Dear Esther: An Enchanting Narrative- Review

I HAD HEARD about Dear Esther online, seen some images, but never really knew what it was. I happened to find it during a Steam sale, so I snagged it and decided to give it a try. I wasn’t sure what type of game I was getting into.

ABOUT THE GAME

DEAR ESTHER IS A first person PC title created by thechineseroom, originally released in 2008. It was remade and officially re-released on February 14th, 2012. Graphically, this is a beautiful game. I felt like it was only a few polygons away from some pretty decent realism. None the less, the landscapes are breath taking, with nice, subtle effects like gusts of wind, sweeping clouds, water particles, and dust spinning about.

YOU BEGIN ON THE EDGE of a dock, staring up at an old, rundown lighthouse. A disembodied voice narrates a story to you: a letter to dear Esther. You don’t know who he is, if it’s in your head, if he’s there, or your reading a journal of some long lost ghost. Perhaps the voice is meant to be your own? Without any explanation, Dear Esther begins.

THERE ARE NO ENEMIES.  No health bars, or even items. Weapons are null and void, and NPCs are nowhere to be found. You can’t even jump. It’s just you, the island, the voice, and the walk button. You traverse the world of Dear Esther, exploring the remains of this deserted island, and examining what’s been left behind. A tutorial never pops up to tell you where to go, or what to do. You just walk. You’re completely alone. I found myself half expecting some creature to pop out and try and kill me.

IT’S STILL.  QUIET.  The game does an amazing job setting up a desolate atmosphere, and gives you a sense of loneliness and abandonment.

AT CERTAIN POINTS on the island, the voice will continue it’s story, speaking of Donnelly, Jakobson, Esther, and Paul. You never really know who any of these people are, and as the player it’s up to you to unravel what their significance, to the plot, really is. You find strange scientific symbols, medical equipment, and sometimes there’s even the shadow of some apparition lurking on the island. The game leaves it up to the player to decide what is truly going on. It doesn’t hold your hand in anyway.

IN THE BEGINNING the narrator comes off as just someone telling a story about the island, it’s inhabitants, and what use to be. There are four stages, each taking place in different parts of the island: the lighthouse, buoy and the wrecked ships, the caves, and finally the beacon.

WHAT I LIKED

IT ISN’T UNTIL the final act that everything falls into place, and it’s pretty powerful. I don’t want to spoil the game, but it hit me on an emotional level. I didn’t expect a game, without combat, or items, or side quests, to effect me the way Dear Esther did. I was blown away. It has to be one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in a video game.

THE MUSIC in Dear Esther is amazing! Most of the time, you’re simply surrounded by ambiance. The waves, gulls, the slow whisper of the sea breeze. But when the music does decide to disrupt the silence, it’s both emotional and sadly beautiful. It adds to the sense of loneliness, and helps pull you into this desolate world.

I ALSO REALLY ENJOYED the way that the game delivered the narrative.  Not since The Unfinished Swan had I been so intrigued by a story.  Yes, this game is what you’d call a “Walking Simulator” where you, as the name implies, simply walk around.  But man is it an exciting (so to speak) break from other genres.  It’s something new, unique, and still has the potential to reach out and grab at your heart strings.  The narration is soothing and well written, while the overall story is something you truly need to sit down and play in order to fully understand.

WHAT I DISLIKED

ONE THING ABOUT Dear Esther, despite all my praise, is that the game is too short.   It is a walking simulator, so I guess if there was any more length to the game it could have grown stale?  I was just looking forward to seeing more about the world, and unraveling the mystery in a more tangible way.   Leaving it open ended is nice, and piecing everything together was fun, but I did hope that there was something after the credits that gave a more sense of closure.  But what’s presented is still captivating.

CLOSING

I BEAT THE GAME in about an hour. It’s pretty linear.  There aren’t too many routes to explore, but that doesn’t take away from the game at all. Except for maybe replay value. So over the course of the hour, I just walked, letting the game take me in. It was a visceral trek through the island, and when it was done all I could do was stare at the screen. Dear Esther is very, very well done. From beginning to end, it takes you on a fanciful journey, that eventually leads to some pretty powerful introspection. If you haven’t experienced Dear Esther, I’d recommend going into the game with as little knowledge as possible. The less you know, the greater the game is.

THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading.  Have you played Dear Esther?  What did you think?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!  As always, keep that imagination kicking!  Please take care all, you all rock.  Cheers!

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