Games can be many things- fun, thrilling, challenging. And every so often, a game comes along that, while it may not be necessarily challenging, conveys an emotional experience that sticks with you long after the credits roll. Such is the case for rain, a beautiful and haunting game from SCE Japan Studio (ICO, Puppeteer) and Acquire (the Tenchu and Way of the Samurai series), and exclusive to the PlayStation. The game tells a simple story, conveyed without dialogue and just brief snippets of text that appear on the walls and buildings of the unnamed town that the game takes place in. It’s a game filled with melancholy, wonder, fear, loneliness, and a tender friendship. It will not be for everybody, as there are no great set pieces, and its puzzles are not overly challenging. But it has a unique mechanic and an enchanting tale with characters we do come to care about, even though they never utter a word. It’s an emotional journey through a rainy night, as much an emotional experience as Journey or flower. It’s this experience that makes rain worth your time.
The story follows that of a boy, first shown to us in lovely watercolor cut scenes, who spots the silhouette of a young girl outside his bedroom window. Curious, he goes to investigate, even though it is raining outside. Once out in the rain, the boy finds that his regular form has faded, leaving only a ghostly image that can be viewed in the raindrops. Going undercover, he vanishes entirely, visible only by the wet footprints he leaves behind. But the boy and the girl aren’t the only ones out in the rain on this night. Strange, dog-like creatures made of bone prowl the streets, seeking to pounce on unsuspecting prey. Large docile creatures aid in providing some shelter and a way to hide you from predators. There are also small, crab-like creatures that swarm on their victims, and a large beast that rams anything in its path. Most frightening of all, however, is the Unknown, a creature that towers over the children and is armed with a club-like weapon. The Unknown can be relentless in its hunt, and provides the tensest moments in the game.
For the first part of the game, the boy is alone, trying to catch up to the girl. He pursues her through the town’s streets, a church, and a factory before finally catching up to her. Along the way, he must use his wits to avoid the roaming creatures and the Unknown. The puzzles are generally simple, involving usually pulling or pushing something in place to aid in climbing to a higher level. Occasionally you need to use yourself as bait to cause the creatures to harm themselves, as you cannot fight them yourself. This bit helps us relate to the characters, for who as a child didn’t have a nightmare of something pursuing them? It’s nice to have those moments where you can outwit the creatures, making them crash into a scaffolding to bring the whole mess down upon them, killing them and opening up ways to navigate the areas. Once the boy and the girl join up, they work together in solving puzzles, whether it be the boy lifting the girl to a higher platform so that she can lower a ladder, or making a distraction so one or the other can get past the creatures that hunt them. Again, these puzzles are rarely taxing, but they carry an emotional weight to them, especially when failing or taking just a bit too long can end in death for your companion.
The game takes place over eight chapters, book-ended by animated watercolor cut scenes and highlighted by the beautiful score created by composer Yugo Kanno. The music of the game is itself a character, but is never intrusive or bombastic. Instead, it highlights the mood perfectly, conveying warmer melodies in quieter moments and sounds that echo the loneliness felt by the characters when they’re on their own. Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” serves as the game’s main theme song, and is wonderfully sung over the ending scenes by Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Connie Talbot. As a young girl herself (she was 13 at the time of the game’s release), her voice was a perfect choice for the game, and definitely conveys the sense of emotion in the final scenes.
The game does have some issues. The camera is tightly controlled, sometimes making jumps ill-timed and leading to unnecessary deaths as well as not letting you scan the area for clues as to where to go to next. On occasion, the creatures seem to home in on you better than they should, even when you’re under an awning or a roof and should be invisible to them. And there are one too many false endings in the final chapter, which can exasperate some players, though it also makes sense in the realm of the game. The backgrounds, though nicely detailed, do start to all feel the same in spots, though this changes dramatically in the game’s final act. And if the story doesn’t captivate you enough, there is no real replay value in the game, even though a “Memories collection” opens up after your first playthrough, giving you 24 memories to find in your travels. It’s a bit of a forced way to make you replay the game, though, with the game only taking 4-5 hours for a playthrough, it won’t take you long to secure all of the game’s trophies for a fairly easy platinum. However, if you enjoyed the story to begin with, you won’t mind a second trip through.
All in all, while not terribly challenging as a game, rain is a wonderful emotional experience that sticks with you after the credits roll. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those looking for something with a unique look will find this journey through a rainy night one well worth taking.
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