More Like “Bore-igins”
I was excited for Yesterday Origins. While the original Yesterday might not have been as fantastic an adventure game as, say, Corpse Party, it was a fine little adventure game with an interesting conspiracy narrative, and the sequel looked poised to be at least as good if not better. An immortal couple traveling across time and space to uncover a mystery involving secret cults, the Spanish Inquisition, and the devil himself? Every single part of that is something I’m interested in, and I so, so desperately wanted to be able to recommend this game to my fellow point-and-click fans.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I can’t do that. It’s not even that it’s bad. Instead, Yesterday Origins commits the greatest crime any piece of entertainment can: it’s boring.
If you’re not familiar (and you shouldn’t have to be, because Origins is meant to be enjoyed even if you never played the first Yesterday), John Yesterday is an immortal who’s been alive for more than 500 years. Every time he dies, he is resurrected at the age he was when he first underwent his transformation, but he loses all of his memories. His girlfriend, Pauline, is likewise unkillable but is able to keep all her memories when she is reborn. Origins, as the name implies, deals with the couple attempting to learn the truth of John’s past, his many lives, and the details of how he became immortal in the first place.
Oh, and he might be the son of the devil, too. It’s a thing.
The storyline jumps between past and present, and sees the couple traveling across the world in their quest. The shifts in time and place make for a varied and interesting set of locations, all realized with beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds as shown in the picture above. The music, too, reflects a wide variety of styles representing different places in the world. Seriously, the praises of the game’s original soundtrack cannot be overstated – it really breathes life into every scene, even when the sheer mediocrity of the rest of the experience threatens to drag the game down.
Sadly, the rest of the presentation doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the soundtrack and background art. In particular: the character designs and animations are very bad. Some cutscenes are incorrectly lip-synced, and the obvious attempt to marry the realistic and gritty designs of most AAA games with the cartoony look of games like the more recent King’s Quest has led to something that doesn’t work for either purpose: too silly for the game’s dark and gory narrative, too realistic to not look out-of-place in the rest of the world. Add to that the stiff and cheap-looking animation, and the result is something that sets up shop smack-dab in the middle of the Uncanny Valley, making even lighthearted conversations between John and Pauline viscerally uncomfortable to look at.
But all of this is just decoration. The most important part of any point-and-click adventure is the strength of its writing. And Yesterday Origins’ story is…well, it’s okay. Most of the story beats and twists work well enough, and despite jumping between timelines frequently it manages not to feel all that disjointed. The biggest problem with it is that I just didn’t care about any of the characters or their problems. The overarching story might have been decently executed, but all of the character interactions fall flat, and in my opinion, that’s what really makes or breaks a good narrative.
The worst part is that the weakest characters are John and Pauline themselves. Most of their character traits are things they do, not things they are. They run an antiques shop. They’re immortal. They love each other, although you’ll have to take the game’s word for that since other than living together they don’t do much to show it. They stumble through the story with no real sense of purpose, and when they do express an emotion it’s almost like they’re checking off a point on their to-do list, like when Pauline looks at a picture of her father, comments how much she misses him everyday, and doesn’t bring him up again until a later room where you can look at another picture of her father, whereupon she expresses the exact same opinion worded slightly differently.
The sub-par voice acting really hurts the game here. Yesterday Origins is a perfect example of why performance matters: characters I might have liked otherwise are dragged down by the people playing them. I mean, with the right inflection, the comment from Pauline I just mentioned might have come across as a daughter pausing to reflect on an old loss before moving on, rather than a robot attempting to mimic human emotion (something the stiff and inhuman animation does nothing to dispel.)
The game also has a real problem with tone, something the first game struggled with as well. It swings wildly from moments of horror to moments of humor and sometimes gets the two confused. Case in point: one of the first puzzles in the game involves Pauline deciding she doesn’t like her wrinkles, so you have to help her shoot herself dead in the shower so that she can be resurrected young again. The game treats this as a joke, with item and puzzle descriptions in this section full of of wry comments that (at least in my opinion) are in very poor taste. Yet at the same time, when you finally get everything she needs to do the deed, the game gives us a slow, dramatic pan into the shower as she turns on the water so her husband won’t hear, hesitates for a moment, and then pulls the trigger. I’m all for stories that can balance lighthearted humor with dark tragedy, but this ham-fisted approach is not the way to do it.
What’s more, that puzzle in particular makes no sense, because she has a tub of wrinkle removal cream in her inventory. Why go to all the extra trouble? And this is emblamatic of a lot of the gameplay. Mostly it’s traditional point-and-click stuff, involving a mix of dialogue and inventory puzzles with increasingly complex solutions. The one addition is that you don’t just have to collect physical items, you also have to collect clues that you’ll pick up from observing something or talking to someone or even completing a smaller puzzle on the way to achieving your primary goal. It’s a nice way to keep the player on track and help lead them down the crazy logic of the adventure game designer. But for me personally, there were lots of occasions where I knew exactly what I needed to do and couldn’t figure out how to actually do it. Like when I knew I had to get some blood, but I couldn’t use the sharp object I’d found on my face, hands, feet, or legs, and had to resort to rotating my player avatar in every direction I could think before finally finding the one tiny patch of arm the game would allow me to actually cut.
I’ve included a lot more “in my opinions” and “for me personallys” in this review because a lot of this stuff is subjective. Maybe the story will work for you in ways it didn’t for me. Maybe you’ll find the puzzles a lot easier and more obvious. But I was rooting for this game, and for me it was barely-stay-awake boring. Even if you’re still interested, don’t spend thirty bucks on Yesterday Origins. It’s much better suited to some kind of Steam sale.
FINAL VERDICT: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One; Publisher: Microids; Developer: Pendulo Studios; Players: 1; Released: November 10, 2016 ; MSRP: $29.99
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a PC review copy of Yesterday Origins provided by the publisher.