Arise: A Simple Story Review: A Captivating Tale That Packs an Emotional Punch

Occasionally a game comes along that whisks you away on a journey unlike any other, and Piccolo Studio's Arise: A Simple Story stands amongst that elite club. This is the debut game from Piccolo, and what a debut it is, delivering an emotional journey that conveys its story through a stunning score, beautiful visuals, and inventive mechanics that all combine to immerse the player while never taking the focus off the very personal story that lies at the center. This isn't the longest journey by any means, but it's guaranteed to be a memorable one that you should experience first hand.

Arise: A Simple Story begins with the funeral of the main character, a man who doesn't actually ever get a name. In fact, the entire game is devoid of voice acting or dialogue, aside from the sounds of your character grunting as he climbs, jumps, and runs through the various environments on his way towards the mysterious light that shines in the distance. It's a simple premise, but it effectively sets the framework for the rest of the adventure, each one providing a new glimpse of another piece of your character's life.

Normally that lack of dialogue would hold a story-driven game back, but Piccolo Studio doesn't fall prey to that issue, thanks to each level delivering a rousing score and visuals that convey the emotions of the lead without uttering a word. For example, one level recalls the beginning of a whirlwind romance, and thus is filled with vivid blues, pinks, and purples as you jump across picturesque settings full of flowers, waterfalls, and star-filled skies to a soundscape that truly brings that cloud nine feeling to life.

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(Photo: Piccolo Studio)

Every piece of gameplay feels organic to the level's theme, which itself is tied to one step in the character's journey. You can command one aspect of the level with the right stick, and it changes from level to level. In the Romance level, that means shifting the water to move all the pods atop of it to move you across the level, as well as commanding the wind trails that allow you to soar in the sky towards your ultimate destination.

It's hard not to smile during those segments, but the game is just as impactful during its more poignant moments, and they hit hard. I wouldn't want to rob you of discovering this for yourself, but without spoiling too much, the game pulls you into its whimsical world only to throw you into heavier issues of loss, grief, and loneliness, and the level design and mechanics only serve to strengthen that impact.

If you're looking at one level that serves as a testament to how much a game can affect you, look no further than the level titled "Fruit." We're not going to spoil why, but it will leave an impression you won't soon forget, with a stellar score that raises you high and unexpectedly drops you into something else entirely, all while requiring your platforming skills to be on the money.

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(Photo: Piccolo Studio)

The emotional story is what propels you forward, but the mechanics are quite sound as well. You'll be controlling a world-searing flame to not only manipulate the environment but also light your path to eliminate adversarial shadows. Other levels require you to manipulate the weather, ratcheting up the cold to allow platforms to appear while putting your health at risk in the process, meaning you'll need to bring it back down to allow the flames to shine and keep you alive. Other levels allow direct manipulation of the environment, moving rocks and platforms to allow you to move across, and all of this depicted in the game's gorgeous visual style.

That platforming is pretty successful, but it's not perfect. Several sequences did cause some frustration, and more often than not it was because of camera placement. One sequence pans far out with the camera, making it hard to judge where you need to land on the platform, resulting in several deaths. Another spot made it incredibly difficult to make out the path forward, which is buried within a tree trunk, and it doesn't help that the level is quite dark, a result of the purpose being to light your path. Another sequence had the same issue, with an unfortunate angle causing several retries simply because I couldn't make out what where I needed to go without the risk of dying.

The good news is that the game's checkpoint system greatly alleviates some of that frustration, as more often than not (aside from one specific sequence) the game quickly reloaded my character fight at the spot of death, which was extremely welcome and made it easy to get back into the swing of things.

Arise: A Simple Story lives up to its namesake, telling a captivating tale full of charm and heartbreak that hit me right in the feels. It's an experience I won't forget anytime soon, and while there are a few flaws, they cannot outweigh what a meaningful experience this turned out to be, and I couldn't recommend it more.

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Rating: 5 out of 5

Arise: A Simple Story is available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One now.