Most of the time, the developer of When The Past Was Around could provide goals, signposting, and feedback through the visuals. The goals are usually something obvious. Sometimes they use objects like key, padlock, or passcode. If the goal isn’t something obvious, then the signpost should lead to something obvious, like putting certain objects in the right place. By making the goals and signposts obvious, players will naturally know what should they do to progress to the next part of the story.
Another trick the developer uses is creating a hint button on the game. The hint button is the lamp icon located on the right side of the screen. What they do is highlight the object that can be interacted with. At least by knowing the important object, the player could guess the answer to the puzzle by simply interacting with that object and see what they do.
Those things certainly help, but they are not perfect though. It’s still possible to get confused in this game. For example, I had stumbled in at least two places, the videotape part and the last puzzle of chapter three. If you are still unable to solve the puzzle, the hint button on the top-right will highlight which object that can be interacted with. If you still can’t solve the problem, just take a rest and come back later with a fresh mind. Usually, the puzzles’ answers are easier than the players might initially thought. You just need to, borrowing Phoenix Wright, think outside the box.
I said “think outside the box” because some of the puzzles’ answers are actually more imaginative than you actually think, notably the TV puzzle in the earlier part of the game. This could annoy some players. But for me, they actually make the puzzle more unique. And when I can answer the puzzle, I feel genuinely happy. I feel rewarded for not thinking too literally and use more imagination while thinking “what does the developer want me to do?”.
There is one aspect that I found surprising when I play the game. Unlike the most point-and-click adventure game, playing When The Past Was Around for the second time actually feels rewarding. This is surprising because when I play other point-and-click adventure games, one playthrough is enough. All I want to do is knowing what the story is all about, nothing else.
In When The Past Was Around later playthrough, however, I noticed some details that enriches my interpretation, like how I realize that Eda’s clothes changed into Kebaya (Indonesian traditional clothes) in one scene or the place where Eda and the Owl meet is a pediatric clinic. For me, later playthroughs give me more hints on what the story is about. Thinking about those details is actually what makes playing this game fun.
That’s why I think the developer doesn’t even need to tell the player what the game is actually about on the Steam page. Their description only mentions “love, moving on, letting go, and the joy and pain of everything in between.” It would spoil the fun and diminishes the experience, otherwise, at least for me. I like to think about what I just actually experienced and I wanted to hear the interpretation from other players after they finish the story.
In the end, I feel the game deserves all the praises and awards it gets. Playing When The Past Was Around feels like watching a Kunihiko Ikuhara anime. It challenges my perception of the in-game world, the story, and the puzzle. There are some parts of the puzzle design that could be improved. But overall, I think it’s nice to see Indonesian game developer try to challenge themselves and try to be creative with their narrative design, experimenting with the way video game medium can convey their story and not confined with the industry standard.
Facts and Figures
|Game title||When The Past Was Around|
|Developer||Mojiken (The Raven Monologue, Bayu Lintar Angin, SHE and The Light Bearer)|
|Publisher||Toge Production (SHE and The Light Bearer, Coffee Talk)|
|Release Date||22 September 2020 (PC)
December 2020 (Switch, Xbox One, and PS4)
|Current Price||IDR 59,999 (Indonesian Steam)
USD 7,99 (US Steam)
The Indonesian Anime Times | Review by Dany Muhammad | The review was made based on the PC version of the game.