Developer: Jason Oda
Release Date: June 18, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
From the first moments of playing Waking, I was lost. I paused the game to look up all the information that I could about the game so that I could better understand what was going on. Nothing I found could have prepared me for this maze-like multi-genre adventure. The sense of confusion that I had in these early moments of gameplay only got worse after each hour.
Waking at its best is a story of self-reflection. You insert your name and answer some personal questions as the game attempts to narrate your life. The idea is that you are in a coma and close to death. However, you aren’t ready to let the life you once had go, and you decide that it’s worth fighting to live again. This means confronting various things about yourself through more personal questions and meditation.
You’ll probably get the most out of the game during these moments, but just know that there’s a lot that happens between questions that make this game one of the messiest adventure games that I’ve ever played save for Akuji the Heartless on the PlayStation. The questions are simple in the beginning but do get rather personal towards the later parts.
The idea of this is to use these parts about you as weapons to use against these evil things that you are fighting again. However, this is a game that loves the whole “Hold down this button to interact” any time that it can. Trust me; you’ll be holding down a button during almost every moment of gameplay, whether that be charging a shot, opening a door, or choosing a response. I was beginning to feel envious of other games who just had to press F to pay respects because I would have loved to simply press a button for something to happen.
The first hour of gameplay is more or less a tutorial, which this game has a lot of trouble with. Some elements of gameplay are pretty straight forward, but somewhere down the line, Jason Oda lost track of what this game was. There are action elements, paired with narrative choices, adventure, item collecting, and puzzle-solving, and none of them work well together. After the tutorial, you go to a HUB world out of nowhere and learn that you have multiple stages that you need to get through to unlock memories. However, this is delivered to you by random books scattered around.
Then when you go to the mission area, you choose a place on the map, which is then procedurally generated where you need to fight monsters and figure out puzzles to get to the end boss, which we’ll get into later. There are also random items scattered around the map that do things like open up locked doors for upgrades or provide some type of power-up.
Attacks in the game are a whole different beast. So there’s this element called Neurons that you can collect to use special abilities and interact with objects during a level. However, only one skill can be equipped at a time, which can only be chosen from a menu. These abilities are sometimes required to take down a specific enemy or get through a level, so expect to be messing around them for a bit, but if you run out of Neurons, you might get yourself stuck.
Oh boy, but I’m not done yet. Some items allow you to melee attacks, which require you to pick up and hold down a button to charge them into you. Then you are granted a few strikes to which you’ll need to find the item again to use melee. Other attacks include throwing objects, which can also be used as a temporary shield.
Damage taken is unusual as it doesn’t only affect your health. It adds elements like fear and other status effects that can lead to great hindrances of your character. What’s most confusing about all of this is the constant state of strafing that your character seems to be in. It makes it appear like your character is always ready for battle.
Enemies in the game are annoying, but they aren’t too much of a threat. The bosses, on the other hand, are incredibly haphazard and out of place as you make your way through this grey and brown world. The best part about the boss battles is the anime-like music that plays when you fight them. Does it fit the game? Hell no, but it happens to be the best part about the battle as you chip away at the health bar.
Waking has a massive problem with direction, but it seems like the developer tried incredibly hard to make that not an issue. The opening of the game holds your hand through every encounter and beyond, but it doesn’t help. I feel like this stems from the game trying to do way too much. Now, if it was a walking simulator that forced me to reflect on my life, I might have had a bit more fun with it, but these messy adventure systems were out of place.
Waking will have you eager to wake up within the first few hours. Its compelling self-reflective narrative is overshadowed by some of the worse adventure mechanics and systems that I have played in quite some time. Perhaps the game should go through some self-reflecting of its own and figure out exactly what it wants to be because this is a complete mess.
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