awful lot of variation when it comes to the music, but the tunes that do feature are atmospheric. The violin music is melodic but has a sombre edge that fits the tone of the game. It’s tied to the story too, which makes it a lot more impactful. They might well get stuck in your head though.
The hand-drawn art style is beautiful. It’s simplistic, and there isn’t a lot of animation, but what there is looks like it’s being sketched in real time, which is a nice touch. The soft colours, much like the music, go a long way towards creating a comforting but slightly gloomy atmosphere that very much fits Eda’s circumstances. What is really interesting, however, is the character design, more specifically that of Owl.
In an otherwise normal world, it is unlikely that Eda’s lover is really an anthropomorphic owl. While it could simply be a design choice, the owl is a very spiritual creature that has many connotations that vary between cultures. The owl can be linked to death and wisdom, but one of the more interesting connotations I found was that of an owl acting as a messenger sent to warn or guide the living. When you take that into consideration, Eda’s lover having the appearance of an owl holds so much more meaning.
Satisfyingly Domestic Puzzles
When the Past Was Around is by no means a difficult game. The controls are simple, as is usually the case with point-and-click games, and the puzzles are mostly straightforward. Most of the puzzles are related to one another, so you’re very likely to find the solution to one puzzle in one you have or haven’t already solved. All that is required is a little bit of thought. A few had me stumped for a while before I realized that the answer had practically been looking me in the face. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that sense of frustration when a painfully simple solution to a problem becomes clear, which can lead to us questioning our own intelligence. That being said, some interactable objects can easily be overlooked unless you’re clicking everything in sight, and for this reason, the game has a hint button. It doesn’t so much provide any solutions to the problems, but it does show you what you can interact with, which narrows things down a little.
Despite the strange appearance of her lover, Eda isn’t on some sort of magical adventure. She’s just an average person trying to deal with her loss, and as such, the puzzles are all pretty domestic. It had me doing everything from uncovering safe combinations to making a cup of tea, the latter of which was very relaxing...and craving a cup of tea, but that might just be the Brit in me. I mentioned before that music plays a big role in the progression of the story, and this extends to the gameplay too. From repairing music boxes to playing notes in the correct order, a lot of the puzzles were music-related.
When the Past Was Around was undeniably a little short. It can easily be completed in under two hours, and while I would have liked a little more content, I feel that if it had been much longer, the story would have felt a little drawn out. As it is, the game delivers a satisfactory conclusion with a great deal of variety when it came to the puzzles. If it had been longer, there would have been a risk of the game growing repetitive.
A Heartfelt Story About Love and Loss
At its core, When the Past Was Around is an intricately designed story about love, loss, moving on and letting go. It’s thoughtful and subtle enough to make you think and reflect, which is always a good thing – certainly a change from sucking blood in Vampyr, which I’ve finally got around to playing.
Neither Eda nor Owl talk, but the emotion is expressed so strongly through the artwork and music that I became surprisingly invested in their story in a way I probably haven’t been since Garrus and female Shepard.
If you’ve got a couple of hours to spare and don’t fancy jumping into a new 20+ hour game, or if you want a break from what you’re currently playing, you should check it out.
Be warned though: You’ll probably have the main tune of the game stuck in your head.
Publisher: Chorus Worldwide
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Release Date: 22nd September 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of When the Past Was Around was provided by the publisher.