‘Tis Better To Have Loved And Lost Than To Backtrack

HIGH Sharing a biscuit over tea with the owl.

LOW Having to backtrack two rooms to find a clue I forgot about.

WTF Breaking all the tombstones in the cemetery.

In this new point-and-click adventure from Studio Mojiken, themes of love and loss abound. While this will probably turn some people away, I wouldn’t define When the Past was Around as a sad game. It has an air of melancholy hanging above it, sure, but never really gets dramatic or heavy with details — and in the end, this proves to be its biggest problem.

Gameplay is pretty straightforward — click around to find keys or clues to open doors or locks, and drag items from the inventory to use them. While it’s not possible to directly control the protagonist and only a few objects can be meaningfully interacted with, most can still be touched. A player can break all the pots in a room or knock over every cup in the coffee shop, for example. It’s an intriguing idea, but not used to great effect here.

While the puzzles are mostly fine, there are a couple of obtuse instances that seem to harken back to frustrations typically found in the ‘good old days’ of the genre. Luckily, we get nothing as extreme as a moustache that needs to be made with cat hair and glue, nor are any monkeys used to open a faucet. Still, the few obtuse puzzles I encountered left a weird taste in my mouth since, from the art style to its short length, When the Past was Around seems tailored to the sort of casual gamer drawn in by an engaging story rather than brain-busting gameplay.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to the story, either. I suppose there’s no point in a spoiler warning since it’s clear from the first few minutes of play that it’s an experience about losing a loved one and coming to terms with that grief.

Beyond that theme, very little is revealed about its two protagonists — a girl and an owl-man musician — even after the story has wrapped up. The player only gets to see brief, happy moments immediately followed by sickness and death, which isn’t shown. The result is a simple story of reminiscing about happy times.

Also, the art style is lovely — it’s a hand-drawn style reminiscent of mature Japanese mangas, even though Mojiken is an Indonesian studio. It would have been nice to see some Indonesian culture in the story, but alas.

In the end, When the Past was Around is just… okay? It’s a short experience that never goes for big moments, instead remaining quiet and subtle throughout. Sadly, the short length and simple play don’t lend itself to more than one playthrough and, after the credits rolled I found myself shrugging instead of brooding.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

— Damiano Gerli

Disclosures: This game is developed by Studio Mojiken and published by Toge Productions. It is currently available on PC and MAC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 1.5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game is currently unrated by the ESRB. While it features adult themes of sickness and death, there are no shocking images nor overly dramatic sequences.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: It is a point-and-click adventure game with a musical theme. While there are no audio-specific puzzles, some achievements are linked to certain musical songs. There is no dialogue.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. The game is entirely controlled via the mouse either by clicking or dragging, there is no alternative control scheme.

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