So first thing to get out of the way, I’m mostly just interested in the “actual” story that gets explained at the end. I’m gonna talk about themes and how I liked the implementation. I only played through it once, and it wasn’t in one sitting, so the details of the game aren’t all super fresh, so I don’t plan to dig deep into symbolism or anything like that. I’ll do a little, but most of it would be pretty obvious to anyone who played the game.
Also, if you just want to see what it’s all about, here’s a full no-commentary play through from YouTube:
The story at first is just weird. You start off as the little girl, do some light puzzle solving, then afterward get to play as the man with really no indication of what’s happening. You just go around and explore figuring out what you can and how you can proceed. There are actually a few little hints at what’s going on here, like the little girl by the well, but they don’t make any sense until the end.
You spend a while puzzle solving, until suddenly you’re hit with the first little intermission where you’re an old man with a woman talking and asking if you remember “that tale about flowers” and she starts to tell the tale. This is our first actual clue as to the nature of the story, but again doesn’t make much sense until later. For this entire section, the woman narrates while the player just has the old man walking downstairs until he gets to the front door. I really appreciate how important this story is to the framework of everything.
After that, you go back to controlling the man, with the previous section serving as context to suggest that this world is the one in the story. Full of pain and creatures and just trying to find a way out. I really enjoyed this aspect of it. It’s not subtle at all about the attempt to work through pain, but it is really cool and I think does a good job of illustrating how confusing and helpless it can feel just trying to get through a day. They don’t really explain what pain the man is working through until the end, so I won’t mention it just yet. But it’s really the point of the whole story, so until then I’m mainly just talking about how I liked the different devices of the plot.
After exploring for a while, the player hits a roadblock and gets their first experience controlling the knight. His story is harder to understand, and involves a lot of fighting. He serves the Keeper by going out and gathering pain, and this section helps explain why the man got stuck. A little after that, another departure to the little girl. This is how the story generally unfolds. You play as the man for a while, then a bit as the knight or the little girl to add to their parts.
The little girl finds a mystery of her own to investigate as well. She becomes convinced that her parents are kidnapping children and storing them in the attic. Much of her time is spent looking around the house and finding ways to go places she’s not supposed to be in. It’s hard to figure out what’s happening at first, but it starts to seem like she’s got an abusive living situation and like she’s actually in foster care or something similar.
Within the world the man is exploring, he also collects pain crystals. As these are collected, there is a character who will explain more about the history of that world and some of what’s still going to happen. I did not collect all 80 pain crystals, so I do not know everything they have to say, but it is interesting even if I don’t actually know what to make of it from the overall perspective.
Toward the end of the game, the man seeking answers finds himself looking into a room where a girl is being pushed around by weird shadow people. These are unlike the shadowy monsters that the man has been avoiding this whole time in that they have more of an ethereal quality to them. They keep pushing and pushing, until the girl is finally standing on a balcony and about to jump off. The whole time, the man has been desperately pounding on the door trying to get in and stop her from jumping, but he can’t break in at all. She jumps, and the shadow people disappear, apparently satisfied that their work is done.
After this, the man falls into a strange tunnel which stretches on forever. As it turns out, this tunnel does go on forever, and the only way for him to escape is to turn around and go the other way, where an exit is readily present. I personally love this, because it really give the player a good look into the grief that people can fall into when a loved one dies. The game doesn’t say this right away, but that girl who jumped was the mans daughter, who killed herself after having been bullied by other kids, which sent her father into a deep depression.
So this world he’s been exploring is entirely one of allegory. That much was obvious, but knowing what it’s supposed to represent makes it far more interesting. It stands to reason that the world is some shared world of pain for all the people who’ve had different bad or traumatic experiences. The Keeper is an embodiment of the idea that misery loves company, as it encourages everyone else to cause more pain and to harvest it for him. In exchange, he gives people a “spark” which helps them to go on existing.
According to the game, there are two ways out of the world:
- A “flower” that people can grow which allows them to escape the Keeper and get away. This flower can be stolen, but it won’t work for the thief if it’s gotten this way
- Give in to the pain. This makes them entirely useless to the Keeper, who will then allow them to exit as they can no longer function in a way which generates additional pain
Interpreting it through to the real world, one can either find some purpose or hope which gives them something to live for, or they can simply totally give in and just die, which is of course not a great option. Clearly, the daughter wasn’t totally equipped to deal with the kind of pain that was thrust onto her, so she ended up overwhelmed and chose death instead. The man is grieving, and is trying to grow a flower of his own so he won’t follow the same path.
At the end of his path, he is able to catch up with a fox-like light creature which has been helping him along the way. When he finally catches up at a fountain, the fox turns into a feminine figure which reaches out to him and and transforms him into a similar light figure. She gives him what appears to be a baby, and he is able to leave the world of pain.
In the last section as the little girl, she finally makes it to the attic where she finds that noises she’s been hearing are just a raccoon which got in and was digging around. She then checks the cellar, and finds a bunch of old children’s things, which she interprets as being from old kidnapped children. Throughout this, the mother has been presented as a volatile and sometimes hostile force who does not appreciate the presence of the little girl. At the very end, the girl decides to run away, but is caught by the mother who confronts her and gives her a note before killing herself.
At this point, we rewind slightly, and see that the mother called the man who was seeking answers in the main part of the game, and told him that they “were finally going to be together”. It’s pretty clear that she’s talking about killing herself and someone else so that they can join the daughter who killed herself before. The man rushes home, and finds the walls bloody and the mother dead. The girl is gone, but he finds the note she was given, which tell him where she went.
The man races to a building which is falling apart, and makes his way to the top floor. A familiar scene begins to play out. He is trapped outside a room trying to break the door in, and the little girl is being pushed closer and closer to the balcony by the falling debris and the floor giving in. Things are a little different this time though, as the man is able to break the door this time, and rushes to the girl to save her. At this point though, there is nowhere to go, so they both plunge off the balcony.
Before I continue, the structure of the family was that the man and the woman had had two children, a boy and a girl. The girl was bullied and killed herself, which caused the rest of the family a lot of grief. We don’t really see the son mentioned, but it can be inferred that he was the older child and eventually moved out. The mother was absolutely destroyed and was barely functional. The man threw himself into work and tried his best to give his son and his wife the best life he could while also managing his own pain.
Some time after that, there was a great fire which killed a lot of people. The little girl, from her playable sections, survived though, and the man found her and his family adopted her as their own. She was very young at the time, but apparently old enough to vaguely remember her parents and know that she’s been adopted. This, combined with the behaviour of the mother, is what kicked off her investigation into what was going on in the house.
In the last section as the knight, we see that no matter how much pain he collects, the Keeper takes it from him and gives very little back. When he tries to leave on his own, the Keeper quickly catches up and stops him. I’m not totally sure what to make of the knight. I feel like he might be the son now trying to live his adult life but lashing out at people around him because of his grief. In the end, he is totally destroyed by the Keeper, and appears dead. I believe that the agreed to die with the mother.
Now, back to the man and the girl. We’re not explicitly told what happens next, but we know they survive. Instead, we go back to the old man leaving his house. He has now come to a cemetery and is sitting on a bench near three gravestones we understand to be for his wife, daughter, and son. A woman comes and sits next to him, and she looks just like the little girl, only older. She has been the voice talking about the “tale about the flowers”, and is the same little girl. She brings up the story one last time, this time saying she’s understood it differently now, as not being a story of pain but instead one about love. They helped each other through their respective traumas and found a way to go on, together, after losing everything else.
There’s a bunch of stuff I don’t get yet, but I haven’t thought about it really deeply since I only finished the game recently and had taken pretty large breaks in between. There are probably important details I’m not remembering or am just totally misunderstanding.
I really like the way it presented it’s themes and story, and was really surprised to find it was so effective. Some people probably disagree with me, and that’s fair! It was really cool in my opinion and handled the heavier themes very respectfully. Of course I enjoyed the message of hope, but I really appreciate that it doesn’t present any choices as inherently bad, but instead tries to explore the reasons that drive people to do what they do.
Do you like this kind of piece? Am I just dumb and didn’t understand anything important? Let me know! This blog is just for fun, so I’m really open to any feedback you might have 🙂