Anodyne 2 Review – 2019’s Dark Horse Game of the Year? | Please Play It
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Anodyne 2 Review – 2019’s Dark Horse Game of the Year? | Please Play It

August 31, 2019

DISCLAIMER: A review code was provided by
the developer. DISCLAIMER: In my personal opinion, Anodyne
2: Return to Dust is best experienced with as little information as possible going in. If you need to know more, keep watching, but
otherwise please play it. …speaking of, welcome to Please Play It,
the series in which I implore you to…please play it. Once in a while you see a really cool indie
game in development spread around on Twitter, and it just kind of sticks in your head afterward. For me, Anodyne 2 was that game, being available
now on PC. The bulk of this game was made by two people;
Sean Han Tani and Marina Kittaka. I apologize if I’m mispronouncing names, and
I will probably wind up doing it again in this video. The game’s hook is pretty apparent, utilizing
a low-fidelity graphical style reminiscent of the boom of early PlayStation graphical
styles, in a way that’s both eye-catching and efficient for the developers. And while it’s the thing most people know
this game for, Anodyne 2 is so much more than its graphical style. It’s already cemented itself as one of my
favorite games from this year, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of the new games I’ve gotten to play
so that’s high praise. But what makes this game so great, and why
did it have such an impact on me? Let’s talk it out. In Anodyne 2 you’ll play as Nova, a being
created for one sole purpose; to clean Nano Dust, a substance akin to a plague that is
affecting the world. Nova utilizes a device called the Nano Cleaner
in her efforts to purify the residents of New Theland, and the land itself. In gameplay, this comes about in two primary
ways. In 3D spaces, you as the player will explore
and do some pretty light platforming to navigate New Theland, looking for inhabitants afflicted
by Nano Dust. Once found, you’ll shrink to go inside their
bodies as the game transitions to a top-down 2D styled adventure game akin to earlier Zelda
titles. These 2D sections are more or less equivalent
to Zelda dungeons, filled with combat and puzles to solve. I reached out to Sean for a review code and
he very kindly provided one, and it wasn’t until I played the game that I even knew there
were 2D sections, if that tells you how blindly I went in. While the 3D adventure areas fueled my imagination,
I think the real gameplay highlight of this game are these overhead dungeon areas. I’ve never clicked too well with the older
Zelda titles, I respect them but they never engaged me all that much. Anodyne 2’s dungeons did so much more effectively. You see, each dungeon is a representation
of a person’s mental space, whether it be directly, or presenting a moment of time to
you as the player. This means you’ll either explore and advance
along someone’s struggles, or you’ll see snapshots of their life, such as the case with the village
a character named Geof is working tirelessly to save. NPCs are scattered about the game space, giving
more context to each area and helping you become more invested in the plight and New
Theland entirely. These aren’t just areas to work through to
get a new item, these are clever narrative devices that help the entire experience coalesce. The puzzles within are very smartly designed,
as well, keeping everything moving at just the right pace. Very rarely will you be stumped, most often
you’ll solve things just quickly enough to feel like you’ve outsmarted the game which
results in a great feedback loop. If combat is your favorite part of games like
this, you will probably find it to be lacking here, but everything else more than makes
up for it. The 3D spaces are great too, but for different
reasons. Like I said earlier, these are basically just
hubs to talk to residents and find your next objective. On paper, these are so much simpler by comparison,
but I was so effectively emotionally engaged by Anodyne 2 that I found great joy and fascination
in exploring them, which stems from a few key components. The first point is obviously the visuals on
display here. Not only does this help the game feel intangibly
nostalgic for someone of my age, but the art direction surpasses the self-imposed limitation
to become something truly striking and at times beautiful. This is a game influenced by 3D’s growing
pains, not one informed by them, so it still shows in proper widescreen with no frame drops,
and even manages to include some modern techniques like more advanced lighting. Exploring every inch of New Theland is worth
it just to see the artistry alone. The other reason these spaces work in spite
of their simplicity is just due to the characters themselves. I almost hate to invoke Undertale as a comparison,
but it just seems apt. This game has absolutely no qualms with being
meta, weird, funny, charming, and irreverent. This marketplace character will be talked
about to death, but they’re a Moletuber who laments that they have to cover the most popular
games in their videos, when all they want to do is cover niche, smaller titles. As someone playing this game with an intent
to cover it on his YouTube channel, this was a bit through the looking glass. The designs of a lot of these characters are
just so weird and striking, too. Your main caregivers, Palisade and C-Psalmist,
are both really cool looking, meanwhile some of the peeps running around this city area
are just…so out there. One of the things that kept me going was just
to see what other weird things would pop up. Another thing that endeared me so much to
this game are its qualities that are a bit harder to elaborate on and define, this game
just has such a warm, caressing feeling…yet one that also felt a bit empty and eerie,
which considering the ultimate narrative theme of the game, actually makes a lot of sense. The music is beautiful and cozy, yet just
abstract enough to be a little off-putting even in its cheerier tracks, it fits perfectly. The locales leave enough to the imagination
that it’s easy to identify with them, but are also just defined enough to make you wonder
about the functions of this world. For example, right out here there’s a carwash. By the way, to make sure I’ve explained it,
you can turn into a vehicle to get through the world quicker. But, just, there’s a carwash. It feels so weird and out of place, but it
also kind of fits. You never see another car in this entire game,
that I can remember, yet, here one is. This speaks well to the weird tonal balance
of this game, at times it’s very emotional, and at others it’s just plain goofy. It really shouldn’t work, but somehow it pulls
this balancing act off with aplomb in spite of being so hard to effectively pin down with
a description. These things all combined made Anodyne 2 a
gripping, emotional experience that I was thinking of even when I was away from it,
which is always a fantastic thing in a game. This is the most I’d like to say while keeping
things fairly spoiler-free, to try to sell you on this game and still leave you a lot
to experience for yourself. It would be a disservice for me to rob you
of that, but trust me, I haven’t even fully expressed what all this game has to offer. But if you’re the type that becomes more interested
by spoilers, or perhaps have even already played the game, let’s keep going because…I
just need to talk about the ending with somebody. These are going to be very loose, incoherent
thoughts and speculations, but I had to get them out somewhere. Let it speak to the strength of this game
that I’m out here wondering about its lore to the point that I had to mention it here. But again, I’m straight-up talking about the
ending here, so be warned. Continue at your own risk. So as Anodyne 2 continues, it becomes clearer
and clearer that the powers guiding Nova may not be working toward the traditional utopia
one may imagine. You’re cleaning all this dust to fill up a
central chamber which will activate the Anodyne, something comparable to that part in End of
Evangelion. You know the part. As things begin to get clearer, Nova winds
up befriending some nano-size members of a community who have embraced the dust, and
begins to question her purpose, and even life itself. It’s at this point that you begin to sympathize
with air quote The Enemy and begin to see the cracks in The Center’s promise. The Center being the overseer of life in New
Cenote, the city you start the game in. The Center has its roots in Nova, quite literally,
as the beginning of the game establishes she has a living seed inside her. As she befriends those in that town, that
seed begins debilitating her and causing her to faint, and trying to push her back to her
purpose of eliminating Nano Dust to fuel the Anodyne. The game has 2 endings, that I know of. One where you comply and activate the Anodyne
and essentially freeze the world for eternity, and one where you fight back against The Center
and free the world from its grasp. This potentially opens the entirety of the
world to become afflicted by the Dust, but it frees the world of The Center’s grasp and
ensures everyone has a free will and the ability to seek their own lot in life. To be their own being, question existence
as their wish, and try to find their own purpose. This is presented as the traditional ‘good’
ending, with Nova, a baby, a cute dog, and one of Nova’s Dust friends sailing off to
the sea together, to forge their own lives free of restriction. However, there’s a part near the end of the
game that calls all of this into question. In the desert, you find an NPC who speaks
in unfinished event scene code, who pulls you into a glitched out world. Shortly, you find yourself shifting entirely
to a different perspective. You now find yourself playing as a human named
Nora from an isometric perspective. Nora works a shitty retail job she hates,
keeps to herself, and basically just drifts through life one day to the next. No ambitions, no goals, just kind of taking
whatever life throws at hre and being complacent. She takes note of a gargoyle statue outside
of her apartment window, but then it disappears…then it winds up outside of her apartment door. Then she finds it alive in a nearby hallway,
and the game suddenly shifts yet again to being a suspenseful horror game as you escape
from it. I’m underselling it here for the sake of getting
to the point, but trust me, this was a shift that was just as effective as it was simple. As Nora, you’ll make your way back to a computer
where you have an offer to escape to New Theland, and if you accept you wind up back in New
Theland as Nova. Digimon has me used to kids transporting into
computer screens to escape their problems, but the suggestions this has for Anodyne’s
plot are immense and are why I have this section of the video to begin with. With these circumstances at play, what does
all of this mean? Loosening up on how unrealistic the living
gargoyle and computer transportation aspects are, this heavily implies that everything
in Anodyne 2 is just an escape from monotony, at least how I read it. A chance to shun the problems and realities
of life to lose yourself in something imagined. That happy ending earlier, where Nova forges
her own path, this adds a whole new dimension to it with this mindset. What seemed like a great ending with a bright
future ahead…may just be encased in sadness, all an imaginary escape as Nora avoids her
problems and just imagines herself accomplishing what she wish she could in real life. That, uh…that hits really hard for someone
my age living in this time on Earth. I avoided mentioning Anodyne 1 in this video
because I’m still playing it, but I know the general plot beats there and it has incredibly
interesting implications for that game too. Not many games have made me think about their
stories to this degree, and the fact that Anodyne 2 continually and quite naturally
reshaped my perception of its tone and message is quite a feat. The entire segment with Nora in her apartment
immediately went down as one of my favorite moments in any video game ever. If you’ve played through Anodyne 2, I won’t
tell you to respond to me with your theories in the comments, because I don’t want anyone
spoiled down below. Instead, maybe join Analgesic Production’s
discord and head to their spoiler channel to talk this stuff out. It’s really quite something. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to put out there
and see if other people read it the same way. This has been an unusually structured video
for me, but I hope it proved entertaining the whole way through, just like Anodyne 2
did for me. Please Play It.

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  1. I've already taken quite an interest in Anodyne, but as mentioned previously it'll be quite some time before I shave off enough of my backlog to make time for it. Hopefully your video can help get the word out.

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