Emotive and poignantly beautiful, Mojiken Studio’s point and click adventure, When The Past Was Around is a game that stays with you long after you’ve reached it’s conclusion. Beneath it’s gorgeous visuals and soothing soundtrack hides a bittersweet, tale of love, loss, and learning to move on. Follow Eda through a surreal world disjointed rooms solving puzzles, as you piece together her fragmented memories and uncover the truth behind her relationship with her enigmatic lover, The Owl.
When The Past Was Around is not one of the flashier indie titles to make it’s way to the Nintendo Switch, and yet it is it’s unassuming air that makes it stand out from the rest of the console’s indie lineup. It’s a straightforward puzzle adventure game that doesn’t rely on gimmicks to convey its story. Instead the game is completely devoid of dialogue, letting the gorgeous hand-drawn visuals and soothing instrumental tracks tell the story of Eda and her enigmatic lover.
The game starts with a young woman, named Eda encountering a shadowy figure locked in a gilded cage upon freeing him from his prison he opens a door that leads to a modestly decorated room. Despite the more or less domestic locales, there’s an almost surreal dreamlike quality to the story as you ferret around solving puzzles and searching for items that will help you unlock memories in the form of feathers that in turn reveal the identity of the shadowy figure, Eda’s lover, a handsome violinist named Owl.
When The Past Was Around, is just as much about the journey as it is the destination, focusing on the emotions surrounding each moment in time, Eda revisits along the way. Each new room reveals more about Eda and Owl’s relationship, taking players through key moments from their relationship—from their first meeting to their lives together and beyond. Its clear from the start that something is amiss and it is up to you to piece together the clues to uncover the truth behind Owl’s fate. At its core, When The Past Was Around is a story of grief and the developers go to great pains to show not just the emotional toll loss has on those left behind. People deal with loss in many different ways and as Eda’s grief builds the game play mechanics change to mimic the change in tone.
Early rooms are bright and welcoming, with puzzles that range from using a box cutter to open moving boxes or watering a plant to reveal a hidden key. There was an especially fun one that involved mixing together the correct ingredients for Eda and Owl’s coffee and tea preferences. There is a casual ease to the puzzles that you don’t often find in games like this and I quite enjoyed taking my time shifting through the intimate details of Eda and Owl’s lives. The early days of their courtship are sweet, cozy even and I really loved the wholesomeness of it all. But, as time progresses and the rose tinted whimsy of the story fades and you’re reminded that all good things must inevitably come to an end.
Rooms and memories that were once full of light and color are now dark and empty. The casual searching for clues from earlier in the game has now become a frantic hunt for items—books tossed from shelves, potted plants smashed, and personal items strewn across the floor. Its a simple change that conveys so much of Eda’s emotions as she desperately fights against the heartbreak we know is just around the corner.
But, the pain of loss is not the only focus of the story, rather it’s how Eda is impacted by it. Her journey is an emotional one and at times it is hard to watch, but no less real. As someone who has experienced loss firsthand her desperate attempts to cling to the past. She is consumed by her grief and that is ultimately what is holding her back in other aspects of her life. Revisiting the past gives Eda a safe space to work through her feelings and rediscover her path in life.
Whimsical imagery and soft coloring help convey an almost dream like quality to the story. The hand-drawn images put you in the mind of a picture book and you wouldn’t be too far off the mark in calling When The Past Was Around a modern urban fairytale. The music too plays a big role in setting the tone for the game, particularly the main instrumental track which serves as the thread that ties everything together (even making its way into some of the puzzles). The puzzles are challenging, but never so difficult that I couldn’t figure them out after a few tries and the game mechanics were easy enough to figure out. I played on the switch in handheld mode and the joypad was more than sufficient for most of the puzzles; though I did resort to the touch screen for some of the tap based puzzles.
All in all, When The Past Was Around is a beautiful game with a beautiful message that takes full advantage of its 2 hour runtime. This is definitely a story that will stay with you long after you finish it and priced just under $10 it’s more than worth the asking price!
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