DeLight: The Journey Home Review: War Never Changes (PC)

A blind girl, a faithful dog and a harrowing journey across a country ravaged by war: the new episodic narrative game from DreamTree Games looks to pose some tough questions and lay bare some harsh realities about a land wracked with violence. In DeLight: The Journey Home, young Sammy must find her way to safety while her world falls apart around her.

DeLight: The Journey Home review: War Never Changes (PC)

DeLight: The Journey Home is an episodic narrative-focused adventure game from Malaysian studio DreamTree Games, and sees you following the story of a young blind girl and her trusty canine companion as she tries to escape a war-torn nation and reunite with her parents. Heavily influenced by the work of the late Telltale Games, you can expect to face difficult choices, a heart-rending story and lots of classic point-and-click gameplay.

DeLight: The Journey Home has released its first two episodes for Steam, the iOS App Store and Google Play, with the remaining chapters available for pre-purchase.

DeLight: The Journey Home - Trailer

Story – From Paradise to Purgatory

The game starts you off in media res, placing you in the shoes of a young blind girl named Sammy trying to escape onto a train with her faithful dog Deli while being pursued by soldiers, before sending you back a few weeks to see the events leading up to that point. Sammy – still in possession of her sight at this point – is living with her grandfather in the state of Warthorne (a name that arguably risks being slightly too on the nose), and takes to the park to play with her friends and meet an adorable dog friend before news starts to filter through that war has broken out. On hearing the news, she and her grandfather head to the train station to try and reach Sammy’s parents, but an explosive attack on the station soon unravels their plans.

That's the one, kid.

That’s the one, kid.

In the second chapter, a newly-blinded Sammy wakes up in her school, now transformed into a shelter for those affected by the war. As she acclimatises to her new circumstances and the idea of living without her sight, she’s moved to action on hearing that the train station on the other side of town is soon to stop running train services, eliminating the quickest way for her to reach her parents. But how is she supposed to cross town in the middle of a war with no-one but her loyal pup for aid?

It’s a bold and powerful story to undertake, to be sure – the shadow of war hitting small-town life, the ordeals of the day-to-day, a young girl trying to figure out how to move forward while wrestling with the loss of loved ones and the trauma of living in a warzone. As of chapter 2, DeLight does manage to approach those themes with tact and sensitivity for the most part, with a roster of characters you can check up on over the course of the game alongside your own personal mission. While the writing occasionally falls a little flat, the characters are still sympathetic and well-realised and I enjoyed working through the dialogue trees and finding out a little bit more about the world and the people inhabiting it.

Gameplay – Choices, Choices

As you would expect from a game inspired to such a great extent by the episodic adventures of Telltale Games, a lot of classic point-and-click mechanics find their way into DeLight: you’ll be walking around, talking with people, interacting with objects and solving minor social and environmental puzzles in order to gain access to the next story beat. You’ll also face the occasional quick-time event where you must hit a particular button in a short time frame and will be constantly reminded of the importance of your choices and the consequences that may follow from them.

Deli will remember that.

Deli will remember that.

One way the game keeps these ideas relatively fresh is in its approach to Sammy’s blindness. From about halfway through chapter 1, Sammy will be unable to see her surroundings and so, correspondingly, neither can you. The majority of the map is shrouded in darkness, and you must venture closer to things to discover the lay of the land, along with locations of people and obstacles like benches, debris and discarded furniture. It’s certainly an idealised and necessarily convenient portrayal of blindness, but there are little concessions to Sammy’s uncanny ability to perfectly fill out the map using her other senses: noises and smells are sometimes represented on screen, and occasionally she’ll draw an incorrect conclusion about her surroundings, such as hearing a radio as a woman playing the piano or, rather cruelly, mistaking a man with a…powerful scent for a pile of trash.

The other main mechanic in the game comes in the form of stealth sections. At various points in the game, you’ll need to avoid soldiers (or fellow refugees in the case of chapter 2) in order to proceed, hiding behind level geography and staying out of their line of sight. Cones of vision are clearly delineated and you even have help from your canine pal Deli, who can sniff out and guide you to cover since you can’t see it yourself.

If you occasionally get strong Scooby Doo vibes, you're not alone.

If you occasionally get strong Scooby Doo vibes, you’re not alone.

By and large, the game ticks along fine, if a little sluggishly in places. Most of the time you’ll find yourself doing glorified fetch quests or delivery missions for other characters, which is made a little frustrating at time by Sammy’s slow move speed, but gives you an opportunity to interact and chat with them which can often be quite rewarding. The stealth sections and QTEs are forgivingly checkpointed just in case you miss a cue, and you can tell the main focus is clearly on the story, along with the choices you’re able to make. Indeed, the game does have several little opportunities to be kind to those around you for which you receive no instruction and no reward except for the warm fuzzies inside, such as restoring a lost teddy bear to its owner.

Always gotta keep an eye on your goal, though.

Always gotta keep an eye on your goal, though.

With that said, however, I did find the Telltale-style choice mechanics somewhat underwhelming. For a game that leans so heavily into the gameplay and ideas of classics like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, and which beats you over the head so relentlessly with the sentiment that choices matter and consequences may occur, by the end of the second chapter I had yet to encounter any meaningful choices or consequences for any of my actions. The moments that seem like they might be setting up an interesting choice, such as whether to work with the shady teen who broke into the school in order to try and hitch a ride to the train station, aren’t choices at all, which wouldn’t have been quite so disappointing if a large portion of the conversations happening at the time didn’t revolve around whether it was the right thing to do and whether Sammy shouldn’t try and find an alternative. In fact, even some of the minor choices I did make got slightly bugged out: after confessing to Sammy’s grandpa about getting into a fight in the park, the diary entry (a story summary that updates as you play through the game) instead stated that I had lied to him about it and felt bad about it as a result.

They're rather heavy-handed about the whole idea to be honest.

They’re rather heavy-handed about the whole idea to be honest.

Overall, I feel like expectations were set quite high for this spiritual successor to the Telltale legacy, and the first two episodes haven’t quite lived up to them. Perhaps episodes 3 to 5 will make more of the much-vaunted choices, but it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed that there hasn’t been much done with them so far.

Graphics and Audio – Not Quite Nostalgia

The graphical style of DeLight is a bit of a mixed bag: some of the environments and character models are cute and fun, particularly the adorable doggo Deli. Others look a little too much like an early GameCube era adventure game, and not always in a nostalgic or satisfyingly stylised way. The character animation can also be somewhat floaty, particular walking animations, with characters sliding across the floor in an immersion-breaking manner that is also reminiscent of the bygone days of early 3D.

That said, much of the rest of the animation is rather nice, with lots of little details here and there. When Sammy receives a cane to help her get around after she loses her sight, she performs a delicate and accurate little animation when walking with it, tapping it from side to side to stay aware of her surroundings. The gradual reveal of the map as you walk around and explore it is very stylish too, as objects and walls smoothly fold themselves into reality as you near them.

The music throughout is quite pleasant, and well-composed and orchestrated. It’s warm and uplifting in the right places, with melancholy strings and woodwind tugging at the heartstrings in appropriately sad moments, and haunting piano music playing over the credits. It doesn’t pull focus, but rather augments the experience on screen.

DeLight: The Journey Home was reviewed on PC with a Steam key provided by Vicarious PR.

Summary
DeLight: The Journey Home has an important story to tell, about war and trauma and difficult choices. While the first two episodes didn’t quite hit the bullseye, I’m nevertheless curious to see whether the remaining instalments will be able to carry it through. It needs some revamping of the choice mechanics and the effects they actually have on the world and the people you meet, but I hope they manage it, because it really feels like a story worth telling.
Good
  • Powerful story, with more yet to unfold
  • Some cute character models, especially Deli
  • Well-composed music
Bad
  • Few opportunities for meaningful choices so far
  • Hit-and-miss graphical style
  • Sammy often moves quite slowly
7
Good

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