Monday, 20 June 2016


Played so far: Single playthrough. About 5 hours (this is not unusual from what I can tell)

I'm going to do my best to avoid talking about the plot and JUST talk about the process of playing the game.

This is a narrative-focused semi-adventure game. The 'puzzles' are very light, it's mostly about running around and making decisions to progress through the story, plus a single mechanic with the radio which you use a lot. There are some pseudo-platforming elements, in terms of having to maneuver and jump around to get to the places where you're going, but I don't think it's possible to lose due to jumps or walking off edges or anything like that. The walking is mostly to embody you in the character and pace your discoveries, because a lot of talking and such will happen while you are walking from point to point.

One of the most notable things about the decisions, especially coming from a VN/RPG background, is the power of interruptions. As the characters are talking, you'll get little popup bubbles of possible things you can say. If you don't choose any of the options, the bubbles will eventually fade out and disappear, and your character stays quiet. (This feature appears in some VNs as well, perhaps best known in School Days) How long the options stay available depends on the conversation, since your interjection might not make sense if the point you were responding to passes, but if people are asking you a question they're obviously going to wait longer for you to reply, sometimes with optional extra lines to prompt you a few more times Similarly, when you DO choose an option, sometimes your character will wait for the person currently speaking to finish their line and other times she immediately jumps in to cut them off and/or change the subject.

This makes the conversations much more natural-feeling and tumbling-over-each-other than most video game dialog (RPGs are notorious for having poor pacing with multi-person conversations, like when you have to wait for each character to separately laugh at a joke and click to continue to the next one), which of course also means that it's a lot easier to miss things. If you cut someone off, you'll never know what they were going to say.

This game is probably a nightmare to play if you have any sort of hearing difficulty and/or are not a very fast reader. There ARE subtitles. Mostly. For the major character dialog. But NOT for a lot of the audio cues that are involved in puzzles (they usually have visual cues as well, at least), or a lot of the radio broadcasts, some of which are extra flavor and world building but some of which are fairly important, especially if you're trying to really understand the story. And while the major dialog is subtitled, those subtitles will appear and disappear in a flash if someone's speaking quickly or gets interrupted, and there's (as far as I know) no way to see a log, so if you can't process them, you're going to be constantly missing things. I AM a fast reader so I don't know how much of a problem this presents. Of course, you can just flounder along in confusion, because it's a spooky horror game and you're going to be doing a lot of that anyway.

Gameplay choices in things like this are a double-edged sword. As I mentioned, the walking around and interacting is not really a puzzle to solve so much as it is a method of pacing discovery and giving your characters time to talk, or not talk. You can decide you're fed up with people and press ahead, or you can hang back and give them extra time. The physicality of decisions gives you more room to waffle and be unsure and start to do one thing and then go the other way instead. All of this puts you more in the moment and makes you feel more like you're taking direct actions to move the plot along than a simple VN would. HOWEVER... well, hang on, I'll get back to that.

The other point is that you can't make manual saves. There are countless dialog options and you're always picking one and leaving others behind, but you can't make a save and go back and try the other, you have to go with what you've got. You have one automatically saved game as you go through and that's it. And you have no idea what your decisions actually affect. This does help with the roleplay aspect of pressing you to speak more naturally and not completely fixate on making the 'right' choice at every juncture because you can't... but it also means that you're constantly, constantly abandoning options that you'll never get to see.

In combination with the earlier point, we hit one of the big problems I have with "more immersive" adventure games with choices. They tend to be a PAIN to replay.

I missed a whole bunch of stuff on my first playthrough. Some of it is things where I'd like to see more of the dialog options, some of it is obvious BIG CHOICES within the story where I could have gone the other way and didn't, some of it is stuff where at one point the narrative tension was high and pushed me to actually finish the game but that meant I didn't look around and pick up all the collectibles... etc, etc. There's a ton of content in the game I haven't touched yet with my five hour playthrough. However, I am really not interested in going through all those hours of walking around again in order to get only one more slice of the pie.

From a business perspective it probably makes sense to focus more on keeping the player involved on their first playthrough and less on making it easy and convenient for completionists to see the rest, because they're a much smaller proportion of players and generally willing to put in more work. But it annoys me!

1 comment:

Zakamutt said...

I haven't played Oxenfree, but I remember feeling the same when it came to replayability after finishing Creatures Such As We (played on mobile from, the IAP is just the possibility of donating from what I remember):

It's probably still more replayable than Oxenfree as you describe it, though, being basically reading and a lot of choices.