In His Time Review – Exploring Grief, One Puzzle at a Time

    Title: In His Time
    Developer: Tearyhand studio
    Release Date: October 2, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Kodansha
    Genre: Adventure

A game with a unique and well-defined art direction is something that will always catch my eye, so it was no surprise that Tearyhand Studio’s debut title, In His Time, immediately piqued my interest. Japanese designer and programmer Yona, the person behind the studio, has endeavored to create a mystery-solving adventure game exploring themes central to Christianity, such as forgiveness, morality, as well as life and death.

The game opens on a short cutscene with a narrator introducing us to one of the main themes: grief. A simple tutorial sequence teaches us the basic movement and puzzle mechanics while simultaneously exploring the main character’s past.

We assume the role of a little boy named Ollie, whose father passed under mysterious circumstances and who is struggling to come to terms with his loss. We quickly understand that while his mother tries her best to support him, she is suffering from an illness that has her bedridden most days. As Ollie, the player will do chores in the form of simple puzzles, as well as go to school, where our protagonist finds himself bullied by the other kids and fails to find help from his teacher. Things seem very bleak until Ollie meets an old clockmaker who enlists his help to work on a mysterious project. However, to complete it, Ollie will need to uncover secrets buried in the past, as well as face the future. It’s a short but emotional story that will speak to many.

In His Time 1

As In His Time progresses, its central themes are explored via the lens of the Christian Faith. The player follows Ollie as he is taught about forgiveness, responsibility, and the afterlife. On the flip side, the game also cautions against vices such as smoking, alcohol, and gambling. It does a great job of including those overarching themes in a well-paced storyline, which has us rooting for Ollie. This approach to exploring Faith, while not heavy-handed, is not meant to be subtle and so might not be every player’s cup of tea.

One of the most stand-out aspects of the game is what originally caught my eye: the art direction. It is clear that Yona had a very distinct vision of the feel of this title, and so the result is very cohesive. The art style, reminiscent of LIMBO or Badland, plays a big part in creating a dark and heavy atmosphere. It’s immediately apparent from the first section of the game onward: The tutorial is cluttered with many moving elements, which overshadow our very small protagonist. He almost gets lost in a rapidly shifting landscape, perfectly depicting the character’s distress and loss. However, although the dreary mood of the game is well conveyed, I would have loved to see some brighter visuals in happier scenes to offset the generally very dark aesthetic. The latter complements the more emotional scenes beautifully but clashes with the more upbeat sequences.

In His Time 3

As part of the aesthetic, the characters don’t have detailed features and are mostly recognizable from their haircut and color, eye shape, and facial hair. While this fits very well into the art style and mood of the game, it also, at times, left me struggling to tell characters apart from each other.

The soundtrack included tracks spanning a wide emotional range, going from intense pieces with screeching violins to more lighthearted guitar tracks, which were big contributors to setting the mood. However, oftentimes, the emotional scenes painted by the music were interrupted by the sounds chosen to depict speaking characters. The voice lines consist of a mixture of noises such as grunts, sighs, or made-up words and are quite limited in their range. As a result, characters will speak in noises akin to Simlish, unfitting to the current situation, taking the player out of otherwise emotionally loaded moments, including the climax of the game. This is not aided by the fact that it was translated from the developer’s native Japanese, and some grammatical issues and mistranslations lead to important lines having the exact opposite meaning than what was intended.

In His Time 2

While the game is advertised as a 2D platformer, the platforming aspect is very minor, and the main gameplay lies in puzzle solving. The majority of the puzzles are fairly easy and range from watering some plants to opening a more complex locking mechanism. The later parts of the title offer a nice level of difficulty, requiring a bit of experimentation, but challenge is not the main focus of In His Time – it’s the story.

I have always had a soft spot for games that combine storytelling with their puzzles, such as Florence or Assembled with Care, and In His Time does this beautifully. Not only is almost anything you do, such as playing with a friend or brushing your hair, a minigame or puzzle, but many of the puzzles will also convey the backstory of characters, inform us of their emotional state, or be loaded with symbolism.

There are many really neat details in the puzzles of In His Time, and it is apparent that a lot of thought and care has gone into their design. This attention to detail also translates to the general setting – should the player stray from the path, there is a chance they will be rewarded with a glimpse into the life of one of the villagers.

In His Time 4

Clocking in at around 4 hours of playtime, In His Time is clearly a labor of love, packed with themes and messages important to the developer. Its little puzzles are charming and do a good job of conveying a touching story despite a few issues in the sound choices and emotional moments getting lost in translation. However, should the particular thematics of In His Time not speak to you, this might not be the title for you.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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