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  • Writer's pictureSofi

Calluna (2021)

Developer: Surrealist AS

Disclaimer: I received this game for free from the developer.

I feel a little guilty for having to push my review schedule back a week, especially since what I was cooking up was a game that only took me a few hours to complete. Since it was a PC game, though, I wasn't able to play it while I was out of town for Thanksgiving. I had this game sent to me a while ago and it definitely seemed different from games I've played before. Calluna is a first-person historical game about the life of Ole Bull, a Norwegian composer and violinist in the 1800s. Calluna is a biography colorfully brought to life in video game form, but unfortunately at times feels more like a school lesson than like an immersive experience.

When you boot up Calluna, you're given the option to read a little more about Ole Bull and the people in his life. I did a little bit of this just to gain some context, and then started the game. The game is split up into 4 chapters, for 4 different eras of Ole Bull's life. You start as Ole Bull as a child on the day of his 5th birthday. At this point, he's already playing the violin and interested in music. Your mom and dad give you a few errands to run, like going to buy fish at the market, so you are actually free to leave your house and run around the town. The town of Bergen, Norway is lively and full people. The next chapter of Ole Bull's life is when he's 10, visiting his grandmother's farm. Here you help her feed and care for the animals, as well as explore at night for mystical creatures. The following chapters are of Ole Bull as an adult, as a young struggling musician in Paris and then as an established, renowned musician in Cairo.

Calluna is a small project made by three people, so I was fairly impressed about how large and full the world felt, especially in the first chapter. There's details and secrets to be found everywhere. The character art is fairly simple, but I think it looks cute and welcoming rather than feeling "historical" and old-timey. The environments, especially in the second chapter, were also quite good and seemed accurate for the location. I would say they were mostly the same throughout, but then the last chapter really changed things up and put the player in a very different and really cool environment. The soundtrack of Calluna, as expected, was mostly music actually composed by Ole Bull with some Mozart in there as well. It was fitting and made the game a fairly relaxing experience. Also, if you find a special hidden book in the game, you can actually change the graphics in the game using filters. It's pretty fun to use, but I didn't actually keep any of them on for more than a minute since it felt a little distracting.

I'm conflicted about how realistic and nice this cow looks - just since the humans don't have a "realistic" style to match.

My biggest problem with Calluna is something that I think would have been quite easy to fix. All four chapters are separate and accessible from the beginning, but there's no way to save the game within each chapter. Sure, each chapter is only about an hour long to complete, but that doesn't mean you'll always be able to complete it in one sitting. I quit after playing the first chapter for a while, thinking it would save, but I had to start the chapter over from the start. It was frustrating to be stuck on a a certain task and knowing if you come back to it later you'll lose progress. Personally, I sometimes get motion-sick when playing first-person games, and this game gave me a little bit of that - not the fault of the game, but I do wish I would've been able to safely quit the game, take a break, and come back to it later when I felt better! You can technically skip around the chapters, but I wanted to play game fully and complete all the tasks to get the full experience. Some of these tasks were a little tedious, especially in the third chapter, as it often involved having to click on just the right spot. Only a few characters out of many in the area actually have dialogue with you, so you kind of just have to try to click on everyone.

Calluna actually got pretty dark, showing us the real events of what it was like when cholera struck and took many lives.

Calluna is what I would call a biographical game, or even a "biopic" in game form (biogame?). It's definitely a unique medium to tell a true story, and I think it was definitely an interesting and ambitious idea. I learned about Ole Bull's life and struggles, as well as what life was like in 1800s Norway, two topics I would likely know very little about otherwise. However, I feel that more of the story could've been conveyed more through "showing" rather than "telling". A lot of the game had little tidbits of text to read about the time period or the location, where as I feel like this could've been told through dialogue or experiences in-game. There was a small amount of dialogue with the characters in the story, but not enough to give us a better idea of what Ole Bull was actually like as a person. Also, for a game about a talented violinist, there wasn't enough "playing the violin" involved. I think it would've been really interesting to try to give the player a chance to play the violin as Ole Bull, even if it was a simplified version. I think the ending of the game mostly scratched this itch, but I still think it was a missed opportunity. The key thing this game needed to answer, or that really any biographical story needs to answer, is "why this person?" Why should the reader, or the player, be interested in who Ole Bull was? I think this was partly addressed by showing us the struggles Ole Bull went through before becoming famous, and how difficult it was just for him to survive, but we needed to also understand his talent and what made him a musical star that people looked up to.

Not a scene I expected to encounter in this game about a Norweigan composer. It's beautiful!

Calluna is a creative and colorful game that allows you to experience the life of a talented composer who lived hundreds of years ago. I think this mostly achieved its purpose, but needed to lean a little more on the part where you "experience" his life, not just learn about it. It's hard for to recommend for most players, however, I think this would be an excellent game for anyone who already is a fan of Ole Bull's music or is a classical music buff. For players unfamiliar, like myself, I feel that it needs to be less of a history lesson and more of a "biopic" life simulator. Also, it's hard to recommend it to someone knowing the big flaw of being unable to save your progress. All in all, I'm glad I got to play it and I pushed through the more slow parts; I do hope to see more "biographical" takes on the medium of video games.

Calluna is available on PC

Played on: PC

Finished: 12/4/2021

Playtime: 4.5 hrs

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