Back in July, I previewed this story-driven narrative adventure game and termed it a "work of art". Now it's time to dig out the thesaurus to look for new words meaning "beautiful", so I don't end up repeating myself too much.
A lot of games tend to change dramatically over the course of development; often Alpha builds look nothing like the finished product. When I first played the game in its Alpha build, it looked fantastic. Thankfully, things haven't changed; Reaching for Petals looks as gorgeous as ever, and Blue Entropy Studios have delivered a full package, continuing the mysterious, allegorical adventure in its full release.
Reaching for Petals is available on Steam from the 4th September.
Reaching for Petals sees you walking slowly through a rich environment, without any guide or map, or indeed an indication of where you're heading; the game does not serve such information to you on a plate. Instead, you are led only by your instincts as a player to move progressively forward- unless you're a platform gamer, in which case your instinct is to look behind you. I'm looking at you, Crash Bandicoot. Don't think that just because you're over twenty years old I've forgiven your fiendish box placement!
As you progress through tranquil forests and eerie caves, your actions are overseen by an invisible narrator (played by Canadian voice actor Dave Pettitt), who speaks in poetic verse worthy of a Nobel prize for literature. At first his commentary makes Reaching for Petals feel like a nature documentary, as he espouses the beauty of nature from the smallest leaf to the tallest tree; but slowly David Attenborough gives way to Voltaire, and as the game progresses the listener is treated to such enlightening philosophical aphorisms as "the endless river of time flows into the ocean of eternity" and "the only way to reach the highest peak is to descend within the deepest parts of ourselves". I wouldn't be surprised if some of this game's quotes end up in a philosophy dissertation somewhere down the line- if they aren't already.
The story slowly becomes apparent as you continue through the game; while the narrator's cryptic, evidently allegorical commentary makes limited sense at first, there are sections in between the Chapters which provide more insight into the life of the character you are roleplaying as. In these memories, you're presented with a few options, briefly turning Reaching for Petals into a Choose Your Own Adventure game, as you tell the story of your journey through life with childhood sweetheart Renee.
Throughout your lovely walking holiday amidst the world's most treacherous Centre Parc, you'll find yourself jumping up rocks, crossing bridges (makeshift or otherwise), and listening to the sounds of the wildlife, gushing water, or screams of frustration as I somehow plummet to my death (though I did get a Steam achievement for that, which makes me suspect Blue Entropy have been monitoring my play).
In terms of actions, that's all there really is to Reaching for Petals. At the end of each chapter, you will find petals to grab, and each Chapter also has a "hidden" journal to find. Unfortunately, however, these journals seem to be a mere token collectable; I found no way of reading the journal to see what mysteries it contained- or at least an explanation as to how it ended up on the floor of a dank cave.
Upon finding these petals, you are transported back to your home, which you can wander at your leisure, checking out each room as if you're on some sort of daytime TV house-hunting show. When you've finished checking out how spacious the living room is and whether your neatly folded jeans have any creases, you can progress by interacting with a certain item relevant to the story you are about to be told. Following that brief Reaching for Zork game, the screen fades to black, and you're back in the wild.
And so this goes on, for four chapters. Yes, that's right – four. To many, this would seem quite short. In reality, it's plenty enough. The story is told well and there aren't any obvious plot holes or elephants in the room that needed addressing (don't worry, I checked while I was scoping out the kitchen. No pets to be found, anywhere).
There is also a distinct lack of a save feature, which means you will have to complete each Chapter in its entirety. While they aren't overly long, it's still somewhat of an inconvenience, should you need to leave to…I dunno, walk around in the real world for a while. However, the whole game takes around 2 hours at a leisurely pace, listening to the poetry, admiring the views, looking for journals, falling off cliffs etc., so it's entirely possible to complete the game in just one sitting. Indeed, as the story unfolds, you may find the time flies by- having finished Chapter 3 and the succeeding memory, I desperately wanted to reach the climax and confirm what I had begun to suspect- or be proven wrong, which I, irritatingly, often am. Either way, when the credits began to roll, I didn't feel cheated out of anything; Reaching for Petals was two hours of slowly walking around, knocking over logs and fumbling in the dark well spent.
Graphics and Sound
Yet not everything is flawless: while Aurora Borealis may be the zenith, the nadir of this game would be some of the rocks. While the cavern looks gorgeous in its own right, I spent a lot of time scouring mountainside rocks looking for a journal, and something about them just didn't sit right. They look less like they're made of stone and more like they're from a papier mache Geography project. This may have something to do with my increasing frustration at not being able to find the journal I was missing, however. On the most part, everything is idyllic; from the more apparent features like trees and the sea to mini-streams whose water splashes off of rocks, and the aforementioned fireflies, who do not remain as static light sources, but twinkle as they hover in the air.
As far as sound goes; Blue Entropy Studios have done a very good job in casting a narrator. Dave Pettitt enunciates things well, and while his volume tends to stay somewhat even, there are subtle shifts in his tone, dependent on where you are and what he is saying; his voice is generally softer as you trudge through a cave, but emphatic and resounding as you edge ever closer to the peak of the mountain.
Tied into this is the music; generally, the instrumental soundtrack accompanies only the narration. Whenever he speaks, a variety of musical accompaniments play, each varying dependant on the situation; it can become problematic during tense moments, as the crescendo almost drowns out Pettitt’s already loud voice. In the gentler areas, this is much less of an issue. I looked, and couldn’t find an audio control in settings, so this is an issue that cannot be addressed by the player themselves- if you want to hear the narrator properly during the loud Allegro moments, you’ll have to strain your ears.
When the narration stops, so does the music, and the clashing of drums and trilling of violins succumbs to the sound of the environment; birds cheep, streams trickle, and water drips off rocks with a satisfying plink. It does a great job of adding to the immersion- you can actually picture yourself being in the forest. Imagine if this game were in VR? Seeing leaves float in front of your face and starting as a twig snaps underneath your feet would be a marvel indeed. Seeing Blue Entropy Studios' preceding catalogue of VR Room Escape games, I wouldn't be too surprised if a similar VR experience gets released in the future; be it Reaching for Petals or its eagerly anticipated sequel. The sequel that definitely should happen, so says me.
Reaching for Petals is one of those games in which you may at first be a little baffled by what is going on or what the heck Dave Pettitt is talking about, but as you immerse yourself within the world you quickly become absorbed and invested in what is ultimately an endearing story, which will doubtlessly move all but the most stoic of hearts.
The game is certainly short, but there is some merit to be gained from replaying the game at least once; you may have missed certain nuances the first time, and certain things the narrator says may take on an entirely different meaning or understanding once you know the ending; I'd offer examples, but I don't wish to spoil any more than I may have already. Such things become clear as you play; what at first sounds like general philosophical metaphor becomes much more lucid when given context. It's like replaying Knights of the Old Republic knowing you used to be a Sith Lord, and picking up on all the subtle hints which suggested as such that you never noticed the first time. (I'd apologise for spoilers, but that game is fourteen years old- how have you not played it by now?)
Considering this is an Indie game with an Indie game price tag, it's simply amazing; the graphics are triple A standard, at least on a par with the beautifully realised worlds of The Witcher 3 and the remastered Skyrim– in my opinion, better than the latter. I am still speechless at how gorgeous this game is. While I don't particularly feel the need to play the game again anytime soon, it certainly holds the honour of the most beautiful title in my Steam library.
It's simple, perhaps to the point of boring for those not accustomed to slow-paced, story-driven games, but instead prefer those which require quick reflexes and a lot of jumping around and shimmying across impossibly thin edges. I must confess I'm typically in the latter category of gamers; but something about Reaching for Petals grabbed me, and like some strange case of Stockholm Syndrome, I quickly became fully invested and couldn't tear myself away; the limited gameplay notwithstanding, it's a compelling adventure for both the character and the player themselves. Even if you only play through it once or twice, the experience should still be had.
There have been a few similar games over recent years, but Reaching for Petals was my first; it's set a benchmark for me should I play another in the future that will be difficult to better. Thank you, Blue Entropy Studios; your hard work in making this masterpiece is easily apparent, and my life feels somewhat more complete having had the pleasure of enjoying this delight of a game. I eagerly anticipate what the future holds for what is irrefutably one of the most talented Indie developers on the market today.
|+ Gorgeous environment||– Quite short with limited replay value|
|+ Compelling storyline||– No save feature|
|+ Well narrated|
– Limited gameplay may bore some