We’ve been sitting on the couch playing video games a bit more this season for, well ... obvious reasons. But they haven’t been as relaxing as we thought they would be — at least for us, anyway.
Something about running through the T-Virus-infected streets of Raccoon City in Resident Evil 3 lands a little too close to home, and there’s no way you’re going to trick us into getting emotionally invested in your characters again, Final Fantasy 7 Remake. (As an aside, we realize that time has become especially meaningless under quarantine, but how the heck did we travel back to the late ’90s?) Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been fun, but you can only catch so many sea bass before that too becomes maddening.
And that’s what sent us browsing the Nintendo Switch online store, where we found Half Past Fate, a new release by a Colorado-based indie video game studio.
When Zhenghua Yang was 18 years old, he was diagnosed with an illness that hospitalized him for two years. During that time, he played a lot of video games and found them to be very rewarding, connecting him with not just the people around him, but players around the world. They also made him feel powerful as he saved the (albeit fictional) world.
“That actually ended up motivating me enough to get out of my health problems and slowly made me feel better,” he said. “Ultimately, I was able to go back to school ... but I couldn’t help but think back regarding how games like League of Legends or Minecraft were not really made to help me, but they ended up saving my life.”
As a result, he wanted to design games that would make others feel the same way, and founded Boulder’s Serenity Forge in 2014. (One of the studio’s early releases, Loving Life, is a visual novel that chronicles Yang’s journey through his illness.) The company’s ongoing mission is to “create meaningful, value-driven experiences that really change the way people think about our world,” he said.
Since its inception, Serenity Forge has released 10 games. The latest, Half Past Fate, came out on March 12 and sets itself apart by being a romantic comedy — a genre rarely, if ever, portrayed in video games.
“At one point we were curious and decided to Google search: What are some rom-com video games that are out there? And we couldn’t find a single one ... so we thought to ourselves, ‘Well, if no one’s doing it ... why don’t we give it a shot?’”
In terms of gameplay, the HPF resembles classic adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island, talking to people and interacting with items. The game’s 12 chapters chronicle the interlinked stories of three different couples “Love Actually”-style, and jumps around in time — some relationships evolve over days; others, years. For example, the central obstacle you have to overcome in the first chapter is a stagnant line at a coffee shop, culminating in a meet-cute for one of the couples.
Where the game really shines for us is the art and music. Half Past Fate’s two-dimensional characters (in visual representation, not narrative depth) move through a three-dimensional world all depicted with gentle-colored pixel art. And the music, light and springy most of the time, fits that perfectly, creating a relatively cozy, relaxing atmosphere to spend some time in.
That less-stressful environment was created intentionally, Yang said, offering a softer, milder experience that adds to the diversity of the video game industry instead of, say, an intense war simulation. The game has conflict, but it’s on the lighthearted end of the rom-com spectrum, such as when one of the characters writes down her number for her love interest but his sweaty palms smudge it into illegibility, forcing him to search for her instead of just calling her for a second date. That’s the perfect amount of conflict we were looking for, at least for a few hours, in this world we’re currently living in. No Nazis, no zombies — just easy-to-solve romantic misadventures.
In addition to the Switch, Half Past Fate is available for PC.
Now that we’re familiar with the studio, we’re also interested in checking out some of Serenity Forge’s older games, including Lifeless Planet, a mystery involving a Soviet-era town on a distant planet, and Where the Water Tastes like Wine, an adventure that follows a hobo through Depression-era America. In the near future, the studio will also be launching Neversong, a narrative platformer that explores psyche and psychosis, and Cyanide & Happiness Freakpocalypse, based on the popular online comic strip.