It is better to have loved and lost…
Toge Productions started 2020 off strong with Coffee Talk and is ending the year on a sweeter note with When The Past Was Around. Although the Indonesian indie dev powerhouse already released When The Past Was Around on Steam back in September, the hand drawn point and click tale of love and loss has finally found its way to consoles. And after earning the coveted Overwhelmingly Positive rating on Steam with 760 reviews at the time of this writing, the tiny title seems destined to replicate that success with console gamers, delivering upon that signature bittersweet taste fans of this team have come to know and love.
When The Past Was Around has players taking on the role of Eda, a twentysomething listlessly living through life. Like many her age, she feels lost and uncertain about her future, both in life and love, until one fateful day when she met The Owl, who would powerfully impact her through the dulcet melodies on his violin. The pair quickly fall in love, their shared passion for music the beating heart of their relationship. Unfortunately, all is not well with The Owl, who appears to have a chronic illness that requires swiftly-administered medication. Eda and The Owl were managing his illness with each coughing fit, until The Owl’s luck ran out; alone once more, Eda now spends her days working through her grief, learning how to wade through memories both good and bad.
From the get-go, When The Past Was Around’s aesthetics immediately jump out at you. The hand drawn characters and environments promote tranquility and a serenity that soothes without even picking up the controller. My mind was transported to my cozy memories of curling up with a book, a cat, and a cup of tea on cold winter afternoons, the game’s art style providing that same level of emotional comfort. The music matched that feel with pleasant violin music wafting through my speakers and filling the room. At one point I couldn’t stop thinking about just how warm I felt, both physically and emotionally, because of how snug and secure I had become playing such a lovely game under plenty of covers. When The Past Was Around may tackle some heavy material, but in aesthetics, it’s an uplifting treat for the eyes and ears.
Although point and clicks don’t always perform well on console, I will admit this game handled better than some others in the genre. When The Past Was Around employs a cursor (using the thumbstick) to move about the screen to hover over items of interest (using X to interact), but it glides effortlessly across the screen instead of a painfully slow drag. There’s also a sort of tip feature that highlights points of interest (by pressing △) that negates the dreaded pixel hunt, which was certainly appreciated. It definitely shows that the team worked really hard to ensure When The Past Was Around ran as smoothly as possible on a medium not entirely tailored for the genre.
When it comes to the puzzles themselves, When The Past Was Around makes you feel like it’s simple enough with the first few puzzles, but towards the end they definitely ramp up in difficulty. I found the puzzles much more intuitive than some other point and clicks, which often have you MacGuyvering random items together to make something ridiculously outlandish; instead, players are asked to make tea, unpack boxes, fold laundry, or look under rugs for keys. These extremely normal settings and solutions ended up being ironically unique, which absolutely upped the charm of an already delightful game.
One of my favorite details is perhaps in how Eda searches through items depending on her mood. While calm, she merely sifts through boxes or opens windows; while panicked, she frantically upends plants and rummages through shelves, spilling their contents everywhere. I’m drawing a blank for how many times I’ve seen the emotional state of the character conveyed through the mechanic itself in this genre, allowing me to bear a more ludoharmonious witness to the distress Eda felt while desperately searching for her lover’s life-saving medication. Again, another unique twist achieved, which, considering the game’s short length, is really something special.
Although I enjoyed my time with When The Past Was Around after waiting about a year to play it, there are unfortunately some issues that may come up for console players I must address — the most pressing being readability. There are times in the game where you’ll need to look at images for numbers or other cues as part of a code to unlock something. While this likely isn’t an issue for PC or Switch players on handheld mode, anyone playing on a console connected to a TV will have to sit with their noses to the screen in some cases. There was one puzzle in particular that had such tiny numbers — and I had already gotten so cozy that I couldn’t be bothered to move closer — that I just googled the puzzle answer instead.
Additionally, I found it odd that I couldn’t back out of a zoomed-in area by using the o button; instead, I had to move the cursor off the zoomed-in area and hit the x button to zoom back out. This isn’t a glaring issue so much as something that feels standard, so it was a weird feeling to have that control missing. It is also worth mentioning that When The Past Was Around took me about an hour to complete, which can be good or bad depending on how you feel about short games. For what it’s worth, the story said exactly what it needed to, and any other content would have felt like unnecessary fluff. If a story is short but tight, it’s done its job well as far as I’m concerned, and When The Past Was Around certainly fits that description.
When The Past Was Around is the lovely bookend to 2020 for me; when coupled with January’s Coffee Talk, I’m reminded that there are plenty of cozy games that provide extreme comfort no matter what their genre. While I do wish I had experienced this game on PC or even the Switch due to the small text on TV, I’m thrilled that I got to experience it at all. As a wise man once said: “It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, and it is better to play When The Past Was Around on console than to have never played it at all.” Heed those words and be sure to pick up When The Past Was Around on the platform of your choice as soon as possible.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC, Switch, XBox One, PS4 (reviewed); Publisher: Chorus Worldwide Games; Developer: Mojiken Studio, Toge Productions; Players: 1; Released: December 17, 2020; MSRP: $8.49
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of When The Past Was Around provided by the publisher.