Always Sometimes Monsters

As is now tradition, Farla bought me a smattering of indie games for Christmas. Most of them will come in a quickpost, but this one was so awful it gets its own.

To begin with, this is basically The Name of the Wind: The Video Game. The developers apparently thought the best way to tell a story about the grueling monotony of modern life was to force players to do grueling monotonous tasks. My final playtime was somewhere around 9 hours, and maybe half of that was actually spent on plot. The gameplay consists of nothing but walking around at a mind-numbingly slow pace, talking to people to advance quests, and money grinding. It’s totally superfluous and maddeningly dull. This story might possibly have worked as a novel or movie, but it does not work as a game.

Unfortunately, the story is awful too. It’s one of those Edgy™ settings full of drugs and hookers where everyone is the kind of banal low-grade jerk we all know and hate. It’s abundantly clear that the whole thing was written by two dudebros. Just as an example, in one early-game sidequest one of your friends overdoses on heroin and goes to the hospital, but the doctor is a complete monster who’s going to let him die because he can’t pay his hospital bills. Another character says he’s probably into weird porn you can use to blackmail him and lo and behold that is exactly what happens. (And it’s really embarrassing submissive BDSM porn because haha subs are so pathetic and gross.) That’s a very kind of… I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but I’ve definitely seen stuff like it before. It betrays a very juvenile way of looking at the world, where everyone is exactly as horrible as you think they are. There’s never any nuance or shades of gray, the protagonists are never wrong about people, everything just sucks but you get to be smug about how you’re totally right about everything sucking and that makes it worth it apparently. What’s the point in investing my time in such an awful world? Supposedly this was supposed to be a deconstruction about doing monstrous things in the pursuit of your goals, but that’s meaningless when everyone else is a monster too. The game constantly thinks it’s on to some Deep Truths about the nature of choice and the human spirit, but it can’t get over itself long enough to realize it’s only talking about its own distorted view of reality.

Even beyond that, the story is so incredibly trite. I don’t know why Farla keeps getting me romance stories, but this one is particularly awful. The plot doesn’t work if you see the love interest as anything more than a trophy to be won. The premise is that the player character broke up with their partner a year ago, but now they’ve suddenly gotten an invitation to their wedding, and decide then and there they will work themselves to the bone on a cross-country road trip to get there in time. Why is Protagonist doing this? You get to decide! …at the eleventh hour right before the wedding, along with a multiple choice past deciding who broke up with whom and why. To make this worse, the rest of the story tries to be deep and ask you if you’re doing the right thing, do the ends justify the means etc., and I could not get into it at all because I didn’t know what I was working towards in the first place. The whole experience was honestly surreal; the game was pushing so hard to make me project myself onto Protagonist, but at every turn it distanced us more and more. (Protagonist gets their own lines and personality, for instance.) I felt like a ghost.

Then if you say you’re only there to give your blessing and not to win the ex back, everyone calls you a liar and you end up a suicidal hobo because life is meaningless without true love. Christ, game, why are you pretending to be interactive if you’re only going to punish me for not agreeing with you? The correct course of action is to suck up to Love Interest’s mom and repent all the bad things you did during your journey (including saying that you broke up with Love Interest because you felt unworthy, which, wow) so that she blesses your union when you object to the wedding, at which point Love Interest will dump your rival ON THE ALTAR to marry you, because why trust them to know what they really want, all that matters is your obsession with this one person. Then the rival will become the hobo (because again, love is all that matters in life) and you can kill them in the framing story, because yes, the story really is that petty. (Also your rival is a total dick who tells you to screw off even after you sacrifice your career to save their life. Like, wow, they made absolutely sure to completely assassinate any feelings of guilt or moral ambiguity you could possibly have about this.)

It’s actually kind of interesting. The story has a similar premise and theme to Night in the Woods — college dropout tries to find meaning in a cruel and uncaring universe — yet in execution it flops so badly. NitW was praised for its verisimilitude and relatability, with a lot of people saying that they know people exactly like the characters and that made the story pack a really heavy punch. And, yeah, here I know people exactly like the character too — and I say “character” because there is really only one character spread around the whole cast, and it’s the kind of person I do not like or care about. I don’t even care enough to want them to die horribly, I just don’t care. I don’t care what happens to these people.

The only satisfying part is where you get to kill the narrator before the story begins.

7 Comments

  1. Y says:
    Hey, I downloaded this game on my phone a few years ago but I don’t seem to have it anymore. I never got very far and the main thing I remember is the dialogue being so ridiculously aggressive it was funny.

    But, Night in the Woods! I haven’t played that yet but I’m really interested. Do you have any other comments on it?

    1. I liked it and recommend it, though it’s another thing that might have worked better as a movie. There are three possible quests you can do in the endgame, but you’re only allowed to do two before the plot abruptly forces you to move on, which I felt was just there to force a replay. I have one specific thought on one specific thing in it (the conclusion of Bea’s storyline), but I am waiting on second opinions before I discuss it.

  2. Roarke says:

    Wow, do I get the impression that this story is personally driven. By which I mean, I really hope the writers’ exes are living safe and happy lives away from them.

    Not sure I see the tie to Name of the Wind, though. Is it the money-grinding, or the main character’s viewpoint only being correct, or never mind, I get it.

  3. illhousen says:

    I feel validated for not getting the game despite Steam suggesting it to me, like, every other time I browse recs.

  4. Farla says:

    I don’t know why Farla keeps getting me romance stories

    Because the venn diagram of story heavy and romance is basically a circle. If I was making a conscious choice to give you romance stories I’d be picking more entertaining romances.

  5. Confused Lurker says:
    This game and its apparent sequel are being discounted as part of a pride month sale on Steam. I recognized the title and description from this old review (sorry for the post necromancy by the way) and I was just… wondering why? But I don’t want to spend money on a game that probably isn’t what I’m looking for whether or not it’s good, so I’m opening the question to people here who’ve already played it
    1. I honestly have no idea. I think you can technically have the main relationship be a gay one in this? But otherwise it doesn’t really have anything to do with queerness. The developer probably just wants to get in on the wave to show they’re not homophobic or whatever.

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