The famed point-and-click adventure genre can stir up many different emotions and feelings, depending on the game. Having played a fair few of this ilk over the years, I can attest to that; the puzzling Deponia series is so clever that it bamboozled me, Lair of the Clockwork God caused laughter in abundance, and My Brother Rabbit tugged on the heartstrings. Mojiken Studio have created a point-and-clicker that falls into the latter kind of adventures, with When The Past Was Around telling a tale of love and loss. Will it deliver something so lovely that it leaves you reaching for the tissues, or instead looking for the off button?
Well, When The Past Was Around pretty much nails the storytelling aspect and conjures up enough puzzles to be a worthwhile experience, without ever doing anything overly-complicated. If you want an emotional ride, this is it.
For an adventure promising a strong narrative, you may be shocked to know that in When The Past Was Around there are no words spoken or delivered in text form. As such, you’ll have to piece it together through visuals alone, but it absolutely works in conveying the story – with a bit of room for your own interpretations. From the outset, it’s clear that protagonist Eda is struggling with something and through a series of memories, you’ll uncover why. Essentially, she’s found her one true love and muse to finally inspire her in life, only for a cruel twist of fate to turn the world upside down. This journey is hopefully going to help her find some peace.
Initially, the strange nature of Eda’s lover being an Owlman is tricky to get your head around, but because of the way the scenes are portrayed, it becomes normalized in no time. This enables you to then focus on what an adorable couple they are and how Eda is completely besotted by the Owlman. Successfully delivering the warmth and love they share for each other – and music – is testament to the sounds, creating a melancholic atmosphere alongside a charming art style. Using mainly pastel colours, it ever so gently draws the eyes in and welcomes you in to their most cherished memories.
In regards to the gameplay, you’ll delve into Eda’s memories and be transported to various rooms or areas where these moments occurred. To continue on through each memory, you must scour the 2D environment thoroughly with the use of a cursor, clicking on any points of interest and overcoming puzzles. There are the usual inventory-based problems, posing only a minor challenge thanks to having logical solutions; for example, the cutter opens a box, while the jug is for watering plants.
Fortunately, When The Past Was Around bears a selection of more difficult conundrums involving the need to pay close attention to any clues that could be lying around. Basically, if a puzzle makes no sense, it’s because you haven’t given the whole area a good once over. A great case of this is a locked red box in a coffee shop with nine buttons on; alone it’s useless, but upon finding a 3×3 grid of symbols and making yourself a coffee, the solution falls into place brilliantly. Wannabe detectives will be fascinated by the cleverly designed puzzles here and it’s a great feeling when you figure these particular ones out.
Amongst the other activities are mini-game staples such as sliding blocks around and rotating pieces of a picture to line them up correctly. All the different puzzles combine to ensure the adventure never gets stale and upon solving everything within an area, you’ll move on. In addition to this, you gain a feather between areas and it’s almost as if that represents the memory, like the Owlman is leaving Eda a part of himself. That’s such a beautiful metaphor, which really suits the narrative to a tee.
While When The Past Was Around is a great experience, there are just a couple of niggles. Firstly, there is a star-gazing puzzle that has a mechanic that’s different to everything else in-game and with no explanations on how it works, it causes utter bemusement and could leave many frustrated. Secondly, the final chapter is way too simplistic and swift, which seems a missed opportunity in what’s already a fairly short game.
Overall though, When The Past Was Around on Xbox is an alluring point-and-click adventure featuring a wonderfully told tale exploring the highs and lows of love. You’ll no doubt feel for Eda while attempting to understand her suffering as well as the moments she’ll never forget. Yes, it’s sad at times, but also heartwarming and charming. Thanks to the puzzles, it’s very engaging too, with a real sense of achievement garnered from solving them. What is a shame is that the experience is let down a tad by that slightly underwhelming last chapter and that one nuisance problem.
Still, When The Past Was Around is a lovely instalment that stands out in an increasingly popular genre. Buy it, have a little cry, and bask in the great all-round adventure it offers.