A point and click adventure without a single word of spoken dialog, When The Past Was Around is heavily based around a narrative dripping with emotion, sadness, and the difficulty of coping when someone close is no longer there. It touches on the topic of moving on without knowing how but in a way that still honors the past with a smile. Beautiful isn’t a word that is used to describe games these days, unless referencing gorgeous 4K 60fps visuals in a triple A title, but When The Past Was Around is a beautiful game for its genuine story, gameplay, and a simple musical melody that will haunt the player long after the credits roll.
This is going to sound strange but stick with me here – the game is about a young girl who is in despair from her music loving owl-man passing away. As nonsensical as this seems, it is difficult to not get emotional when Eda remembers the past. This title highlights the fact that life is often full of special moments but they don’t become special until something happens; you don’t realize it when it is happening. It could be something as common as sharing coffee over cookies or listening to a music box, it is these common and simple moments that make the presentation all the more gut wrenching with hand drawn melancholy.
Originally designed with a mouse interface, the transition to a modern controller’s analog stick works well enough although it is not as intuitive. As powerful as the story is, there are moments of gameplay that become a little frustrating as the solution isn’t obviously apparent, which in turn takes the player out of the pleasant mood that the story provides. For example, there are numerous “enter the code to unlock the thing” puzzles. Some are easy to solve but there were a couple I had to look at play-throughs online to get the answer. This is baffling to me because these puzzles are never fun and are in so many games. I never once had anyone shout “yes, I am super excited to type in a sequence of numbers on this keypad to unlock this door by finding clues in the environment, woo-whoo!”
There was another puzzle that has the player dragging a telescope’s viewpoint to line up a constellation. This probably is much more apparent using a mouse but, again, had to watch a video to provide direction on what to do; I was trying to click on stars instead of using the second analog stick to spin the perspective, something the game never indicates. These moments of confusion can lead to frustration which creates a few pacing bumps in this 2-3 hour quest. When I clicked Continue from the main menu, the game reset and put me back to the opening scene too. Worse yet, if you quit in the middle of a chapter, you will need to replay from the beginning of that chapter next time you start – it doesn’t save in the exact spot where you left off. Unfortunately, the final “earn all other Achievements to unlock this final Achievement” Achievement didn’t pop for me so clearly there are still some bugs.
Many games have excellent soundtracks but so few tie in musical tunes directly into gameplay. At first, the casually soft melody that plays in the background is nothing more than a pleasant way to move through the narrative. However, this hummable tune starts to make its way directly into gameplay in ways that I will not spoil here. It is because of this jingle the game is as memorable and powerful as it is and deserves a ton of recognition. The player will hear this melody throughout the entire campaign but it never grows old, even when stuck on a point and click puzzle.
When The Past Was Around is easily one of the most emotional games I have played in a while and talking more about it here will ruin it. There are some hiccups with some of the adventure game puzzles but the somber narrative and hauntingly good memorable harmony makes this tear jerker something special.
Also available on PC Steam, PS4 and coming soon to Switch.