OPUS – Loneliness and hope

From independent Taiwanese developer Sigono, the pair of games OPUS are linked by their common themes and aesthetic rather than their gameplay or story. Both games share themes of loneliness and hope, with characters isolated in the distant future, determined to complete a seemingly impossible task that was thrust upon them. Despite these similarities, both games can stand alone, they don’t refer to each other, and are a testament to the diversity of unique gaming experiences we’re so lucky to enjoy today.

In the distant future, humanity has lost touch with its now mythical home of “Earth”. The game’s protagonists, Emeth and Lisa, scan the galaxy looking for Earth, hoping it will have the genetic diversity necessary to save a withering humanity. With time running out, the ships systems and crew were put into stasis to conserve energy until the ship drifted close enough to a nearby star to recharge its solar cells.

The gameplay involves you controlling the ships telescope to identify potential Earth candidates across the starfield. Navigation clues and puzzles lead you to different clusters of planets to investigate and send exploration probes to. As you progress, power is restored to other parts of the ship to unlock new filters and lenses for the telescope and with it more potential planets to investigate as well as hints of other celestial objects to fill in the backstory. Sadly, this unique mechanic quickly exhausts itself, amounting to little more than scrolling a large, layered image.

Emeth has a refreshing optimism which really endears the robot to the audience. Emeth is convinced that every planet they find could be Earth and if not, then the next one definitely will be. Lisa provides constant reinforcement to Emeth’s optimism but she seems to privately harbour doubts, sheltering Emeth from the grim chances they actually have of success. Their dialogue is exceptional and as the game draws to a close the game’s narrative becomes to main point of attention saving the experience from its shallow gameplay.

According to the traditions of Earthology, the deceased are commemorated with the annual space burial to return the souls of the departed to their cosmic origins. But after a series of disasters cause social and economic collapse, lonely survivors John and Fei struggle to survive and continue the traditions while tormented by the stranded ghosts of those who perished in the plague and unrest.

The game is divided into days. Each morning you explore the ruined landscape as John, collecting resources to construct rockets and artefacts from the past. Each day you’ll return to base for Fei to work on the rocket andJohn to restore artefacts or craft equipment to explore farther across the ruins of the world. Resource depletion becomes a problem in the post-game which will frustrate completionists who’ll have to meticulously comb the disorientating map to restore all the artefacts and uncover all the events that led to the fall of the world.

With traumatic memories of the plague and years of solitude, John shows signs of clinical depression as he angrily lashes out at Fei, whose relentless positivity is a facade from her training as a witch to cover over her own insecurities. John jokes about suicide and openly questions the point of it all several times, but the lack of alternatives, and Fei’s genuine determination and belief in their eventual success, push them forward. It’s not a love story, but one that reminds us to cherish the people we have in our lives, because we depend on each other.

In addition to the similarities in theme, tone and character tropes, both games share absolutely stunning soundtracks by composer Triodust. Each track is truly evocative and captures the vastness of the environments, the loneliness of the characters, their hopes and triumphs. I think the inclusion of the soundtrack with the upcoming physical release of the game on Switch will be the biggest selling point. Both games open with a recommendation to use headphones, a relic of the origin as mobile games, but a pair of headphones will see you totally enthralled in these experiences as they reach their respective climaxes.

I recommend both games, but if I had to pick a favourite, Rocket of Whispers appealed more to me due to its more traditional gameplay based around exploration and item collection and its occasional darker thematic tones. However, The Day We Found Earth is the more compact experience with better pacing and a design that allows 100% completion without the tedious padding of Rocket of Whisper’s postgame. Both games are refreshingly short and make for a cozy Sunday evening story, like a good film or book.

Some of you may wish to wait for the physical release, no doubt so it can be uncovered along with the rest of your plastic possessions by future archeologists, but they’re available now to download on Steam, Apple App Store, Google Play and the Switch eShop. And without digital distribution, we wouldn’t be able to play self published games, out of unrecognised territories, about space witches trying to honour the dead.

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