September 22, 2020

Andreas Betsche

‘When The Past Was Around’ is the game we desperately needed in these stressful pandemic times

September 22, 2020 | Andreas Betsche

Sometimes it’s only short moments that have a big impact: When The Past Is Around is just a short game, but rarely has the experience been so impressive and emotional. This point ‘n click adventure by Mojiken Studio from Indonesia tells a story about love, loss, pain, and moving on, which doesn’t get lost in depression but also manages to remember and celebrate the beautiful things in life.

It’s about Eda, a young woman, and her love for a violin-playing owl man. In beautifully drawn panels, we experience how the two find each other and live together, yes, are in fact very happily together. Early on in the game, however, it becomes apparent that their happiness would not seem to last forever … When The Past Is Around tells its story without words, only with gestures, music, and powerful imagery. It is Eda’s memories that drive the action, which therefore becomes a fragmentary, almost dreamlike experience.

The combination and logic puzzles, which are typical of point ‘n click adventures, follow a similar approach. They remain always remain comprehensible and solvable despite their largely absurd implementation. One time we have to find suitable ingredients to make tea and then we decrypt the code of a safe to find medicine. In general, however, the game is more focused on the narrative and sees the gameplay more as a means to an end. Still, it’s fun to puzzle your way from room to room and relive Eda’s memories. 

The audio-visual design of the game is outstanding. Following her earlier works A Raven Monologue and She & The Light Bearer, the artist Brigitta Rena created beautiful pastel-colored scenes and characters that are so expressive that only minimal animation is needed to make them come to life. So, When The Past Was Around is a great pleasure just to look at. By the way, almost every picture is also ideal as a desktop background. The game’s atmosphere is supported by the splendid soundtrack, which consistently uses only a few strings and a piano to adopt the catchy theme in different variations to the game’s script. A melody that reverberates even after the game has ended.

As we said, When The Past Was Around is a short treat. Even inexperienced players will see the end after a maximum of three hours due to the low level of difficulty. However, the developers know how to use this short time sensibly and tell an emotional story without lengths. The puzzle design also remains pleasantly varied, even if it is nowhere near as creative as the visual design of the game.

When The Past Is Around is a game with a message aimed at all those who have suffered a severe blow in the past. It feels like we needed a game like this, especially in difficult times like these. In addition, the game sets new standards in terms of graphics, because we have seldom seen backgrounds that are so beautifully drawn. So if you are not afraid of a very emotional story and like to solve a few riddles and puzzles, we can unreservedly recommend the game to you. Everyone else should at least take a look at it because already watching and listening to the game is absolutely worthwhile.

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When The Past Is Around is available for PC on Steam. This review is based on a free review copy provided by the publisher Toge Productions.

Andreas Betsche

Andreas Betsche founded Virtual SEA in early 2016 after researching Cambodian mobile games for his Master’s thesis. He has a background in Southeast Asia studies and has worked and lived in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Since he has been actively playing games since the early 90s, combing both worlds in Virtual SEA brought together both of his passions.

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