Everyone hates dying in video games. It’s frustrating to put in tons of time and hours of effort only to lose all your progress due to one slip up. But what if death wasn’t the end? In fact, what if death was the way to progress? That’s the concept explored by Persephone, the latest puzzle game to hit the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
The way Persephone works is simple: die and you’ll be resurrected, but your old bodies will be left behind. And you’ll need to use those dead bodies to overcome the many obstacles placed in your way. In practice, that often means dying on switches and throwing yourself into spike pits.
It’s certainly a unique concept: not often do you find yourself planning your own death in a video game. It’s also a concept that is really used to its maximum potential. What starts off as throwing yourself onto spike pits to create rudimentary bridges eventually evolves into turning yourself into stone to cross rivers, or setting yourself on fire to burn down a set of boxes.
You’re allowed to place three dead bodies on the map at any one time before they start disappearing, and it’s this mechanic that really allows Persephone to shine as a puzzle game. Through it, the game can create challenging puzzles where you need to juggle previous incarnations of yourself. You’ll really need to experiment and interact with the obstacles around you, planning ahead accordingly if you want to progress. It’s not enough to know where to die – you also need to work out when to die. There’s nothing worse than having to restart a level because a body that was placed on a button disappeared due to you dying there at the wrong time.
Persephone is also packed full of new mechanics. On your journey, you’ll encounter obstacles such as traps, ice and teleporters, as well as more complex features like elemental orbs which will change the way your death affects the environment. The game is quick to combine these features with each other to keep providing new challenges and puzzles for players – the direct result being a game that feels fresh from start to finish.
The way the game introduces these mechanics is admirable. New ones appear at just the right pace to avoid overwhelming the player. And in a ‘show, not tell’ approach, new elements are brought in gradually through the use of basic levels to show how they work in practice. I found this to be a much more effective method for teaching the player rather than a basic tutorial or a wall of text.
There’s no doubting that Persephone is a simply beautiful game. It’s clear that the developers have gone to great lengths to build environments that look great and feel distinct. Obstacles and mechanics are often thematic and fit perfectly with their surroundings, and the music that backs up the game changes with the environment. Importantly though, the areas aren’t too distinct so as to make the game feel disjointed. Rather, each one feels cohesive and part of a grander adventure.
It’s tough to identify any major flaw with Persephone; in fact, the only thing I found the game was missing was an undo button. In later levels, where puzzles are particularly complex and body juggling is common, it’s certainly frustrating when one misclick will necessitate a restart. Fortunately, over the course of my playthrough I found this to be just a minor inconvenience; most of the puzzles are short enough that no significant time is really lost by simply restarting.
So what do we have with Persephone on Xbox? Quite simply, a game that is brilliant both in design and execution. The world our titular hero finds herself in is beautifully designed, with puzzles that make full use of that unique central concept of death as a means to progress. By using a ‘show, not tell’ approach, the game places experimentation at the forefront and encourages the kind of lateral thinking that is so often missing from indie titles in the genre. Anyone with an eye on picking up a new puzzle game should definitely consider indulging in this refreshingly unique title.