Christ, this game is boring. Oblige is a title where you play as an overworked and unappreciated housewife in Hong Kong, 1979, and have to balance the eternal ennui between having a family and being a goddamn independent human being. Don’t get too excited: the concept is the best part of the game, and despite all I said yesterday about gameplay being just another brick in the wall — much like how homemakers are the mortar which binds together willfully – oppressed women — it would be nice to, you know, have some. Another walking simulator game? No, this time it’s also a typing simulator! Yes, thrilling.
I don’t normally bitch about the game before the second section (stop laughing), but I gotta put my two cents in before I suddenly forget about this easily – forgettable game: I didn’t like it, I found it a waste of potential, I thought the writing wasn’t interesting whatsoever, and I couldn’t bother playing this title past the first two in – game days. There was this brief period of time where I thought I would be professional and keep at it until I finally finish the title, but given how the main conflict involves pleasing either your husband or your son (a plot thread so overdone I couldn’t even muster the energy to come up with the obligatory domestic abuse joke), I thought I would use my time more productively to watch Death Parade.
Have you seen Death Parade? It’s this really glitzy and glamorous anime about the arbiters of souls taking in pairs of dead people and making them play sadistic versions of parlour games in order to determine their deepest, darkest natures and see if they should be sent to Heaven or Hell. While the main concept is enough to force the audience into intrigue and invite them to judge the dearly departed, it’s the running storyline about the fragility of life and the omnipresence of death that provides the most interest, revealing a social hierarchy of flawed characters treating this whole soul – seeking business as just another desk job. It sucked me in with its class – out – the – ass æsthetic, and then tossed me off with the tear – jerking ending that made the whole thirteen episodes all the while. It is funny, sad, poetic in some respects, but most of all was an anime that made me realise just how good anime could get.
There, I just recommended something else you can spend your leisure time on instead of this energy – sucking experience. I played Oblige, felt tired and uninspired for the next six hours, then came back grasping at straws for anything to say and to piece together the charming review draft I had planned out in my head. I got as far as “Christ, this game is boring”, and then realised that summed up my feelings towards the experience in five more words than I wanted to write about it. But I’m here anyway, and I’m not here for myself, so let’s dissect this body and see what entertainment I can derive out of this well – intentioned drivel.
1979, Dirty South, local lounge
Okay, you know that game Cart Life? If you don’t, shame on you. But there’s a lot of comparisons to be made regarding the two: both are unappreciated indie titles, both have a morose and denigrated art style that brings shame to the big city, they both feature the oppressive shackles of economics and the obligation to family life that arises out of it, and there’s a hell of a lot of walking, which is always slow. You are obliged to walk in a straight line to deliver a cheque, obliged to come home, and obliged to do it again the next day. Why do these art games waste our time with this bloated busywork? The developers… they play their games before release, right? Or are they so biased they don’t realise how mind – numbing it is to hold down one key for minutes at a time?
But wait — there’s more! You also have the innovative game mechanics of… doing laundry and cooking rice. All of this is represented through typing on a mechanical keyboard, for some reason I never found out and don’t really care about. But lest you think a Typing of the Dead style of game injects too much fun into this title, all the commands are curt and you must type them on a randomised layout. Every time. Does that sound fun to you? No, bad question. Is it fun? Kind of, in the sense that you get better at typing arbitrary letters on arbitrary keys. But I wouldn’t really say that’s enough to base an entire game around, would you? Narratively it could have made sense, if the typing thing was explained early on, but all we end up typing is short messages like “AM I HAPPY” and “I AM EXHAUSTED”. A bit on the nose, isn’t it?
So, uh, that’s pretty much it. The storyline doesn’t go anywhere and the writing isn’t interesting, the only solace being the art style looking kind of cool. The cityscape is dense and there’s some nice flourishes in the overarching design, such as the multicoloured lights trailing the vehicle that looks like a bus and is probably called something else but I don’t know the local customs of Hong Kong so I’m just going to call it a bus, and lends itself to the fundamentally disgusting prospect of living in an area with so many people and such awful architecture. It’s not brilliant, it’s not ugly, it’s real amateur, and it seems like more time was put into these graphics than producing an actual story. Oblige made my writer’s soul cry, but souls don’t exist, so their opinions don’t matter.
Flip that smile upside down now!
I typically cut out the third section for games not worth writing about, but I haven’t even touched on the box art! Audience protip: looking at the game packaging means the critic is out of ideas and is trying to fill space so his review is artificially made more “complete”. But there are a lot of nice quotes here: “Directly inspired by the stories of mothers and grandmothers living and working as housewives”. It’s a nice idea to make a serious game about such a neglected and overlooked demographic, but it all goes wrong with the next sentence: “Developed in the fall semester of 2016 for the USC Intermediate Game Development class”. Oh, boy. Do I believe it.
I’m only pointing this game out as “serious” because whoever wrote the Itch page put it in the tags, alongside “meaningful – choices” (yeah, right) and “female protagonist”. Aren’t protagonists supposed to have personalities? Ambitions, desires, goals, something to keep the story moving and our hearts a – flutter? Maybe the development team made too many compromises and were a bunch of pussyfooting amateurs, although this didn’t stop them from being an “IndieCade 2017 Nominee”. I don’t even know what that is, and I already think they’re full of shit. Also, this was at the “GDC 2017 Intel Showcase”, because only an engine as abysmal as Unity would require cutting – edge Intel processors in order to run a sprite game that could have been made in 1996.
I also have this creeping suspicion, this spooky and scary notion, that the developers of this game, instead of being developers… are normies! Boo! Bwah! The account which published this game, “jocelyn”, actually thanked many of the commentators on Itch. Who even does that, showing gratitude in exchange for attention? And what’s this? Smiley faces? There’s nothing smiley about being a mainstream shill, jocelyn! And don’t you tell me you’re appreciating my criticisms over here. We all know that, no matter how polite somebody frames their disparaging of your game… it hurts. It always hurts. And that pain will never go away as long as you remember the mistakes you have made.
Whoa, that was dark! Let me just phone it in and post two Itch comments:
This one is from “firstname.lastname@example.org” (great username!), saying: “i found two endings , one where you make your husband happy delivering everyday money wherever he tells you and one where you sign up your son in violin lessons . Is there any other ending ?” I have no idea, “email@example.com”, but I’ll have my people look into it and e – mail you a reply within three to five business days.
This second one comes from “TheWerepyreKing” (great username!): “Fun game, for a bit. Like some others, I’d say that the biggest downside is the repetition. It doesn’t take a dry mechanic to put forth to the player that the situation is dry. Very nice art. I loved the typewriter mechanic.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself: this game is sheeeeiiiit!
And these two comments, in just two paragraphs and posted without much thought at all, say so much more about this game than I could manage in 1,700 words. They represent the fundamental truth of games: that a game without gameplay is no more than a story, and if there is no story, then there’s nothing else that game is good for. Oblige could have come out decent, you know, if its fundamental being was radically changed and twisted into a narrative that’s interesting to read, featured gameplay that doesn’t numb your brain, and makes the most out of its housewife concept to drive home the banality of their existence through mechanics that were paced faster than a slow snail while still showing off the amount of toil and trouble they go through just to keep an ungrateful and embittered family together until they ascend the invisible choir realising how much of their lives were spent in subservience to their needy lessers, how much of their time was wasted through stress and slavery instead of staking their own claim in life’s sunny pastures, and how they will never be able to live again and learn what it’s like to be an independent, thinking, feeling, human being who was born out of chaos, existed for no reason, and died having done nothing with their limited time on this tumultuous space rock we call home.
Just a thought.