You might not know it in the modern era of gaming, but you can have an extensive and detailed narrative told on a much smaller scale than the open world blockbusters we’ve become accustomed to.
Well, Yesterday Origins is aptly named, that’s for certain, since it sure feels like it harks back to those origins. In much the same way as the aforementioned favourites, Yesterday Origins is a seemingly large scale plot told on a very small scale. What we mean by that is that even though the protagonist and the narrative spans over hundreds of years – and you get a genuine feel for different periods of time here – the way the game plays out is through the small interactions that make up the general exchanges of life.
It’s a traditional point-and-click adventure, then, in which every single object and almost every observation is a possible key to succeeding in each environment. You take control of two characters: John Yesterday, an immortal human who has been traversing the planet for over 500 years, and his girlfriend, Pauline. Both of them seem to share the same trait of being able to come back to life with fewer wrinkles than before whenever they die. Must be nice!
In much the same way as you might expect from such a game, interacting with objects is what takes up most of your time. You need to collect clues and piece them together, and these can come in the forms of physical objects riddled throughout the environment or from important snippets of information gathered by observation or through conversation. By following the narrative thread and conversing with NPCs, you then have to attempt to piece them together to complete a scenario and allow it to play out.
These scenarios, on paper, can seem laborious. You might need to find the SD card to put in your camera to take a particular photo or find a way out of a jail cell with the limited resources in the area. In other words, the individual moment-to-moment action of life – those parts you don’t often witness in other games – are the primary focus of this one.
It’s great if you like solving puzzles, and, honestly, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds on paper. It’s a slow-paced game about utilising the environment to the best of your ability, and figuring out how best to manipulate the objects around you is really satisfying. It’s a great feeling when you reach that “ah-ha” moment when you manage to perfectly solve an area; it’s something you often don’t get in other modern games.
If you like that sort of thing, then you’re in for a treat, especially when combined with the beautiful, colourful aesthetic, charming soundtrack, and interesting characters. But unfortunately, some of these exchanges can leave you, for lack of a better word, puzzled. Sometimes what the game wants you to do to move forward is just too vague.
It’s not uncommon to spend over an hour furiously scouring the area looking for some missing piece of information that you need to move forward, only to find it hidden within the environment. The thing is, it often doesn’t feel like you weren’t thorough enough to find the missing information. It’s just that the game has been designed to throw you off in places with vital pieces of information hidden within the environment in places you wouldn’t think to look in.
While veterans of this kind of game will probably get a lot of enjoyment from doing this, it’s hard to imagine many newcomers to the genre in 2016 having much patience for it. Couple this with another minor nuisance in not having any list of objectives and it means that, should you want to turn the game off and come back later, you can easily spend the first 15 minutes just trying to remember the context of your current situation.
Yesterday Origins has a strong cast of characters, an intriguing plot, and beautiful presentation. When you manage to work it all out, the game can be a real joy, but when things go wrong, it can be frustratingly slow and pedantic. Like its narrative, it jumps back in time to remind us of when games were far more frustrating and constrained. It brings back elements of gaming’s past that we like, but it also brings back those that we don’t. We’ve come a long way, but if all those troubles feel far away, well Yesterday Origins, to quote The Beetles, makes them look “as though they’re here to stay”.