What I love about small indie games, is their ability to explore complex ideas in an easy, often meandering way. They use image and metaphor without worrying about trying to grab the attention of every gamer out there. This is perfectly embodied in Toge Productions and Mojiken Studio’s When the Past Was Around. This is a gorgeously crafted point and click puzzle game about love, loss, and rekindling a passion.
Now the cathartic effect may have been helped for me personally as I was playing it whilst waiting for yet another update to CyberPunk 2077 to download. This little game could not be further from CD Projekt Red‘s even if it tried! When the Past Was Around is easily playable in a couple of hours as its pretty intuitive what you need to do in each scene. If you do get stuck, there’s a hint button which highlights any clickable item in the area. I also platinumed the game on the first go as there’s no particularly unusual trophies to attain. Sometimes it’s just nice to fall into a story rather than have to fight your way through it.
What’s the Story?
Throughout the game you play as Eda, a young woman who has fallen out of love with her passion. Previously a violinist, you get small insights into how as she grew, she lost the drive she once had. But all that changed when she met Owl. The game acts as a series of flashbacks to their time together. The story is gently told with no speech or text, yet you never find yourself confused. You must find keys to unlock doors and the section ends when you find a golden feather. Each chapter is from a different point in Owl and Eda’s relationship from the very beginning, to the heart-breaking end.
Music is Life
Now as this game is centred around music, it stands to reason sound will be an intrinsic part of the game. The soundtrack is constructed around a simple melody that is adapted to suit the scene. When Eda first hears Owl play it, it is jaunty and light-hearted. But when Eda is alone, it is played slower using a music box effect to signify loss.
The art style is simple, yet effective. Soft colours and hand-drawn style graphics create a wholesome and gentle journey. Animations are used sparingly to keep you immersed in the puzzles. After a while you just let it roll over you that Eda’s beloved, Owl, has the body of a man and the head of an owl. It all just fits with the game in a strange, eccentric way.
When the Past Was Around is a game that does not overstay its welcome, but instead lingers in your mind for hours after. I’ve had the theme tune stuck in my head ever since. This is a wholesome look at how love can reignite a passion for music, and how heartbreak can have the same effect. I recommend this game for any point-and-click lover or someone, like me, who has been focused on lots of the recent AAA releases and wants something different yet engaging.