They say that before you die, your life flashes before your eyes. That's the premise of Arise: A Simple Story. Of course, the "simple story" here is a human life. And while we are all complex beings with twists and turns in our own stories, when you boil it down, we probably all share some common milestones – both big and small, that sort of define the plot points of our own stories.
Arise is at its heart a 3D platformer – a genre I tend to not care much for. However, the game's main gimmick is the ability to rewind and fast forward time a brief bit. Given that you're basically in limbo, living out the major memories of your life before slipping away, the ability to play with time makes sense. It also makes for more of a puzzle-platformer than your average Mario 64 clone. In some ways it reminded me of Journey in its arty lean, but it also felt way more "game" than just an experience.
In some ways, Arise feels a bit like "Midlife Crisis: The Game." And here I am, about to turn 41 in a few months. So there's that. But yeah, the game certainly hit me in the feels at times. Both good and bad. The first couple of stages revolve around simple and lighthearted memories. You relive a first kiss with the metaphor of snow melting come spring, and the simple pleasure of flying a kite as a child utilizing some beautiful imagery of sunflowers. Then... your boyhood crush's family moves away, and the game steers into heartbreak for your first experience of loss. In this stage the point was driven home by the landscape literally being split apart under your feet.
Then things take a darker turn in tone. The stage called "Alone" was legitimately creepy at times, with shadowy figures swarming around you. Keep in mind, this is a game devoid of combat. It's all about solving the environmental puzzles to march forward in time. I think this chapter was about the scariness of striking out in the world on your own.
Then there was "Romance," in which you're constantly spinning and flying, sometimes with dreamy images of the full moon behind you. It's actually a bit trippy, but sweet. Moving on, was "Flower," which was filled with egg/sperm imagery and seriously looked like the stage took place in a womb. Love and everything that comes with it certainly makes sense for defining moments in ones' life.
And then we're greeted by a total gut-punch. The next chapter is about the death of your newborn child. I really didn't see that one coming. And with a two-year old running around my house, it actually knocked the metaphorical wind out of me. Just as brutal was the follow up chapter "Solace," in which you must deal with your wife's grief. This one had some amazing metaphorical imagery, and definitely pushes the old "games as art" argument forward. The stage was all about putting the literal world back together. At times you were repairing the land beneath your feet, repairing an actual rift between you and your wife. It's heavy stuff.
And then it gets worse. "Alone" is a chapter whose title should have been a spoiler for me, but again, I was saddened by realizing it was about losing your wife. Game-wise, this by far the most frustrating chapter with its classic "ice level" mechanics of sliding around on ice, and easily dropping into frozen water. I had to replay parts of this level many times.
Finally, the game ends with "Hope." Given that we all know the ending of the game before it even starts (you die), it actually had a happy ending that I won't spoil here but instead just say that it did briefly warm my little heart. Alone: A Simple Story was a cool and well made little indie game. While its themes have certainly been done before in other games, and while other games have hit me harder on an emotional level, I was impressed with it. I think my biggest surprise was that instead of leaning so hard into the emotion and story, the developers did actually put work into making this a game that's fun to play. Sure it was frustrating at times, but it was overall a fun and unique experience.
My biggest complaint would be the lack of replayability. I mean, the story is the story and I feel like I've seen it and don't need to see it again. The gameplay was solid, but not so compelling that I'd want to subject myself to it again. In that sense, it feels like a genuinely good but not great game. Something I'm glad I played, and definitely something worth talking about. But not quite great enough to feel the need to replay.