Hands-On: Arise: A Simple Story is an emotional journey through one’s past

During PlayStation’s State of Play back in September, among the anticipated footage from Death Stranding and The Last of Us Part II, was the announcement of a cool looking indie platformer called Arise: A Simple Story. We didn’t get much info about the game except an interesting announcement trailer, and then later on a release date of December 3, 2019 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC (Epic Games Store).

With the game’s release date less than a month away, we were able to get our hands-on the game to get a taste of what to expect when the game launches.

Death becomes him

Like in the announcement trailer, Arise: A Simple Story begins with a funeral. A group of people surround a pyre with a loved one laying peacefully upon it. The people light the pyre and go on with their lives. After some time, after the fire burns out and the seasons change, the old man rises from the pyre and his journey to the past begins.

While we’re not given a specific time or location, the game looks to take place in the era of the Viking Age, maybe in the Northern Europe region. The pyre is the hub of the game where you’re able to select which levels to play, each level representing a memory of the old man’s past.

By the way, there isn’t any dialogue or text in the game. It’s a narrative game where the story is told by scored cut scenes, statues strewn about the levels, and collectible images, which creates a sort of comic book, that are found in different corners of the environments.

A whole new world

During my play through, we skipped over chapter one to avoid spoilers and went straight to chapter two. The aesthetic and art design is beautiful. While each chapter has a different theme and environment, it’s a consistent style throughout the game with superb animation. There are 10 chapters in the game, each representing a different emotion.

Chapter two, called Joy, represents the old man’s memory of his adolescence. The environment is sunny, lush and green, with flowers, giant mushrooms, and streams and ponds. There are snails going about their business and bees moving from giant flower to giant flower.

Chapter three is much darker. The scenery represents a tumultuous time in the old man’s youth and features a night time setting, with falling trees, crumbling mountains, and trembling terrain. Again, the story is told through statues placed within the environment, cut scenes, and collectibles found throughout the level.

In addition to the game’s gorgeous design, the music is just as elegant. Scored by David Garcia, known for his music in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and RIME, the music for chapter two sounds fitting in any Pixar animated film, while the music of chapter three is much more melancholy and does an excellent job of capturing the dread of that particular memory.

Jump and swing

Control-wise, Arise: A Simple Story features normal platforming controls like running, jumping, and a grappling hook. What sets the controls apart however your ability to move time forward and backward as well as pause time. This ability is used to access different parts of the level.

As mentioned before for chapter two, there are snails and bees moving around the environment. So you’re able to move time forward or backward until a snail or bee is in the right spot to either jump on its back to get to the top of a mushroom, or throw a grapple hook onto a bee to fly to the other side of the environment and access previous inaccessible locations.

In chapter three, pausing time is more useful as you can stop falling rock long enough to use to get across canyons and gaps. There's also a co-op mode available where one player controls the old man and the other player controls time. So a concerted effort of communication and timing is required to get past certain parts of the levels.

I only had about 45 minutes with the game (the game takes about six hours to complete), but in that short time the experience was enjoyable. The game as a whole is amazing to look at, great to listen to, and fun to play. While I was only able to get a glimpse of how the narrative will play out, it seems like this one will be tugging at your heart strings. I’m looking forward to playing the full game when it launches on December 3.