The art of storytelling is not just in the content in which one builds the world from its story. Instead, it’s in the creative delivery, where words and actions are used to portray emotions and ultimately, a meaning that may or may not be readily apparent.
Whether it be a book, painting, movie or a video game, almost every piece of creative work attempts to invoke certain emotions from its audience. Unfortunately, such an endeavor proves difficult and many fail in its quest. Those few that succeed aren’t always critically acclaimed nor do they receive the recognition that they deserve but they will always go on to leave a lasting impression on the minds and hearts of its audience.
“rain” is one such game.
The story unfolds one ordinary day when rain begins to fall. A boy in his room spots a silhouette of a girl just outside his window and along with her, a monstrous creature, the likes of which he’d never seen before.
He chases after them into a door filled with darkness and finds himself wondering the rainy night, having lost his visible form. The story in “rain” is deliberately vague and requires the player to try and piece together just exactly what is going on themselves with little hints and clues found throughout the journey.
The narrative presented in “rain” is done entirely through wonderful storybook-esque watercolor paintings and text overlaid on top of the environment. It’s equal parts subtle and effective as it becomes a guide to interpret the feelings of the boy and the girl while providing much needed context.
While I’ve seen this technique used before, this is the first time it has felt this seamless and fitting to the overall feel of the game. Without a single word of dialogue, the boy and the girl portrayed compelling emotions through their gestures aided by the omnipresent narrator. It’s a good thing too because they are unable to talk to each other in this other world of night.
Also, I’ve said this before but it bears repeating so I’ll say it again. There is no better tool to pull at the heartstrings than music. From the superb arrangement to Debussy’s classic, “Clair de Lune” as its main theme to various other original pieces, the music in “rain” is superb and hits all the right notes to fit the mood of the scenes presented.
The ambient sounds of the constant showering of rain to the echoing sounds of tiny footsteps in an empty hallway lends itself to build an atmosphere so rich, it’s difficult not to get pulled in.
The big game play hook of this title stems from the idea of only being visible while in the rain. This applies to both the protagonists and the various creatures that lurk in the night. It opens up a myriad of interesting scenarios where the children must either run and hide from the beasts or create a trap to overcome them altogether.
Each new type of enemy becomes a game play mechanic of sorts as some can be manipulated into attacking other, more pesky creatures or be used as a way to open an otherwise impassable door.
There is also the hulking creature referred to only as the “Unknown” which chased down the children with relentless fervor that will haunt the player from the very beginning to the end. Its menacing cries echoed in the distance and will certain strike fear into the player as it does to the children.
While the mechanics shown are simplistic, they are used in rather creative ways to set up some rather tense moments. In one particular section, I was going down a long hallway that was shielded from the rain.
I was unable to see the children outside of their footsteps but realized that the hallway was actually filled with creatures who I could only locate through their footsteps as well. With puddles along the way which could give away my position when stepped on, I was glued to my TV screen analyzing each and every footstep as I maneuvered the children safely around half dozen invisible enemies.
Given there is no combat of any sort outside of creating makeshift traps using the environment, it was important that the game was able to present me with new and interesting scenarios with creative use already established mechanics.
Even though I wouldn’t consider “rain” to be a challenging game by any means, its difficulty felt just right as I don’t think the feeling of overcoming a hard puzzle or series of jumping puzzles would’ve made the experience feel any more compelling.
Considering one hit from any beast is enough to end the children’s lives, each encounter felt dangerous as the game was able to provide a real sense of urgency amongst those quiet moments exploring the night.
My only complaint would be that the interaction between the children are limited in their animation as I was able to clip through the girl like she wasn’t there and wasn’t able to do something simple like help her up a tough climb by grabbing onto her hand.
Thinking back on ICO and remembering how much of an impact a simple thing like the ability to hold Yorda’s hand had, it feels like a misstep that there weren’t more direct interactions between the two children.
Despair, wonder, joy- these are all emotions I felt throughout the course of this tale, facilitated by the actions of two children just trying to find their way to each other and eventually, back to the world where they belong.
Clocking at around three hours, it’s exactly as long as it needs to be to accomplish what it sets out to do. While there are unlockable “memories” that can be collected hidden throughout the levels on a repeat playthrough, I feel the exceptional experience of one single playthrough is more than enough for its asking price.
The night I finished “rain”, I fell asleep thinking about the story and what had transpired during the journey. Then the next morning I awoke thinking about it once more. While I didn’t have any clear ideas as to what it all meant, I was left with the undeniable feeling that I had experienced something exceptional.
Fun Tidbit: Pay close attention to the animation of the children, there’s a lot of great little detail that’s easy to miss!
Review copy of game provided by publisher.