I’m going to be taking a break from my New Year’s Resolution queue and yelling about RPG Maker games this week. In fact, instead of playing oldish games like usual, I’m gonna get with the times and ramble about another recent release.
All Our Asias is a narrative game by Sean Han Tani, most known for his work on Anodyne and Even the Ocean (which I previously wrote about) with Joni Kittaka. It’s a story of a young man named Yuito that wants to learn about his estranged, dying father. To know who he is, Yuito signs up to go into his father’s Memory World, traveling through a dreamy visualization of his past and learning about the things he got involved with.
The visuals of All Our Asias embraces a lo-fi aesthetic, blocky objects and fuzzy textures dominating the view within the game’s HUD. Artistically, much of the game’s visuals are inspired by Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, which Sean Han Tani previously wrote about for the third issue of Heterotopias (a sample of it can be found here). As a lover of Nocturne, it’s extremely my shit. Imagine All Our Asias as Nocturne‘s world and atmosphere, except on PS1 and set in Chicago. Some of the cutscenes is reminiscent of the surreal cutscenes from that game where your asshole friends start rambling about their Reasons, full of abstract visuals. It’s also similar in how it sort of reimagines normal settings into stuff that’s arbitrarily game-y. The Innovator’s Campus, a government building imagined into a strange floating palace, is pretty much Chicago’s Tower of Kagutsuchi.
Stitched together into the surreal setting are visualized concepts that’s related to the life of Yuito’s father. There isn’t a traditional sense of danger for the game, as there’s no enemies standing in your way, in spite of the narrative’s occasional warnings of staying in the world for too long. There’s platforming elements, but they’re not super heavy. With that in mind, Yuito’s journey is more of an introspective one, trying to understand his father’s experiences and how it relates to him – and how it may relate to you, the player.
There’s the hassle of an immigration system holding up Yuito during his journey, with his bitter remark that nobody has time for its hell bureaucracy. Yuito passes by racist drivers that stereotype him. Yuito’s thrown under a generalized Asian umbrella, yet at some point he identifies with the struggles of others under that general identity. The dream Chicago that Yuito travels to is gripped by gentrification and neoliberalism, with small immigrant restaurants struggling while the bigger chains appropriate their ideas, all ruled by some innovation-loving Silicon Valley hucksters that condescendingly tell struggling people that they should have become programmers instead of ever wanting to raise taxes on the rich.
Much of it was Yuito’s father’s reality, which inspired him to become an activist. I sort of get the implication that Yuito’s father wanted to use his last opportunity, conscious or not, to pass his mission onto his son by showing his experiences. From a personal perspective, it’s a selfish act, pushing this sort of legacy on a son he never knew. However, it’s arguably a good thing. Given the conflict of Yuito’s father being a good activist but a lousy dad, it’s a fitting implication.
In many ways, the reality of Yuito’s father is our reality. You may find yourself identifying with the messages brought up in All Our Asias, especially if you’re a minority. As an American that’s part Filipino, I’ve sort of wondered about my racial identity over the years, especially since I’m of darker skin. Do people perceive me as Asian? Do I perceive myself as Asian? Are my experiences as a Filipino similar enough to other Asian sub-groups that I can claim solidarity? Does a label matter at all if you want to be in solidarity with others?
The aesthetics of All Our Asias is wonderful, yet, I feel that your sense of enjoyment of the game will come down to what you take out of it. All Our Asias is a short game that can be cleared in about two hours, with an optional post-game where you can go to past areas with an infinite fly ability. And honestly, I feel that it’s a perfect length for the game. Just long enough for the game to communicate its messages, but not too long for the messages to feel too preachy. It’s a nice thing to play during the afternoon that you can reflect on afterward.
Normally, All Our Asias is free, so given that and its short length, there isn’t much excuse to not try it out. Developers gotta eat though, so for $5, you can get All Our Asia‘s fan pack. The pack includes the game’s soundtrack as well as a neat ebook.
I haven’t mentioned the music yet, mainly because I think I’m kinda bad at discussing music, but I really dig it! Sean Han Tani continues to bring out the dreamy synths and ambiance, alongside a few guest tracks that I feel is also real good. Some of my favorite tracks show up in the Chicago section of the game, like the world map music that evokes SMT‘s world maps and the hopeful theme that plays as Yuito looks for restaurants in need of help. This might be my second favorite soundtrack of his; my first is Anodyne‘s, but that might just be because of nostalgia.
The ebook is an interesting read because it’s an art book paired up with developer commentary. Screenshots are artfully arranged alongside blocks of text talking about the thought processes that went into developing the game. Each area in the game gets a few pages dedicated to it, talking about its design and showing how it’s set up in Unity. Another interesting thing the ebook has is a section that gives commentary on each individual track in the OST, alongside screenshots showing how part of the song is arranged, so I feel that the section is valuable for people trying to make game music. I really think that getting the All Our Asias fan pack is worth it, especially if you’re a fledgling developer yourself. Looking at the developer’s side of a game gives insight into the process and contextualizes how its aspects come to be in a way that you may think, “oh, maybe I can do this, too.”