Jun. 18th, 2017

kjorteo: Screenshot from Hatoful Boyfriend, of Miru & Kaku looking excited and triumphant in the seat of their tank. (Hatoful: Miru & Kaku)
I am massively bending if not outright breaking my own rules to count this one as something I completed this year. I actually played through it with [personal profile] davidn and Elijah last November and the only thing I "completed" now was finally getting around to editing and posting the video we took. I was planning on doing some sort of award roundup thing around the end of the year, and I wanted this one to be included. It deserves it. It may not actually win anything (the categories I'm thinking for it have some very fierce competition) but if nothing else, it deserves a shot.

Plus, this way I get to gush about A Bird Story in blog entry form. I know a couple of my friends have hangups about YouTube videos with our real-life voices and whatnot (and mine really isn't all that great anyway,) so here's your chance to hear how much I love this game even if you didn't watch our Team Hatoful play-through and hear how much I love this game.

A Bird Story is a game by Freebird Games, which usually means several things:
  • It's an RPG Maker game, though there's no combat and it's basically a story-driven walking sim.
  • It has gorgeous high-quality custom assets (sprites, tilesets, music) that make it both visually and musically beautiful.
  • It will punch you in the feelings. Frequently and hard.

In this game's case, I think all you have to do is check out the title theme and its cover art and you can pretty much tell this one's going to be a great big check for all three.

Also, this one is sort of related to the Sigmund series, so if you're going to play it, probably best to do so after To the Moon and its two minisodes (but before Finding Paradise, if you're reading this in the future and Finding Paradise is out.) There aren't any To the Moon spoilers or anything, and this isn't even directly related, nor does it any of To the Moon's characters, but... it's sort of a side story in the same universe. The boy from this game will apparently have an upcoming role in Finding Paradise, if that counts for anything.

Anyway, A Bird Story is very short and... honestly, kind of weird until you get used to it. There is no textual dialogue--some rebus bubbles every now and then, but even those are rare--and the entire story is told through visuals, gestures and expressions, etc. Our protagonist is a somewhat neglected latchkey kid whose primary communication with his parents consists of notes that would probably say something like "Working late, dinner's in the fridge" if there were text in this game. He's kind of a ghost at school, too; not exactly picked on or anything but no one really notices him either. He goes through the routine every day, but it's a gray and lonely-feeling existence, until one day he happens to encounter and save an injured bird in the forest. Hilarity Feel trips ensue.

The presentation is incredibly surreal. The game will signify walking home after school by just sending you down a hallway that starts out in a school with tiles and lockers and and then slowly blends into dirt and trees and then an apartment building. The journey is always exactly as long as it needs to be for the narrative--if the point the game is currently trying to make is "He grabbed his umbrella before heading out the door, and at school there was a...." then his classroom might be just across the street about ten feet away from his bedroom, because we're taking the trip there for granted. Of course, him walking through the woods is very important on the day he finds that bird, so there it's shown and extended. Also, the trees literally move and change configurations as he approaches them to signify him going a different way home than usual. And that's not even getting into his ability to turn an entire book's worth of pages into a giant paper airplane and back. The whole game is made of effects like that, and I still don't claim to understand a lot of them. It all feels like traversing a dream... or a memory, which could be very important given the potential Finding Paradise connections.

Either way, there's hardly any gameplay to be had here. With the exception of a few "press space to splash in the puddle" type playing-around moments, it's literally just walking from one cutscene to the next as the narrative unfolds. But it's a really good narrative so this is fine.

I mentioned this in the Team Hatoful run, but here it is again for people who don't want to watch that: It is hard to tell a story visually. Words are cheap, but it takes skill to show the plot, what the story even is to the protagonist's emotional reactions to it, just by the way a character walks or runs or looks up or down or breaks into a wide-eyed O_O face. It is also hard to pull off effective dreamlike visuals with wildly differing settings melting into each other. Freebird Games not only was able to do both in one game, but it did both in one game in RPG Maker. I really want you all to stop and think about how impressive that is. How much work must have went into the tilesets, the boy's sprites, the cutscene scripting.... Freebird plays RPG Maker like an experienced old master plays a priceless artisan-crafted musical instrument, to just as beautiful results.

So yeah, this one was so good I worked around my own rules to include it.

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Celine Kalante Love

July 2017

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