The “Simple Story” subtitle for Arise is fitting: there’s a beautiful simplicity to Piccolo Studio’s heartfelt adventure. Through the eyes of elderly man moving on from this world to the next, reflecting on most important moments in his life—from the most joyous to the most heartbreaking—it weaves a tale of love, loss, grief, and hope. Arise: A Simple Story is the sort of bittersweet journey that’s both universal and deeply personal (and particularly intimate as it finds a new handheld home on Switch). In balancing those things, simplicity is a strength, letting the emotive heart of the game shine bright without getting bogged down in needless detail.
That isn’t to say it lacks depth. Quite the opposite: it’s a journey through a fulsome life, with all the complicated emotions that come with it. The giddy excitement of young love; the way that blossoms into something deeper; the absolute agony of an unexpected goodbye; the way you somehow keep in living even after your whole world caves in; the hope that holds you together; the reflections on life as your own comes to its twilight—none of these are easy things to truly conceptualise, but Arise traverses them with care, nuance, and remarkable clarity.
It all hinges on a seemingly straightforward time-manipulation mechanic. As you explore the old man’s dreamlike memories, you can advance or reverse the flow of time, to a limited extent. The result depends on the memory in question: you might change the weather, and thus affect the levels of water or snow; you might change the time of day, and the direction of a field of giant sunflowers as the follow the sun; you might control the ebb and flow of a river, and the various lily pads and leaves floating on its surface.
Or you might command the fires that ravage a ruined world full of shadows and hostility. Such is the nature of grief: your whole world feels like its collapsed, every shadow seems to claw at you, and anger seems like the only thing that can keep despair at bay. I’ve never seen that portrayed so poetically or honestly than in one particular scene in Arise, where you need to navigate through hordes of ghost-like shadows and a rampaging forest fire, either of which can kill you at the simplest touch. But the fire can make the shadows dissipate, and so the only way forward is to carefully manipulate time—and with it, the path of the flames—to create a safe path. As an interactive metaphor for what grief feels like on the darkest moments, that is potent.
That’s the most stand-out example, but Arise explores all its ideas in a similar fashion. At its most basic, mechanical level, an action-adventure game with a bit of a platformer touch, thanks to a protagonist who’s strong and nimble despite his age and levels designed around navigational problem solving and jumping/climbing puzzles. But such a utilitarian description doesn’t really do it justice; what sets Arise apart is the way it uses that framework, in combination with its dreamy aesthetic and haunting score, to fill a simple, heartfelt story with depth and emotion.
That said, some of the more “gamey” aspects aren’t quite as precise as they could be, creating some undue annoyance. It takes a moment for hitting the jump button to actually register in-game, which often means just walking off the edge of a platform you definitely should have leapt from. Physics mean getting too close to the edge is never a good idea anyway, lest you slip on some uneven geometry, and the safe fall distance is never clear, and feels inconsistent. It’s not unusual to run into a new puzzle, have the obvious solution not work, and then try all sorts of other things… only to find out that your initial idea was right, but the pieces didn’t quite connect for some reason.
Such lack of precision is annoying, but it’s rarely enough if a hindrance to undermine Arise‘s strengths. Checkpoints are frequent enough that death is a minor setback at worst, taking most of the sting out of those unlucky ones. It’s not an especially challenging game, so there’s little worry if getting stuck or having a hard-fought victory robbed from you. It could be more refined, certainly, but those issues are a minor nuisance at worst.
The jump to Switch, on the other hand, is smooth. A stylized low-poly aesthetic and emphasis on art style over pushing technical boundaries mean Arise: A Simple Story hasn’t had to make compromises to get up and running on Switch, and the intimate nature of the story makes it feel like a natural fit for handheld play. Optional gyro controls for time manipulation don’t add a lot—the standard analogue stick feels more intuitive, really—but photo mode is a welcome addition. To round out the definitive-ness of this Definitive Edition, there’s a digital soundtrack and art book included, too.
The new features are arguably a little superficial, but then again, just having Arise: A Simple Story on Switch—a platform it feels like it should have been on all along—is the major draw for this Definitive Edition. Arise is a beautiful story of life, love, and loss, delivered with care, nuance, and heart-rending potency. It’s a simple story, for sure, but that simplicity is part of what makes it so universal, and so powerful.
Arise: A Simple Story
Developer: Piccolo Studio
Publisher: Untold Tales
Genre: Action adventure, platformer
A Switch review code for Arise: A Simple Story was provided to Shindig by the publisher.