Arise: A Simple Story Review – Beauty In HeartbreakMarch 10, 2020
Arise: A Simple Story is an emotionally charged, heartbreaking, and thoughtful game. Across 10 unique levels, players chart the critical moments of a man’s life as he makes the transition between life and death. You explore far-ranging themes like romance, depression, grief, family, and how they all tie together. Clumsy, sometimes-frustrating platforming mars the gameplay, but as a testament to the strength of the surrounding experience, those problems don’t hold me back from a fervent recommendation. The game’s unusual title is simultaneously an aphorism and a subtle sarcasm; even the most uncomplicated life is fraught with emotional complexity, and what seems simple on the surface is anything but when examined from within.
As an old man, you wake from the stillness of your funeral pyre into limbo and must navigate a series of memories that shaped the life you lived. Each memory manifests as a visually distinct landscape inspired by a specific moment, like the first kiss with your partner, or the building of a crib ahead of a child’s birth. The visual design of each level is a particular strength, transforming concepts into a sort of visual language. In a childhood memory, everything looks bigger than it should. When confronting depression, the old man is chased by a crowd of shadowy selves, threatening to pull him down.
As you explore these memories, the right analog stick acts as a lever that fasts forwards and rewinds time around these moments of consequence. In practice, that means you might rewind time so you can jump on the back of a lily pad, and then float down the river as it flits through the path of your recollection. The time mechanic is an interesting metaphor for the way we recall important junctures, and the times that precede and follow them, with a clarity that defies easy description. It’s also a fun way to engender some light puzzle-solving and exploration.
Through the confluence of a particularly striking orchestral score, collectible art images that add definition to the memories, and a deliberate approach to level design, Arise keeps its ambitions small and focused. Because of that, it’s easy to identify with the universality of its emotional ups and downs. The highs are joyful, the lows are crushing, all in ways that feel genuinely wrenching.
I have nothing but praise for the narrative and thematic vibrancy, so it’s especially unfortunate that some of the jumping and other traversal moments are handled poorly. Nothing breaks the immersion of a powerful sequence like tumbling off a cliffside because of a misjudged platforming attempt. With the absence of a manual camera rotation stacked on top of imprecise controls, I was pulled out of the flow more than once, which is a real shame. It’s not a constant problem, but it’s one that crops up enough to hurt an otherwise stirring narrative.
Even with some stumbles, Arise is a game that knows what it wants to communicate, and does so with delicacy and sensitivity. I’ve found individual scenes coming back to mind frequently since I completed the game, most notably the moving sequence that closes the game. Accept the dilemma of a few bad jumping sequences, and push toward the emotional core, as this simple story has a lot of wisdom to share.