Video games often struggle to strike a balance between how gameplay and narrative are presented. For some players, narration can often be detrimental to how the game itself is played. For example, slower paced gameplay with emphasis on exploration and discovery through interaction can feel like a chore for the impatient. If you are like me, however, you may prefer strong storytelling to, say, the arcade-style, pick-up-and-play multiplayer shooters where minimal narration exists solely to excuse the vast amount of bloodshed. And I spent countless hours of my childhood in the local arcade!
When consoles were introduced to the home, we began to see more emphasis placed on narrative-driven video games, such as Final Fantasy VII (PS1), Silent Hill 2 (PS2), The Last of Us (PS3), and NieR: Automata (PS4). And like the aforementioned video games, Arise: A Simple Story strikes the balance between narration and gameplay perfectly, despite its brief playtime.
Arise: A Simple Story’s narrative is not as straight-forward or “simple” as the name implies. Indie developer Piccolo Studio’s debut tells an emotional story that follows the life of our unnamed, elderly protagonist through 10 chapters; beginning with his death and funeral. From here on out, the player controls our protagonist through the afterlife in this 3D puzzle platformer, collecting memories and traversing through key moments of his life; or rather symbolic representations that you, as the player, are first discovering whilst he is simultaneously reliving it.
Basic precision platforming is combined with an inventive time shifting mechanic to form Arise’s core gameplay. For example, in the first chapter, you can raise the water level by shifting time forward with the right analog stick, allowing you to use floating debris to reach higher platforms. These time-based puzzles become more challenging as you progress through Arise’s narrative; often requiring precise leaps of faith within mere seconds of a time shift.
You’ll also need to use the protagonist’s grappling hook at times which, when combined with the ability to shift time backward and forwards, feels surprisingly intuitive. Unfortunately, not everything about the controls feels that way. Frequently I found myself jumping off a platform to my death due to the fixed camera perspective that Arise utilizes.
This fixed perspective made it difficult to judge the axis of movement, becoming an exercise in both trial-and-error and frustration during chapters that require strict precision. Luckily, this is mitigated by Piccolo’s decision to create frequent respawn checkpoints. At no point during Arise’s adventure did I feel I had to tediously traverse back through sections I had previously explored. No time was unnecessarily lost.
And what an adventure it is! Arise can be completed in roughly seven hours, but during this time I was captivated by its narration on human life and the passage of time; complimented by David García’s heartfelt musical score and Piccolo’s breathtaking art direction, akin to that of a Pixar production. You don’t have to experience Arise alone either. Local co-operative gameplay allows a friend to jump in at any moment; with one player taking control of the protagonist and the other taking control of time itself.
In some ways, Arise: A Simple Story is perfectly named because it forgoes traditional dialogue or text-based narration for visual storytelling. However, through the inventive environmental game design that pushes the narrative forward to its well-realized and emotional conclusion, there is a complexity to Arise that left me misty-eyed by its affecting story of love and loss.
Arise: A Simple Story review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.