When The Past Was Around Review
Reviewed on PCAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and Nintendo Switch
When the Past was Around is a point and click puzzle game from Mojiken, about a young woman called Eda. Through art and music alone, the game spins a tale of love, loss, and how we navigate life in the face of heartbreak. I thought that it would be the sort of game that would be a nice way to spend a couple of hours, but by the time the end credits rolled I was crying, in the same way games like Spiritfarer and Necrobarista made me cry this year. When the Past was Around is beautiful in so many senses; the comforting art in earthy tones and pastels, the music that will be stuck in your head for days, and the story of how we can rediscover ourselves even after tragedy.
The game takes place inside Eda’s memories, which are pressed together like rooms in a muddled house, allowing her to step between them. Each scene is a piece of the puzzle, and puzzles are also how to move forward in this world. By clicking around the rooms you’ll find boxes that need unlocking, clocks missing their hands, hidden items, and codes that need cracking. No two scenes are the same, and although none of the puzzles are overcomplicated, there are a couple that stumped me for a few minutes. When the Past was Around isn’t a game you want to rush through anyway, but one where you want to soak up every moment and click on everything. It’s always obvious what the relevant items to a scene are, but objects tend to make a nice noise or have a little animation when you click on them whether you need them or not. There are also achievements for little things, like opening all the windows in one scene, or tidying up a room, so taking your time and trying everything out is recommended.
As you start putting the pieces together, you learn about Eda’s story from a young girl who is learning to play the violin, to a young woman who becomes frustrated with her passion until she meets Owl, and falls in love. Her relationship with Owl reignites her, and she experiences the world, herself, and music in a new way. Then Owl is taken away from her, and Eda is left with all these memories that are so precious but also not enough. By reliving them, and navigating her way through she manages to find some peace.
All of the storytelling is done through art and music, which is what makes this game so special. By removing any language barrier, this becomes an experience purely about being human and understanding the turbulent, painful, and beautiful parts of life. Music is hugely important to this game, it has the kind of soundtrack you’ll want to listen to after you’ve finished playing, and you’ll find yourself humming as you go about your day. Both Eda and Owl play the violin, and so music is what becomes the primary language of the game. There’s a repeating motif throughout that comes to represent the couple, and it surprised me how much emotion could be elicited from just a handful of notes when presented in different ways. The last track that plays over the end credits takes everything from the game and gives it back to you in this jubilant, folky, violin duet that feels like a celebration, or a reminder that even through the darkest moments of life, you will be able to find happiness again.
The art by Brigitta Rena is similarly wonderful, ranging from warm, homely scenes of kitchens, cafes, and nights under the stars, to more dreamlike pieces that illustrate how Eda is feeling rather than what happened. Everything is full of detail, and many of the objects will appear again and again, weaved through Eda and Owl’s relationship until you find yourself getting emotional over a scarf or a music box. The way you interact with the environment is also worth noting; as mentioned a lot of the time you’ll be thinking your way through by solving puzzles, but there are moments when Eda is at her darkest that all you can do is smash and push objects over to find what you’re looking for. Without words, everything in this game is built to feel intuitive and emotional, and what results is one of the most human feeling stories I’ve experienced.
When The Past Was Around is a perfect example of how many ways there are to tell stories, and how so much of what we experience is universal. It’s a story about the impact you can have on another person, and how even when we have lost someone they can still be found through the things they loved, the things they made, and the memories we have of them. The game only takes about two hours to play but manages to fit so much into a short space of time. It will pull you into its gorgeous world and make you fall in love before breaking your heart. Then before you leave, it makes sure you know that you’re going to be okay.