A heartfelt tale about an old man reliving the key moments of his life after he himself has died, Arise: A Simple Story is one of the more emotional and captivating experiences I’ve had in video games in a long time. Hitting familiar beats of what made games like Journey and Gris so successful, Piccolo Studio have crafted a wonderful and memorable adventure that made me sob several times before the end credits rolled, from both happiness and sadness.
You start Arise at your own funeral, before quickly transporting to a sort of astral plane where you uncover the experiences that shaped you as a man. It begins innocently enough, referencing your childhood, the relationships you’ve formed with loved ones in your life and so on. None of this is communicated verbally or with text however; the charm of the game is that the levels themselves are visual manifestations of these life experiences, and you can unlock “memories” in the form of gorgeous hand-drawn artworks reminiscent of Studio Ghibli and encounter stone statues representative of specific moments in time, which your character will often stop and take a moment to reminisce and react.
The core style of the game is a platformer, but the mechanic that makes the experience more individual is that time can be controlled back and forth, with varying results. One of the early areas has you controlling the season, melting snow to create new pathways. The next, you’re bouncing across tilted sunflowers, hitching a ride with some nearby bees and romantically flying through the air on a gust of wind from lily-pad to lily-pad. It brought a smile to my face, tapping into a child-like whimsy and wonderment, with a joyous soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a Disney movie.
Maneuvering the passage of time in this way allows for some creative use of puzzles throughout Arise, but it’s never difficult to the point of frustration. Whenever I felt stuck for a moment, it only took me a couple of back-and-forth moments to see what visually changed so that I could progress. Visuals are colourful and truly pop off the screen; it’s at times stunningly beautiful, in fact, with real variety in each environment.
The charming and sweet scenes mentioned above eventually make way for some darker levels as the story progresses. Much like in real life, it’s not all flowers and sunshine, after all. By moving to a darker tone, the puzzles themselves became more fundamentally representative of the emotions of each life test. Pieces of earth literally shift beneath you, causing you to line up the correct course and pause time so that you can traverse without falling. Some strange creatures begin to appear, and must be dealt with before they overwhelm you.
I’m not going to lie, some of the metaphors are a little heavy-handed, but as I was experiencing them… living them as this character, I couldn’t help but feel very connected to him. Arise: A Simple Story does an incredible job of combining a minimalist art style with a glorious uplifting score to create a world that feels both magical and memorable. Sometimes the gameplay itself doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the production, however. I prefer my platformers to be a bit more precise, and the deliberate slower pace of the game and need to have certain platforms in the right place at the right time meant I fell to my death more than I’m proud to admit. There were moments when I really wanted to just persist with the beautiful story but was being held back by a couple of mistimed jumps that I couldn’t telegraph properly from the sometimes far-out perpsective.
Still, these little frustrating moments didn’t detract from what I felt in my heart during the adventure. As the title clearly suggests, this is a simple story, about a man and the life he lived. But it’s told so eloquently and effortlessly with some real emotional gut-punches along the way that left me reeling as they happened, and continue to stay with me days after I’ve completed it.
The year of gaming might almost be over, but don’t miss out on the gorgeous Arise: A Simple Story, available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.