Developer: Tequila Works
Strangely enough, the first time I heard of RiME was when a high school acquaintance posted on Facebook 2 years ago that he had been part of the team that created this game. Since then, I actually see RiME for Nintendo Switch on retail shelves quite a bit, so I didn't actually think of it as an indie until I did more research on it. RiME is an adventure game where you play as a boy washed up on a strange island.
RiME first reminded me of a previous game I reviewed, Fe, due to its absence of any dialogue and environmental soundtrack. Similar to Fe, you only communicate with your environment through cries and movements. From the beginning, the environment around you is beautiful and serene. As you progress through the game, not only do the environments change, but you somehow seem to be traversing through a non-physical space. The island, when you arrived, was only so big, and you figure you're only limited to the space of the island. Somehow the worlds you explore are all connected, in a way that probably is not supposed to make sense. You travel across some sort of dimensions to reach a desert, a forest, and other areas. It's not clear what your purpose is, but you're led forward by an adorable little fox who you befriend in the early part of the game. Along the way, you also encounter a mysterious silhouette of a person - although you don't know who this is, you follow them, quickly losing them as swiftly as they appeared.
This young unnamed boy arrives without any tools or fighting abilities, but is able to get through puzzles using his voice. RiME has simple mechanics, but I will give it credit for giving this character a fun and impressive ability to climb. You do a whole lot of climbing, and often times you think you can't make a jump from hanging off a cliff, but he does it. Otherwise, the mechanics don't change much as you progress. The puzzles are fairly easy at first, but there's a few later on that do involve precise timing and really understanding the environment. Also, this game is full of collectibles along the way that aren't necessary, but add to the final experience to the end of the game, as well as telling some of the background story. Unfortunately I didn't find the pieces all the way through, but if you're a completionist type, I think the pieces in this game are actually pretty worth getting if you want to feel a sense of closure with this story. Without it, most of the adventure feels a bit vague and directionless, not knowing exactly why you're embarking on this adventure.
RiME's soundtrack is mostly a very peaceful, orchestral sound that follows the boy's journey. However, main theme that plays at the credits, "The Song of the Sea", is a poetic gem within the soundtrack. It's part of the reason why the ending of this game brought me to tears, and it's one of my favorite songs to go back to recently. I found a video here for one version of the song, including both Spanish and English subtitles (CONTAINS SPOILERS) here.
This review is a shorter because my strongest feelings about the game come from the ending and the symbolism, which is spoiler territory. The game itself is beautiful and touching, but doesn't particularly stand out in terms of gameplay. There's other games of its type, spiritual successors to Journey, that add more elements than RiME does. However, purely for how emotionally riveting and powerful the ending was, it really made the entire experience worthwhile.
RiME is available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Played on: Nintendo Switch
Playtime: 8 hrs
How I heard about this game: Mentioned by acquaintance who works for SixFoot
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR RIME BELOW THIS LINE
I should point out that RiME was made by a Spanish studio in 2017, and GRIS was made also by a Spanish studio and released in 2018. I mention this because it's just interesting to me that these two games are so similar thematically. They're definitely not the only games to use the 5 Stages of Grief to frame their story, but they are ones that do so explicitly. It makes me wonder if this is a particular theme that is currently popular in Spanish media?
I started to suspect that RiME was taking me through the stages of grief when I got to the forest area, or "bargaining". I thought back on the previous stage and how it was so different from the one I was currently in. Also, the game shows you tidbits of memories prior to the events of the game. From what you're given, it seems like this boy has faced some sort of loss. By the time I got to the second-to-last area, a rainy and dark area that obviously represented "depression", I knew it must be the case.
The best and most powerful symbol and mechanic that RiME incorporated to fit into this stages of grief narrative was in the second area, "anger". In this desert, a terrifying and monstrous bird is trying to attack you and take you away. The only way to be safe from it is it to release a great storm upon the land. You do this by releasing a seal on a dark, evil-looking power that turns the sky dark and causes a thunderstorm that hits the bird. After you've released this dark aura, dementor-looking creatures appear, creepily staring at you from the distance. My first response to this was that this must not be the solution. It looks like I've created a bigger problem to fix my original problem - I've unleashed some ominous power. However, once I had put the pieces together at the end, it all made sense. Of course, in order to assuage the anger, I had to release the all-consuming darkness that would eventually create the depression. It's so perfect as a metaphor. There's no "solving" any part of the grief, there's only moving on. The next step isn't any less ugly than the previous, but it's the only way. It's really sad and beautiful, and I appreciate the thought that went into it.
Despite the fact that I figured out RiME was taking us through the stages, I wasn't prepared at all for the ending. All of the memories along the way seem to imply that the boy has lost his father, when in reality, this is a story of a father who lost his son at sea. His loss was so incredibly painful that he underwent this mental journey as his fallen son. The final scene is amplified by having the dad pick up each of the son's belongings, just staring at it. Those small actions and the silence that went with them are what broke me. The father is finally able to let go, literally, as he releases the piece of fabric from his son's garments into the wind. I only wish the story-telling had been as incredibly compelling throughout the game as it was at the ending, but nonetheless, the father's story moved me to tears as the beautiful "Song of the Sea" played through the fabric flying into the distance.