Like most Southeast Asian folklore, Filipino mythology is rich and spans a lot of media created by Filipinos. As a child, we had TV shows and books that delivered the expansive lore which has transcended generations. There’s no shortage of art inspired by stories told by elders and new media alike. Hiraya Manawari, anyone?
The video game medium is perfect for telling the story of the dynamic pantheon, and we see the interest spark for this kind of project every so often.
The Girl Who Sees takes up this very challenge. Set during the Japanese Occupation in the Philippines, in a town in Mindanao, Quina Laban is a girl who had to stop her formal education due to her family’s poverty. As she gets entangled with the world of mythical creatures, her power is language as she translates a prophecy that will determine her small town’s fate.
Quina’s role as a precocious and adventurous young protagonist is a nice touch that allows children to put themselves in her shoes. After all, the Philippines’ national hero, José Rizal, is often quoted to insist that the youth is the hope of the country. This representation in games is refreshing and makes it accessible to a large, young audience.
This accessibility widens still with the choice of gameplay. At its core, The Girl Who Sees is a point-and-click adventure, having you traverse through different settings and solving problems of the inhabitants of the small Filipino town. The game allows two ways to progress through the game: answering questions or turn-based battles. You are given a chance to try out both modes before you are locked into an option.
After that, you will stick to your choice throughout the game. The quiz-based sequences are reminiscent of Sibika at Kultura (Civics and Culture) activities I had in elementary, albeit more fun and interactive. I learned a thing or two and refreshed my memory about parts of my country’s history. The questions did tend to repeat often, but in the educational sense, they did not get in the way of the “fun” of the game. Perhaps an additional batch of questions could be released in the future to balance the amount of story and the variety of questions the player will encounter.
The turn-based action scenes are reminiscent of tactical strategy games such as Final Fantasy Tactics. You are in an isometric battle area, choose certain moves and upgrade your capabilities by putting together potions with the local shaman. These battles run slow since Quina’s damage level starts very low, but you level up and get more powerful companions on your journey. The new skills you can add to your battle portfolio keep the battles interesting, but in the end, all encounters play out similarly.
The puzzles that put visual cues and language lessons are very effective. As a native speaker of the Tagalog language, it surprised me how instructional and natural learning new words in the game was. Be it the thoughtful dialogue with helpful encyclopedia entries, labeled collectables scattered throughout town, or translating the prophecy, every activity has a clear, educational purpose.
I also appreciated the wide variety of puzzles throughout the game. Aside from the fetch quests, you will also experience a dance sequencing game, a Cooking Mama-like potion creation minigame, among others. They gave exciting challenges throughout the game and always kept you on your toes.
The art and music are expressive and charming. The developers went into painstaking detail to ensure the character sprites, monster sprites, and environments are accurate. You can feel and see there is a lot of love put into the whole presentation. The entire audiovisual package is a treat for those who always wanted to imagine the Philippine’s mythical crew of creatures in video game form.
The voice acting and the soundtrack are commendable aspects of the sound design. The music and background noise appropriately fits the scenes. The voice acting is effective and gives a lot of personality to the characters you meet and help as Quina. They hit all the right words and comedic timings.
Overall, The Girl Who Sees is a neat package of education and entertainment. The game accomplishes what it set out to do: it encourages learning Tagalog in a simple but effective manner, and it also provides a snapshot of the wealth of Philippine mythology with a wartime backdrop. I can see schools adopting the game for students to try out, and they will surely learn new things as they go through its 2-hour runtime.
The Girl Who Sees is a great experience, and its simple yet impactful story features excellent writing with a sense of humor and respect for history. I hope that The Girl Who Sees becomes a staple in educational video games in the Philippines and a guide for beginners who want a head start in learning about Filipino mythology