Playing Even the Ocean (Part 1)
Happy 4th, Even the Ocean!
A few days ago Even the Ocean turned 4! Marina and I started an Analgesic blog and wrote a little on Even the Ocean (note to self... link that somewhere...). It motivated me to start a playthrough, which I haven't done since the game's release. For whatever reason I can't get through it, but maybe I've been able to move beyond my hang-ups over the game's development! We'll see.
It's better if you've played ETO as I'm not going to be including photos (or I'd never finish writing!), and I'll also be mentioning spoilers right away! But it's still okay if you haven't played it, maybe watch a playthrough?
The title screen song starts with four long string swells, giving way to the view of Storyteller's cabin in the cold woods. Maybe most players skip this but I hope most listened to the end! I think the song gives a good sense of 'wow, epic!' but also builds a good sense of intuition as to the game's overall dreamy atmosphere.
The song playing during Storyteller's preamble sounds like a heavenly elegy to... someone, or something. A good framing device can enchant the player, cast a spell, slowly transporting you into the game's atmosphere. An angel being sent from up high, drifting down to Earth in a beam of light, landing softly.
This 'hopeful elegy' turns out to be saying goodbye to Even the Ocean's world (after all, its world ends), but a first-time player doesn't know this yet! I wrote this song a long time ago in Chicago, the sky was really blue that day. It's meant to say, "Remember, no matter what happens, this story is meant to be hopeful..."
Well, anyways, it should be pretty obvious that things aren't great in ETO's world, despite the music. I mean, Whiteforge City seems pretty suspect! There's all those Power Plants laying around! Where does the energy come from! Hmm... those questions will be answered in time...
Fay Rouge - Outdoors
And boy does the game need a hopeful song to start with, because you're sure as hell not getting any other hopeful music for a while! I didn't remember just how thick the atmosphere is from the get-go. It's really unique and kind of blows me away, actually (pats self on the back).
Fay Rouge feels thick, humid, uncomfortable. Sweaty. Red ferns sprawl everywhere, giant prehistoric plant tendrils curl upwards: beyond a thick red forest we can see the tips of distant mountains. Something akin to pollen slowly drifts. It doesn't seem like there's much tourism here...
I hope Cassidy and Aliph's suits have air-conditioning... In any case, I like Aliph's attempt to stave off her nerves through humor, but Cassidy plays it straight as a serious mentor. I really love the environment here, especially as Aliph walks off to the right and the area title card fades in. Something is rumbling, just underfoot. The way Aliph's suit clunks and plods along the vines, occasionally cut-down trees and red forests feels uncanny, there's a real sense of Aliph and Cassidy violating some kind of natural pact, even if Aliph's mood is trying to stay optimistic. Unlike other areas in Even the Ocean, there's not a single soul around Fay Rouge's Power Plant. I awkwardly control and hop Aliph through the mountains, learn what a sap pad is (I think this part of the tutorial is kind of goofily placed in hindsight), and walk deeper into the mountains.
The music here is crunchy and steamy. It's almost all reverbed, extremely low-pitched drones and noise. It sounds like the sonic equivalent of all the natural energy being held within the mountains and forests. At times, the drones will lash out like an animal's warning or call. There's a lot living and going on in these mountains, beyond what the story ever tells. Maybe, it's the sounds of the natural forces behind some of the story's later events. It feels... primordial? Trying to get at something not traditionally representable through sound.
I love Fay Rouge as an opening area. It's such a bizarre place for a Power Plant: something is seriously wrong with the game's world if the denizens were willing to build through a place that's so treacherous, just to get at some vein of Light and Dark energy.
Anyways. Cassidy gets hit by a discharge, warns Aliph, but Cassidy falls to the bottom of a canyon and dies, probably from an energy shock. The music shifts to an even darker, deeper version than before ("At The Bottom of the Cave"). It's like the Earth itself is speaking to the player through vibrations or something.
To be asshole for a second, why is there a dangerous barbed energy wire blocking the canyon? That's pretty dangerous! There's a lot of that stuff just floating around all over the game. Oh well, it's a game, you've gotta let some stuff slide or you're never gonna enjoy the ride...
It's at this point in my playthrough that the game really is unsettling me with its darkness. I mean... I knew the game was not super happy to start with, but this whole intro sequence is just a bunch of 'oh man... really? Dang...' But I think it's honest in its darkness. The game is ultimately pretty tragic, and I think the intro lays that pretty bare. There will be happy moments throughout the game, but the world's fate was sealed from the beginning.
...Anyways, one mandatory tutorial cave later and it's the first power plant. To be continued!