Release Date: March 22, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Analgesic Productions LLC. (Analgesic Productions LLC.)
ESRB Rating: Not Rated
Anodyne. It’s a strange name to give a game, but it reflects exactly what this game intends to offer. From independent game designers, Sean Hogan and Jonathan Kittaka, Anodyne is takes a surreal spin on a well established genre, but manages to make the surrealism easy to understand while still drawing you in with enough mystery to immerse you in the adventure.
Exploring the dreamscape
Anodyne has you taking the role of a man named Young. There isn’t much we know about him, other than you’re exploring his subconscious while he’s dreaming. The unnamed land is populated with wide open wilderness, urban areas, as well as some simple dungeons to work your way through. While, it may seem like you’re lost in an aimless dreamscape, Young still has an objective to accomplish. It is your job to protect something called the Briar from the enclosing “darkness”. Exploring different dungeons and finding nifty cards to open new passage move you forward to protect the Briar and save the land.
Anodyne often takes the usual RPG tropes and skewers them brilliantly, with one instance featuring a man dressed in a Link outfit slicing bushes in search of money. As expected from the games odd attitude, even fighting is quite strange. You don’t have a mighty sword, but instead you’ll be wielding, well, a broom. It isn’t a disappointing weapon at all and fits right in with the surreal setting. And, yes you can still upgrade your weapons… broom… as you move forward.
Could this be any more mysterious and surreal adventure?
This surreal world and Young’s very odd adventure are what make Anodyne. As you explore the world, things shift very quickly from vastly different settings, much like a real dream. The world may lack villages and a large host of NPCs, but it still manages to deliver a large variety of locals for you to explore in 16-bit beauty.
Anodyne further pulls you in with its eerie and ethereal soundtrack. The light airy piano along with the chimes and pings of 16-bit era games gives off a relaxing feeling despite the dangerous enemies and situations. It leaves you wondering, feeling and questioning everything. Indeed, Anodyne‘s story itself leaves things open for interpretation. It’s well established early on you are exploring the subconscious of Young while he sleeps, but it becomes more about understanding his dream and what is happening in it, than the task at hand.
Strange happenings occur as you move forward through Young’s mind. A shadowy figure appears constantly, always walking away. It’s clear this could be someone important to him. Did this person pass away? Maybe this person left Young’s life more peacefully, but still remains on his mind. These moments halt the relaxing and awe-inspiring moments, and gave me the sense that not all is right with Young in the real world. I was also disturbed by an instance where I had to shove a fisherman into the water to open up the second dungeon. That one action changed the tone from lighthearted to dreadful.
The game’s title should leave players questioning the nature of his dream as well. Anodyne is also defined as a painkilling chemical, very similar to opiates such as heroin or opium. Is this sleep and dream also, drug induced or is he experiencing normal sleep? Even with all of these mysteries going on it is what drives the story forward, making you want to play to the end in order to uncover the answers to these mysteries.
The only problem I had with Anodyne was its inconsistent challenge. Enemies and puzzles can often be brutal, yet boss battles are incredibly easy at times. I would have liked to see more challenging boss and have the enemy and puzzle difficulties gauged a little bit better.
Abstract, but accessible
Anodyne won me over with its strange atmosphere, fun action RPG gameplay and its surreal world and atmosphere. Its ability to confuse you and make you think hard about what is happening to Young and what exactly his dream means, leads you to dig deeper into his dream world to solve the mysteries. The originality, as well as its ability to make fun of RPG clichés will keep you involved despite some the odd difficulty settings. If you like strange and trippy this game is for you and even if you don’t the game’s abstract themes are easy enough to understand you’ll fall in love with it too.