Game: A Bird Story by Kan Gao (“Reives”)
Summary: This ambitious interactive story is worth the journey.
Newcomers to RPG Maker may not know this, but Kan Gao (aka Reives) of Freebird Games is one of the community’s biggest success stories. Members of previous RM forums likely remember his early projects like Quintessence, which demonstrated his skill for projects with a heavily cinematic atmosphere. In 2011, To The Moon became one of the earliest, and still one of the most successful, RPG Maker games to go commercial. His long-awaited follow up, A Bird Story, is much shorter but possibly even more ambitious. It tells a (sometimes) interactive story totally without dialogue. Speaking from experience, doing that in RPG Maker can be very challenging.
However, this approach plays to Gao’s strengths as a developer. The lighting, screen tone and spriting are all executed with exacting precision, and the participation of Jordan “Euphony” Baer means the sprite movements are top notch, which is essential for a wordless story. Just about every sprite movement is accompanied by a little whooshing sound effect, a good example of how much care has been put into the details. The lack of text doesn’t prove to be any sort of handicap to A Bird Story and most of the emotion is driven home by the phenomenal music, which Gao composed himself.
Honey badger don’t care. “Whoa, watch out!” says that bird!
This is not the direct sequel that To The Moon’s most avid fans have been waiting for (although I’d advise those people to watch the scene after the credits). It starts out like an RPG Maker version of The 400 Blows, depicting a lonely child who spends his days being either ignored or pushed around by other people. One day, he rescues a bird and takes it home, leading to increasingly surreal adventures. However, neither he nor the bird can escape the realities of life forever.
There are brief moments of interaction here, mostly walking from one place to another or performing actions with certain buttons in a way that reminded me of the work of Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain). These sections aren’t always great for the pacing, however. With the slow movement of the character and the often lingering pauses, the game can feel a bit languid, particularly in the early scenes where a gloomy sepia filter covers everything. But it’s worth sticking with the story for the high points, including a breathtaking sequence where the boy and the bird fly over a variety of landscapes on a giant paper plane. The ending scene is also exceptionally well done – moving without being too corny or grandiose.
Okay, which National Park is this and how do I get there?
I may wind up in the minority, but I actually think this is my favorite Freebird Games release. It feels more personal than To The Moon and more consistent in tone (except for the “Benny Hill” bit, that was totally out of the blue). I’d recommend this to all RPG Maker users as an example of the engine’s potential for non-game storytelling and visual power. Our hometown boy done good.
Has anyone played this game? What did you think of its dialogue-less execution? Are you excited for the To The Moon sequel? Tell us in the comments!