This article is part of our new test series, Backlog Club, where we (Nintendo Life!) pick a game that is likely to be on the “game we should play” list, and then we (NL + you!) spend the next month playing it. This is the finale for June, which is focused on Return of Obra Dinn. Read Part One here!
Presumably, if you’re reading this, you’ve finished Return of the Obra Dinn, or are about two-thirds of the way there before going on a rampage at not being able to distinguish all those grainy pictures of people bearded man. So I’m not going to explain the game to you, and I’m not going to warn you about spoilers, because you probably don’t need to either. Let’s dive in.
Humanity has been telling stories longer than we can tell. You see, we don’t really figure out how to write until it’s relatively late – and even then, we mostly use it to note down super boring stuff, like receipts and messages, than great literary works. Instead, the stories were told out loud, by watch and music, and passed down by word of mouth: Campfire tales, cautionary parables, children’s songs, and lengthy epics entirely from memory.
Once we started writing them down, things got interesting very quickly (in anthropological terms anyway) – sharing stories, focusing on popular stories and copying ideas other people’s ideas become easier. Finally, write it into a book, into a movie, into a video game, and you know the rest.
What I’m jumping around saying is Return of Obra Dinn is a great example of the place of writing, narrative, and storytelling in the modern era. We’ve come a long way from linear, chronological, “once upon a time” stories and even a long way from more interesting ideas, like nonlinear stories. computers, unreliable narrators, and weird framing devices. Obra Dinn is a possible story only told through the medium of a video game, which is odd to say, because unlike a lot of other “video game-perfect” stories, this one is extremely passive.
By the time you board the Obra Dinn, everyone is dead. Your mission is to find out how they died, but not save them. This is not a typical power fantasy, unless your power fantasy is to create the most meticulous postmortem risk assessment in the world, in which case you will have a lot of power. than. But there’s no interaction, other than putting your name in a book; you are merely a witness to events beyond your control.
This is no typical power fantasy, unless your power fantasy is to create the most meticulous postmortem risk assessment in the world.
The Return of Obra Dinn is told in a non-linear fashion, dictated by the bodies (and deaths) you find as you explore. It’s a pretty simple story, if you rearrange the pieces in their order: The greedy man stole the treasure, its owner came to claim it, a lot of people died unexpectedly ensuing brawl. Sure, there’s more nuance here and there, with a planned mutiny, a murder, and some supernatural happenings, but even that all ties into the story. center.
What makes Obra Dinn remarkable is its presentation. I would even argue that you can leave the game really Once you know the story – you have to pay very close attention and take notes, or replay the whole thing, to figure out exactly what happened – and still have a great time with the story when it’s done. presented to you.
The way Obra Dinn leads you through the story makes every episode as interesting as possible, by messing with the obvious in a linear retelling. We start with the captain, telling his crew members that “they” are “on the bottom of the sea” before shooting a man in the face. Right off the bat, we have the question: What is he talking about? Why does the captain kill people? Who’s on the right here? We don’t even get answers to these questions until hours later in the story.
Each scene is just this maze-like confusion. Rarely do you find a single scene – after all, the reason you can see it in the first place is because someone has died – so every scene is full of mysteries, fights, incidents. Explosions, traces of blood, etc., all clues to put together in trying to find out what happened on Obra Dinn.
Put puzzles together
The tension in any mystery story revolves around not knowing things, whether it’s the audience knowing things the protagonist doesn’t, or the audience and protagonist figuring everything out at the same time. . At the core of this story is one truth that changes everything, and then there are smaller important truths that emerge from that central truth: The housekeeper did it, and tried to frame the person. other, and his motive is money, etc.
The core of this story is one truth… and then there are smaller important truths that emerge from that central truth.
The story of Obra Dinn revolves around one question: What happened to Obra Dinn and its passengers? For most of the game, you only see ripples and none of them make sense, even if you understand each individual ripple. By presenting a simple mystery as an orderly logic puzzle that requires reasoning, a process of elimination, and careful attention to the smallest details, like someone’s wedding ring and the color of socks to identify them, Lucas Pope is giving. us a story in telling about it.
My story playing through Obra Dinn (I got all the answers right, by the way) is not the same as that of Obra Dinn. Instead, my story is this: Being able to share my experience with others who have played the game, swapping the story of the “strip shirt guy” and making the pursuer and surgeon complete mixing techniques because I think one of them. looked More like a surgeon, is the real joy of Obra Dinn.
Notice that a foot in white socks is sticking out of the hammock and use that to identify the owner in another scene. Look at the three men playing cards and speaking Russian, and it can be deduced which of them is cheating. These petty discoveries are what makes Obra Dinn what he is, therefore especially for me, because even though these are bread crumbs put there by Lucas Pope, I feel smart for having discovered them.
The mundaneity of socks
Lucas Pope is telling us a story in telling about it
At the end of the day, Return of the Obra Dinn ends up being a tale of magical, fanciful events, told through mundane means: A book, an insurance adjuster, and death , the most mundane thing, the only thing in life that is a security (aside from taxes, I know). It’s a human story – a story where people try to save each other, to change their fates, to thwart the corruption of greed.
It is this humanity, this mundaneity, weaving through every texture, every death, to bring us into the story, even as magical mermaids and crab warriors from the depths invade us. ship. It is this humanity that drives us to tell stories in the first place; to talk about shared experiences, to engage with others about the terrifying unpredictability of death and the flaws that will destroy us all if we’re not careful.
Return of the Obra Dinn is not a moral tale, or a fable, or even a rhyme that exists to warn people about the dangers of stealing a mermaid’s magical sheath. It is a story told in a way that requires you to use only your eyes and brain, to observe instead of act, and what you are left with at the end of the story is an experience that needs to be shared.
I can’t believe this amazing, messy, confusing logic puzzle of a game ends with sockof everything.
Now that June is over, we’ll be moving on to the next game soon, so here’s a poll if you want a vote on what we’re playing in July:
You can update your past Backlog Clubs right here:
And finally, the book club of the Backlog Club, where we discuss what we’ve learned from Return of the Obra Dinn. Here are some questions to get you started!
- Which character confused you the longest?
- What is your secret favorite character?
- What is your best nickname for a character?
- Do you have a physical record to solve the fate of the crew?
- Who do you think is responsible for the fate of Obra Dinn?
- Did you get all 60 correct fates?
- Are there any other games that use narrative devices in the interesting ways you suggest?
Let us know what you think in the comments section!