It’s like *that* Futurama scene all over again.
Although 2020 has seen a lot of touching games about the emotional depths of death experienced by those about to cross over, few have done so through the lens of those from the outside peering closely before their time. Spiritfarer and Necrobarista, two glorious games that explored the process of coming to terms with the inevitable by those on the precipice of what’s next, served to give peace to those passing on. What, then, of those who had considered taking their own life, only to be given a second chance to step back from the ledge and change their perspective on death? What if we could get a glimpse of what comes after — would it alter how we live now?
This is what What Comes After strives to answer. Developed by Indonesian solo indie dev Fahmitsu, the mind behind Toge Productions‘ Coffee Talk, and published by Rolling Glory Jam, What Comes After is available on Steam for $4.99 and can be finished in about an hour. A small but powerful game that made me cry at least twice in 58 minutes, What Comes After will delight anyone who has played any of the three games I’ve already mentioned, rounding out a hellish year in a touching manner.
What Comes After has players taking on the role of Vivi, a young woman who just barely caught the last train home. Tired after a long day and fortunate enough to find an empty seat on a usually overcrowded train, Vivi proceeds to live out everyone’s worst public transit nightmare and fall asleep on the last train, completely missing her stop. Instead of being trapped in a dark train parked at the station, however, Vivi is surprised to see the train moving full speed ahead to an unknown destination. And what is this purple haze everywhere? Why are the other passengers transparent? Are they dead? Is Vivi dead? What’s going on here?
As luck would have it, Vivi almost immediately runs into the train conductor, who is equally surprised at Vivi’s appearance on the train. It turns out Vivi is still alive, but she’s the only one — the rest of the passengers have died within 10 km of the train and are using it to take their last ride to what comes after this mortal plane of existence. Luckily for Vivi, the conductor is happy to take her back to the station, but not before ferrying the passengers to their final destination; in the meantime, she encourages Vivi to walk around and converse with the dead. Perhaps Vivi can learn something from those on their way to what comes after, even helping them make peace along the way?
Controls are incredibly simple, with WASD and arrows moving Vivi, holding shift to make her walk faster, and space to interact with the spectral passengers. Interacting with each passenger is the name of the game in What Comes After, Vivi traversing from one end of the train to the other and speaking with everyone she meets as she goes. What Comes After is predominately a text-based game with pretty much no action, so if you’re not into reading this may not be your cup of green tea latte, but those who love settling in with a feel-good emotional journey will find what they’re looking for here.
The aesthetics in What Comes After are charming. The hand-drawn characters and settings are in a unique art style that is so adorable that I felt lulled into a false sense of emotional security. Nothing this cute could hit me hard, right? Hah. But I digress — I very much enjoyed the visuals, sweet in their simple conveyance. The music was lovely as well, although I admit for the most part the visuals stole the show. I did rather enjoy the end theme, which I believe is sung in Bahasa but I could be mistaken (correct me in the comments if I’m wrong). Overall, the aesthetics were lovely, definitely making it easy to explore every nook and cranny.
As mentioned earlier, Vivi has considered suicide before this fateful train ride and even remarks that, since she didn’t feel pain, this was a win-win situation. It’s only after she speaks to each individual passenger on their last journey that she stops to ponder on the value in sticking around. Every passenger has something thoughtful to impart, either about how they died, how they lived, or what they regretted most. All of them offered some pretty insightful comments that, for a game about conversing with the dead, I figured wouldn’t have too many surprises, until I saw the baby.
The baby, you guys.
The craziest thing is, this incredibly bold move handled very well (all things considered, it is a dead baby after all) wasn’t even the thing that made me cry the hardest. I don’t want to give away too many more spoilers for an already very short game so I’ll leave it at that, but the fact that there was something sadder than a dead baby in a game about processing death should tell you something.
If I had any complaints, I wouldn’t say that it’s the game’s brevity, rather that I wished for a little more NPC diversity. I felt that some of the spirits had repetitive messages that didn’t really do enough to set themselves apart from the others. I honestly don’t know how many NPCs I spoke to, but I only remember about six of them, and even then, only two really had that powerful emotional gut punch. I mean, kudos to the one that absolutely sucker punched me, but it was a little bit like picking a a flower out from a bush — only one rose really stood out, while the rest felt like leaves. Are the leaves important? Sure, they make the flower stand out more, but I only wish there had been more roses to choose from.
For an hour’s worth of emotional, important gameplay at the price of a cup of coffee, What Comes After is a must-play for anyone who needs to be reminded that life is worth living. That they’re not a burden on their loved ones. That others are praying for their health and happiness. That other souls depend on them. That they have redeeming qualities. That it’s okay to not be okay. To just breathe. If you are not currently suicidal, please consider picking up What Comes After to hear these powerfully reaffirming messages — the words we’ve needed to hear after a harrowing year.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Rolling Glory Jam; Developer: fahmitsu; Players: 1; Released: November 5, 2020; MSRP: $4.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of What Comes After purchased by the reviewer.