In a lot of ways, simple is a fitting descriptor for Arise: A Simple Story. In my time playing it, I never felt overwhelmed with anything it was presenting, nor did I have a particularly difficult time understanding the story it so thoughtfully tells. With that being said, Arise is also one of the most compelling and emotional stories I’ve played this year. Running through a series of the major moments of a single man’s life, it mirrors many classic stories by finding the universal themes present in specific live events, and it utilizes its creative gameplay to create a fully immersive world whose diversified levels add tangible amounts of emotion and depth to a single man’s life. There’s so much depth to the story Arise tells, and it succeeds in almost everything it attempts to do, making it an unmissable package for anyone looking for a touching and heartfelt experience.
"There’s so much depth to the story Arise tells, and it succeeds in almost everything it attempts to do, making it an unmissable package for anyone looking for an touching and heartfelt experience."
When you look at a lot of other stories told in the gaming medium, even those that are well-received, it’s relatively uncommon that they embrace interactivity as a legitimate avenue for storytelling. While they use gameplay as moments for exposition, many games could work even without their interactive elements. With Arise, though, it’s hard to imagine another medium that could tell this story as well as gaming. When the cutscenes stop, the story doesn’t take a backseat. Instead, seemingly every aspect of the game adds something to the overall emotional impact the entire package presents. The environments, animations, and even the gameplay itself have clear impacts on the game’s story and tone, in a way that makes for a true escape into a world filled with symbolism and connection.
At its core, Arise is a platformer. Your primary method of interacting with the world is controlling a timeline of the environment. By pushing or pulling the right stick, you can go forward or backward in time, which changes the environment in unique ways and allows you to solve platforming puzzles. One level sees the timeline range from winter to spring, so moving the right stick can either add snow to the ground or melt the snow and raise water levels. Another has you controlling diminishing daylight to position beams of light and allow the man to stay safe from demons. Doing this allows you to traverse the environments and complete levels, each of which has a unique environmental change over time. Turning the time back to winter and increasing the snow level, for instance, might allow the man to jump down from a ledge onto the snow to save him from falling to his death, while melting it and increasing the water level may allow him to then jump on a wooden platform and move across the water to a previously unreachable island.
The magic of the gameplay is that each level uniquely represents a different period or significant event of the man’s life, and the game is very effective at allowing you to learn and improve at the gameplay without becoming repetitive or stale. Of the ten primary chapters, there were very few moments where I felt I was doing something I had already done, but I always felt as though I was becoming better at controlling the flow of time and platforming throughout the levels, especially as later levels require more precise timing. Admittedly, as these later levels progress, puzzles get a bit more difficult, and the fixed camera causes some depth and signposting problems, especially when the platforming becomes more precise and there’s less room for error. As an entire gameplay package, though, while this isn’t necessarily the first game with the idea of moving time back and forth, it’s one of the most effective at making it feel vital to the whole package, instead of just a means for more intricate puzzle-solving.
"The magic of the gameplay is that each level uniquely represents a different period or significant event of the man’s life, and the game is very effective at allowing you to learn and improve at the gameplay without becoming repetitive or stale."
The story, then, is the centerpiece that everything in this whole package adds to. While it’s not particularly complicated in terms of the actual story beats that play out in this man’s life, it does not take away from its impact. Starting from childhood, we don’t even know the name of the main character, and yet we can fully relate to and connect with him. From this moment on, you’ll have the ability to experience the highs and lows of life, from triumph to heartbreak. Even though the moments themselves aren’t particularly complicated or out of the blue, they remain full of emotion. Despite a lack of dialogue, I consistently felt emotionally connected to this man. One moment had me physically fist pump out of happiness, while another pushed me to tears. It does an incredible job of pacing to allow for some of the somewhat common occurrences to become so powerful and moving. Anything beyond these details, though, you should experience for yourself, as it’s worth it to experience it for yourself by interacting with the world.
It’s all a testament to how well the story is told, both in substance and in structure. The astoundingly beautiful score makes up for the lack of dialogue by creating a palpable tone for every moment. And while the cutscenes can tell enough of a story by themselves, the environments through which you’re interacting add so much to the story. Chapters that celebrate triumphant moments of this man’s life are bright and cheerful, using warmer colors and classic symbols for happiness. One unforgettable happy moment happens on top of a bed of sunflowers. But when the chapters take a turn and represent the sad or dejected moments, they become dark and depressing, using sparse lighting, raging fires, and demons. Each chapter is different and uniquely displays the distinct emotion felt in that point of life, even if they usually fall into either generally happy or generally sad. Some of the chapters are less impactful than others, overshadowed by more important moments or more unique elements of gameplay, but it’s admirable that almost every chapter takes a new perspective on the core gameplay and allows for a new understanding of that moment in life.
It’s beautifully designed, too. Darker chapters represent the more challenging moments in life, and, by design, are often more difficult. Brighter chapters, then, are more upbeat and are often much more forgiving, creating environments that focus more on the general beauty than on any particular struggle. The visuals complement these ideals, too. Nearly everything is beautifully animated, from the hand-drawn pictures that explain particular memories to the man himself, who, despite having no facial features apart from eyes, emotes exquisitely. It’s also incredibly detailed, showing the man’s progressing age as time passes, moving slower and even stopping to crack his back when he falls at older ages.
"Nearly everything is beautifully animated, from the hand-drawn pictures that explain particular memories to the man himself, who, despite having no facial features apart from eyes, emotes exquisitely."
Everything comes together to create the feeling of a real person who’s gone through an actual lifetime of memories. Framing the story as an old man looking back and reliving his memories allows it to be more reminiscent than experiential, but watching him experience his memories again is almost as powerful as your ability to experience it for the first time. In the 6 or so hours it took me to complete the game, this was the reason I could not put it down. It’s touching, beautiful, emotional, heartbreaking, and, most of all, real. Despite it being a simple story of one man, there are moments in here that almost any person can relate to. So yes, simple is a misleading term, but I applaud Piccolo Studio for using it, because even though they were right in the spirit of the name, they managed to fit a phenomenal experience inside it.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Beautiful story; Creative gameplay that intertwines with the story; Gorgeous score; Diverse levels.
Fixed camera causes some frustrating platforming.