When it comes to the world of gaming, we live in pretty amazing times. It’s an age in which you can find and download just about anything you’re looking for. If you don’t want to run-and-gun or mash buttons in a heated sweat, you don’t have to.
If, however, you’re looking for a game that challenges you and tells you an emotional story, while leaving you calm and soothing your daily stress levels at the same time, all you need do is say the word.
Arise: A Simple Story is such a game.
At its core, this title would probably be considered a platformer. You’ll find your character climbing up along icy handholds on snowy cliffsides or swinging on suspended ropes or leaping from one giant sunflower to another. But more importantly, this is an abstract gaming remembrance of a life’s journey. It may be a “simple” story, but its poetic and sweet and thoughtful.
The tale starts off with you being, well, dead. You’re a deceased member of some nomadic tribe, in some undefined time and place, whose body has been placed on a funeral pyre. With the gathered mourners watching, the pyre is set aflame and your white-bearded, animal skin-wearing character is instantly transported to another dimension: somewhere between the world of the living and the dead.
You arise to find a glowing orb off in the distance, a seemingly spiritual essence that appears to be beckoning you forward. And as you progress, the game suddenly shows you images representing you as a mere boy: a boy alone and longing for friendship. And you relive, in abstract ways, those early memories.
Soon, it becomes evident that each new time and place you swing, jump and platform through is designed to give you a dreamlike representation of meaningful moments plucked from your character’s life. You journey through early friendship, youthful attraction, first love, commitments to marriage and family: all the key times of most importance in a man’s simple life.
Arise keeps things fresh not only by presenting you with difficult environmental platforms to traverse, but by giving you the ability to speed up, slow down or reverse the movement of time.
Some areas may let you adjust the changing of seasons—so that you can shift between summer, fall and winter and make your way across sometimes frozen and sometimes high-water terrain. In other scenes, you control just the course of a few minutes: just enough passed time to allow you to, for instance, lasso a ride from a passing bee, grab a convenient updraft of air or gain passage through a dark area by following a moving light.
It’s all beautifully created and underscored with a lovely, soothing soundtrack. And your progress is sprinkled with special glowing spots that reward you with sketched illustrations of those key happenings in the journeyer’s life.
Content problems? None, really. There’s no problematic dialogue or visuals, no onscreen content pitfalls to undermine this E-rated game’s soothing experience. And if you do happen to swing off a cliff or fall into some watery depths, you simply reappear at a recent check point.
In fact, the only element that might give some players pause is the game’s narrative worldview and its approach to this story’s after-death experience. Obviously, it isn’t coming from a Christian perspective, or reckoning with concepts such as sin or judgment. That said, the spiritual elements here are painted with a very broad, abstract brush for the sake of the game’s reflective journey.
What’s more, I think pondering this character’s fictional life could be a catalyst for doing something similar in the real world—especially if parents and kids play together. We all make choices and mistakes in our individual journeys, and a game like this might just offer some interesting opportunities for significant conversations in your family.
By game’s end, you’re left with a definite hope for something beyond this mortal coil. But it’s undefined. What is plainly delineated, however, is the importance of living a rich life filled with love and commitment. It’s all part of a Simple Story and an unexpectedly sweet gaming experience.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.