It’s not at all what it seems

So, I played Rime finally. Mostly because it has been free on PS+ during February. I was mildy interested otherwise, but not $40 interested. After the fact, though, there is a part of me that kind of wishes that I hadn’t played Rime.

I knew nothing about it going in. It looked like another “guide this character around the island and solve some basic puzzles and we’ll tell you a story” kind of game. Not totally a walking simulator, because you can jump and climb and swim and all those good video game verbs, but fairly close. It’s a generally non-violent game, too. You never attack anything, and your main means of interacting with the world is to shout at stuff.

And the first forty minutes or so substantiated my hypothesis. You’re set free on an island, with some basic puzzles, a short list of collectibles, and a few mysteries to discover. This is great. It’s really pretty, very scenic, and the world design is quite good. To keep you from swimming too far away, there are schools of jellyfish that you can’t pass. Much better than an invisible wall!

But then you reach the tower, which appears to be the goal, and which I sort of thought was going to be the endgame. There are so many collectibles left, though! Maybe I just did a bad job of exploring? No, there’s a lot of game after that. Four more chapters. Each entirely distinct from the rest. The fun, colourful island replaced with desert ruins, wooded ruins, rainy ruins. A lot of ruins, is what I’m getting at.

MASSIVE SPOILERS NOW.

It’s the story that bothered me, though. Throughout the game, you can find little keyholes that show you a piece of art which is ostensibly telling the story. Up until chapter five, I thought that it was about the king of the island and his son, driven apart by the death of the queen. It actually reminded me of The Unfinished Swan, but I’m not sure I really remember what that was about. Or more accurately, I’m not sure I ever understood its story in the first place. Whatever. The point is, it seems like you’re the prodigal prince of this fantastical land, and you’ve come to bring hope back to the world tainted by the king’s despair.

But then, in chapter five, it turns out that no, that’s not what’s happening at all. It turns out that the boy is dead. And you’re either guiding him to his afterlife or helping his father work through the pain of losing his son. Maybe both. The five chapters are based on the five stages of grief, and the ending sees the father finally accept his loss. This all comes out of freakin’ nowhere and it was like a sudden flurry of punches straight to the gut. I sat there, heartbroken, for minutes contemplating what I’d just seen, tears rolling down my cheeks, cursing the game for what it had just done to me.

And that would be okay. I mean, I’ve played sad games before. I’ve played games that cut me deeper than this. But that fact that it sprang completely out of left field felt like a really low blow. Plus, all those collectibles and trophies seem more tacky than ever in a game like this. I read a really great article about how all of Shadow of the Colossus’ extra content undercuts its story and themes, and I feel that applies here too. Some people fault the game for its bland gameplay or questionable framerate, but I have more problems with the storytelling.

Needless to say, I deleted it immediately afterward because continuing to play it more for trophies felt wrong. I then began playing Onechanbara Z2: Chaos because I needed a really strong palette cleanser after that. Don’t get me wrong, I like Rime. It’s just got a really painful ending.


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