Too short, but very sweet.
When I caught wind of Sherida Halatoe’s debut commercial release, Beyond Eyes, I was immediately hooked. I was attracted to the idea of exploring a world from the unique perspective of a young, blind girl—one who also did not possess special abilities like Daredevil or Zatoichi. Furthermore, the game appeared to possess a profound visual aesthetic that effectively communicated this experience in a markedly beautiful way. And my two experiences seeing the game in development left me still thirsty for more. However, once I finally sat down and played the game, which lasts less than two hours, I realized that I did not possess the same unbridled excitement I held once before.
Your brief interlude begins with a short story sequence featuring our protagonist, Rae. During a celebration, sparks fly from a fireworks blast into her eyes, leaving her blind. Depressed about her disability, Rae becomes reclusive, spending much of her time alone in her garden while children play without her. During this time, she meets a stray cat, whom she names Nani, and for a brief while, she is happy. But when the cat disappears for longer than usual, Rae ventures out on her own to find out what happened.
As Rae explores the world around her, it slowly takes form around her, with pathways, fences, flora, and objects elegantly appearing into view. The effect is something like Okami’s blooming effect tearing across the white landscape of The Unfinished Swan. Unlike either, Rae’s world grows just as she walks around. I make the distinction that this environment belongs to her because as far as we know, it could be entirely different. Given that she used to see, she forms her own image of the world around her based on sounds, touch, and even smell, but these are based on her own memories. In some areas, her memories fool her, such as when a distant fountain turns out to be a leaking drainpipe up close.
Besides walking around, Rae has very minimal interaction with the environment. Objects she can touch or hold are denoted by green wisps encircling them, such as fences she can hop over or a piece of bread she can break off a loaf. Although she is given a rather large amount of open space, each area’s sprawl is restrained by fences, bushes, and trees to keep players from losing themselves. Also, Rae will occasionally encounter scary noises, typically from crows or dogs, who are surrounded by swirling black wisps, which act as barriers. In some cases, she’ll need to walk around them, but in others, these are gates she’ll need to “unlock” by performing other actions in the environment.
I do recommend, though, that you take a moment now and again to look behind you at the path you’ve traced through the blank page. The visual experience is always lovely and engaging. But later levels, which wash out your path with rain, challenge your ability to do just that or even to get a sense of direction, though not in a frustrating way. Either way, even against the stark white background, the game is always pleasing and somewhat calming for the eyes.
Rae’s pace is decidedly plodding, not that I blame her or the designer for it. There is an understandable need for her to be cautious about every step. But for that slow pace, I expected more rewarding stops more frequently—something interesting in every corner, if you will. There are very few real story points, and the overall plot is rather simple, though pleasingly bittersweet. Yet a few chapters are strung along by Rae either hearing a faraway noise she tries to follow or imagining a space Nani may have traversed, causing her to divert her path.
Approaching this project with some childish glee, I imagined that Rae would really go on an adventure. She’s a young, blind girl on a mission, and she’s both imaginative and rather capable. And although there are several people she passes on her way to the end, only one of them interacts with her, making an impact. I thought she’d go farther, do more, run a full gamut of emotions, and both learn about life and teach us jaded players something in the process. Instead, the succinct experience lends itself more to a young child’s storybook, though a really lovely one at that.
Maybe it’s petty to lay into a game for what it could’ve been, but this game, though unique, charming, and well-executed, feels like an appetizer when I really wanted a meal. Although the story doesn’t feel cut off, it just feels too brief overall. I’d have preferred a game that ended when I wanted it to end. Still, I’m impressed with the job Tiger & Squid did with Team17’s faithful help. It is at least a solid, unfettered artist’s vision, not sullied by AAA expectations and producer’s interjections. For that, I’ll take this short trip any day.